How to Train for Your First 5K

Ask Coach Jenny.

Q: My friend started running last year and has really inspired me to start. I want to train for a 5K race but I have no idea where to get started. Running has always been such an impossible challenge that I typically throw in the towel after a few painful sessions. Do you have any tips for training for a 5K and actually sticking with it?  ~Julie

A: Hi Julie. There is no better way than to create a realistic carrot (goal 5K race) to keep you motivated, accountable and, most importantly, feeling rewarded. Here are a few tips for your journey to your first 5K finish line.

Start from where you are rather than where you want to be.

Step number one begins with getting real with yourself. In order to get where you want to go efficiently, you’ve got to start where you’re at now.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a runner. We all progress at different rates and the secret is being honest with yourself and taking that first step forward rather than fast-forwarding to step 10 or 20. When you do, you begin to build a foundation of fitness and running happiness that will last a lifetime.

Pick a plan and progress slowly.

Where you begin may not match where your buddy starts. For instance, if you’re overweight, coming off the couch and starting from scratch (good for you), then you could start with a walking plan. If you’re active and new to running, you could start with a run-walk program, which alternates running and walking intervals (Run 3 minutes, Walk 2 minutes) repeatedly throughout the program. This allows your body and mind time to adapt to the demands of the impact forces and the cardiovascular and respiratory challenges. If you’ve been running here and there, you might do best with a beginning running plan. You can find a variety of free 5K training plans here.


The two most vital pieces of gear needed for running are properly fitted shoes and a supportive sports bra. Buying shoes is almost as overwhelming as a visit to the cereal aisle in the grocery store. There are a ton of options and it can be hard to choose the right pair for you.

A great way to make this easy on yourself is to find a specialty running store in your neighborhood and get professionally fitted for running shoes. Shop later in the day when your feet are swollen, bring your running socks and make sure the sales people watch you run and walk in a variety of shoes. A good fitting running shoe should feel comfortable on your feet and support your type of foot (high arch, low arch, neutral).

When shopping for sports bras, select your style – compression (geared for A/B cup sizes) or encapsulated styles (good for C+ cup sizes) – and stick with high impact-rated bras.

Mix it up.

All running and no play makes Jack a dull athlete. Run every other day to give your body time to recover and adapt to the demands of running. Mix in lower impact activities that move you in a variety of patterns. Cycling, skating, Zumba, yoga and Pilates are just a few complementary cross-training activities you can incorporate into your new running recipe. Doing so will keep the program fresh, keep you running injury-free and keep you moving forward.

Listen to your body along the way.

Our body has a quicker communication system than Twitter! It will tell you when you’ve pushed too much, need to take it easy or adjust with a few days of cross-training to recover. Listening to your body and making training adjustments along the way will fend off the fatigue, aches and pains that lead to injuries.

Pace Yourself.

Pacing yourself is perhaps the hardest part of running, but there is an easy way to find the right pace every time and it involves three little steps. Tune into your body, listen to your breath and adjust your pace based on how your body is responding on the day.

Not every run will be the same. Some are hot, some cold, others will be so windy you’ll feel like you’re not moving forward at all! The secret to completing your run is in following those three steps. Also, keep the effort level and breathing easy – ideally at a level where you can talk. If you can’t recite the words to your favorite poem or the Pledge of Allegiance, you’re running too hard. A runner is built from a continuous series of “easy effort” running workouts over time. Let your performance simmer and evolve from there.

Keep track.

Whether you do this online or in a pretty journal – keeping track of your running sessions is an effective way to track your progress and develop your personal running recipe. Useful bits of information to track include: running time, run-walk ratio, terrain/course/treadmill, shoe model, mood, energy level, effort level and calories consumed versus expended.

Make it fun.

The secret to learning to run is to create forward momentum. In order to do this, aim to finish the workout feeling strong and accomplished – even on the tough days – rather than exhausted, crabby and hating life. If you enjoyed yesterday’s workout, guess what?  You’re going to want to repeat it again right? The more you repeat in happiness, the sooner you’ll become that running rock star.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

2 thoughts on “How to Train for Your First 5K

  1. Jaymie

    Thansk for sharing. However, where is the important of keeping your body properly nourished and hydrated? This is crucial at every stage of training to run. You need to ensure you are eating right, getting the appropriate carbs/proteins, and drinking enough water. You should be drinking half your body weight in ounces each day. Water helps regulate your body temperature, provides oxygen to your cells, moisturizes the air in our lungs, protects and moisturizes our joints, etc.

  2. Amy James

    I have told myself a month ago that I was going to start running again. However, a few days before I was going to start, I sprained my ankle extremely bad and tore 3 ligaments. I haven been told that I can’t even think about exercise until September :( Since I can’t workout yet, I have been mentally gearing my body up to become more fit and healthy by learning to run. I know what you mean by properly fitting shoes. I now have to go looking for running shoes that will support my weak ankle. Thanks for the running tips and I really can’t wait to use them. Just a couple more weeks!!

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