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How to Train for a 5K: Let Us Make Your First 5K Easier

Whether you’re a seasoned runner interested in setting a new personal record or you’re a new runner looking for a challenge, training for a 5k can be a rewarding way to level up your fitness routine. However, without the proper plan, you may end up unsatisfied with your race day results.

11 min readAugust 31st, 2023
MKWritten By Michelle King

From essential training techniques to injury prevention tips, this guide will explore everything you need to know to prepare for the big event. Let’s dive in.

Benefits of Running a 5k Race

While long races like half marathons often get lots of attention, you don’t need to run 26.2 miles to reap the benefits of running. In fact, research shows that just 5-10 minutes of slow running each day can add years to your life. So, if you don’t have the time or desire to run for hours each week, training for a 5k may be a better option than training for a longer distance.

Some runners experience injuries when their weekly training volume (aka, how many miles they run each week) is too high. If you fall into this camp, training for shorter distances, like 5ks, may reduce your risk of developing a running-related injury.

Importance of Proper Training For a 5k Race

If you want to make it to the starting line without aches and pains, proper 5k training is essential. Nearly half of all recreational runners experience running-related injuries. Of these injuries, 80% are caused by repetitive stress. A well-rounded running plan can help prepare your body for the miles ahead, reducing your risk of injury.

How to Develop an Effective 5k Training Plan

Choosing the right 5k training plan is an exciting first step toward your next 5k race. With so many different training plans online, finding the best option for you can feel overwhelming. Before choosing a plan or crafting one of your own, it's important to consider your goals and current fitness level.

Set Realistic Goals

Whether you want to finish a 5k without walking or are eager to beat your last race time, setting race goals helps you tailor your training and stay motivated.

The key is to set a goal that is challenging but realistic. Research shows that goals that strike this balance are more motivating than lofty, unrealistic goals. Determining your current fitness level will give you a better idea of where you are now, so you can set exciting yet achievable goals for your upcoming race.

Determine Your Current Fitness Level

When considering your current fitness level, ask yourself how many miles a week you currently walk or run. It’s important to choose a plan that doesn’t start with a weekly training volume that’s too high for your body to safely handle. Most running coaches suggest slowly ramping up your weekly mileage by no more than 10% each week.

That means if you typically only run 10 miles a week, don’t opt for a training plan that has an initial weekly training volume of over 11 miles.

If you’re new to running or getting back into the sport after a few years away, walking is a great place to start. After a few weeks of slowly ramping up your walking mileage, you can begin adding short bursts of running throughout your walks.

Choose the Perfect Plan for You


For those new to running or returning after a hiatus, the "Run-Walk-Run" method created by Jeff Galloway offers a great starting point. Jeff Galloway, a former Olympian and renowned running coach, introduced this approach to help beginners ease into running, minimize the risk of injuries, and build endurance over time.

The strategy involves alternating periods of running and walking during training sessions, allowing runners to gradually adapt to the demands of running.

Hal Higdon Training Plans

Running guru, Hal Higdon, has created a range of easy-to-follow 5k plans suitable for multiple experience levels. Higdon's comprehensive library offers programs that progressively build endurance and incorporate various training strategies like cross-training, speed workouts, and long runs.

Work With a Running Coach

The plans above are simple and easy to follow, making them excellent options for low-fuss runners. However, some athletes seek a more personalized approach to help them get the most out of their training. In that case, working with a running coach may be a good fit.

Running coaches are experienced athletes who typically hold a coaching certification.

They'll work with you to create an adaptive and personalized plan that considers your goals, injury history, personal preferences, and lifestyle.

Best Training Techniques for a 5k Race

Are you interested in using a personalized 5k program but don't want to work with a coach? Creating your own training plan can be an effective and empowering option. To help you get to the finish line in record time, incorporate the following techniques into your programming.

Progressive Overload

If you want to improve your running performance, incorporating progressive overload into your training is essential. Progressive overload is a strategy that focuses on gradually increasing physical demands on your body over time, promoting continuous improvement.

When you incrementally increase training factors like mileage, intensity, or duration, your body adapts and becomes better equipped to handle the challenges of a race.

However, it's important to remember that more isn't better when it comes to progressive overload. Increasing training factors too quickly can lead to overtraining injuries and burnout. To help yourself steadily progress toward your goals without getting hurt, don't increase your running mileage by more than 10 percent each week.


If you're ready to add faster paces to your training program, strides are a great place to start. Strides are short bursts of faster running followed by a brief recovery period.

These bursts should build close to your max speed and last around 20-30 seconds. If you're new to running, strides can serve as a great stand alone workout after a proper warmup.

Once you feel comfortable with strides, try adding this technique after a couple of your weekly easy runs. This lets your body practice running faster on tired legs which will help your performance on race day.

Interval Training

Interval training runs involve alternating between high-intensity running segments and periods of active recovery. An example workout could look like running for one minute at your goal 5k pace followed by jogging or walking for two minutes and repeating this process five times.

The exact workout will vary depending on your fitness level and goals, but the benefits apply to all runners.

One of the most important benefits runners experience when they start incorporating interval training into their 5k plans is boosted cardiovascular fitness. Research shows that high-intensity interval training can help improve an athlete's aerobic capacity. This can increase the amount of oxygen that gets to your muscles, helping you run faster.

Fartlek Training

Fartlek, which means "speed play" in Swedish, is a versatile and unstructured workout that adds an element of spontaneity to your training. During a Fartlek run, you vary your pace throughout the workout, alternating between slower and faster segments.

The beauty of Fartlek training is its flexibility. Unlike structured interval training, Fartlek workouts don't adhere to specific time or distance intervals.

Instead, you can change your pace based on how you feel or use landmarks as cues for your speed changes. For instance, you might sprint to the next lamppost, then recover at an easy pace until the next tree, and so on.

This playful training technique adds variety to your workouts and can be performed on a track, trail, road, or even on a treadmill. It's a great way to break up the monotony of traditional training while reaping the benefits of speed training.

Hill Training

The last time you saw a steep incline you likely didn't think "I want to run up that". While uphill running may seem intimidating at first, this workout style has the power to level-up your race day performance, especially if you're training for a hilly 5k.

Research shows that high-intensity uphill training can improve running economy (energy expenditure) and help you run faster. Additionally, the more hills you run, the less scary they'll seem when you encounter them while racing.

If you're interested in incorporating hills into your training plan, try including hill repeat workouts. For this training technique, simply find a hill or set your treadmill to an incline of 10-15%. Run uphill at a 5k effort then walk back down (or reduce your incline if you're on a treadmill) and repeat 3-5 times.

As you get accustomed to hill training, you can increase the intensity by adding more hill repeats or extending the amount of time you run uphill.

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs focus on maintaining a comfortably hard pace for an extended period of time. The ideal pace for this workout is one you can maintain for at least twenty minutes. That pace is typically 20-30 seconds slower than your goal 5k pace.

This training technique helps runners build their lactate threshold. The lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate in the muscles faster than it can be cleared away, leading to muscle fatigue.

By building your lactate threshold you can gradually train your body to run faster for longer before getting tired.

Long Runs

Long runs aren’t just for marathon runners. Folks training for 5ks can benefit from them as well. This run should be your longest run of the week, making up 20-25% of your weekly training volume.

While the previous workouts we’ve explored include speed work, athletes should run long runs at a  conversational pace rather than a challenging pace. Include long runs in your training every seven to ten days to help improve your body's aerobic strength and help you become a more efficient runner.

Easy Runs

Easy runs are the meat and potatoes of every good 5k training plan. These workouts should make up the majority of your 5k training and be run at a conversational pace, similar to long runs.

A typical beginner's easy run can range between 20-40 minutes long.  These workouts help build your aerobic capacity while giving your body a chance to recover from the more challenging speed workouts.

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Warming Up and Cooling Down

Before diving into your training runs, you should understand the importance of a proper warm up and cool down. These often overlooked training components can help improve race day performance and reduce your risk of injury.

Warming Up

While you may be tempted to throw your sneakers on and hit the pavement without warming up, adding just five minutes of pre-run prep to your routine helps prepare your body for the workout ahead.

One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that runners who performed a dynamic stretching warm up before a treadmill workout sustained a harder effort for longer than those who didn’t.

Unlike static stretches that are held for an extended period, dynamic stretches involve controlled movements that loosen your muscles and improve your range of motion before running.

Like many things in science, the research findings comparing static and dynamic stretching for injury prevention are mixed. However, several studies have shown that including dynamic stretching within a warm up can reduce your risk of injury.

Before heading out on your next run, consider adding a few of the following dynamic stretches to your warm up routine.

Cooling Down

After completing a run, reward your body for its hard work with a proper cool down routine. Cooling down after exercise allows your body to gradually transition from an elevated state to a resting state. This process helps prevent muscle cramping and soreness.

Start your cool down by reducing your running pace to a slow jog or walk for about five minutes. Then, transition into some gentle static stretching. Below are a few of our favorite post-workout stretches for runners.

Strength Training for Runners

While running will make up the majority of your 5k training, it's not the only element you should focus on. Including strength exercises as part of your running plan can help you run faster, stay injury-free, and add variety to your workouts.

So, how much strength training do runners need to reap benefits? Not much. Most coaches advise athletes to lift for 30 minutes two or three times a week. However, some evidence suggests individuals can lift as little as once a week for 20 minutes to build and maintain strength.

Include Strength Exercises in Your 5k Training Plan

While strength training is a great tool to help improve your running performance, it’s taxing on the body. For this reason, most coaches recommend scheduling strength workouts after easy runs.

That way, your legs feel fresh for more challenging workouts like long runs and speed work. You’ll also want to avoid strength exercises the day before a hard workout since lifting weights can leave your legs feeling fatigued the next day.

Some strength training is better than no strength training, so if you don’t have time to squeeze in an entire lifting session after an easy run, that’s okay! Simply performing five minutes of body weight exercises or core strengthening movements after your run can still go a long way.

If you're looking for a quick core strengthening session that you can perform anywhere, check out the famous 15-minute core routine of Olympian and long-distance runner Kara Goucher.

Importance of Rest for 5k Training

In the pursuit of becoming a better runner, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of training and push your body to its limits.

However, taking some time for rest and recovery is just as important as logging miles. 30% of non-elite endurance athletes are affected by overtraining syndrome.

This condition occurs when an athlete doesn't properly recover and can lead to extreme fatigue, reduced performance, increased incidence of injury, mood changes, and more unpleasant symptoms.

Including at least one day of rest weekly in your training plan can help you avoid overtraining syndrome and give your body the time it needs to recover from all your hard work.

Tips for Monitoring Progress

Keeping a record of your workouts can offer valuable insights into your progress and help you stay motivated. Regular tracking will give you a bird's eye view of your training, allowing you to see improvements, identify patterns, and adjust your programming when needed.

Below are a few strategies you can use to track your progress through your 5k training journey.

Use a Running Watch

Running watches have advanced features you may not find in other fitness gadgets. Popular running watches, like the Garmin Forerunner, use GPS tracking to accurately report your running routes, distances, paces, and heart rates. Many of these watches also connect to an online portal like Garmin Connect, making it easy to track your workout progress.

Download a Running App

Whether the battery is dead or you left it at home, sometimes you won't have a running watch on you. This is where running apps like Strava are helpful. Similar to watches, running apps use GPS technology to track your pace and distance.

You can view your running history by simply hopping on your phone and viewing the app. Many also let you connect with other runners and share achievements, providing accountability and motivation.

Log Your Training in a  Running Journal

Using a running journal alongside a watch or app can provide a more comprehensive approach to tracking your progress. Journals allow you to track more than just your pace and mileage.

You can also take note of other important components of your training, like how you feel or what you eat. Tracking this additional information can help identify how lifestyle habits impact your performance.

Bottom Line

Regardless of your running goals, a well-structured training plan is essential if you want to perform well on race day. Choose your training technique, consider incorporating strength training, remember to warm-up and cool-down, and monitor your progress.

Remember, training for a 5k should be fun, so find ways to enjoy the journey.  Below are a few of our favorite strategies for adding a touch of joy to your training.

  • Create a running playlist with your favorite songs
  • Run with a friend
  • Run in a beautiful location
  • Join a running club
  • Listen to an  audiobook or podcast
  • Invest in some cool running swag

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