From The Couch To 5K Running In 8 Weeks

If you want to go from couch potato to 5K runner – or even beyond 5K – it will take a degree of self-discipline, and for some a hefty dose of soul-searching. Training for a 5K can be a tough job if you need to do it fast and you haven’t been running for years. So if you have signed up for a charity race for a great and very personal worthy cause, first of all: well done! I’m proud of you. Secondly, give yourself plenty of time to prepare for race day, and depending on your levels of fitness at the beginning, we could be talking about months. Remember that one of the best things you can ever do to improve your running – and enjoyment of running – is to ditch some of that excess body fat. And while many worship at the alter of the ‘calories in versus calories out’ paradigm, and think a diet and no exercise will dissolve away the fat, this is not strictly true. I’ll tell you right now, diets make you fat!

Where To Begin?

Whether you are a fairly active person or a complete layabout, your first port of call when considering any kind of exercise program is to go and talk to your doctor. Get a check-up and permission from the medical professional to actually start doing some running, and training for your 5K. This is also my disclaimer! Use your brain and look after yourself with professional assistance, especially if you have any underlying conditions. I’ll give you the information, what you do with it is down to you!

Once your doc has given you the all clear, then you will need to start gradually, and build up your fitness and running distances over time. Make sure to go and buy some new running shoes, as these can help to ward off many injuries usually suffered by new runners. And if you are overweight to the extent that you qualify as obese, you can still do exercise, but walking would be more appropriate to start off with; combine walking with swimming so that you can build up some muscle and burn some fat doing a lower impact activity that won’t be too stressful to your joints.

For everybody else, it’s time to get started!

How Far Is 5K?


Photo courtesy of Bjorn Laczay under
Creative Commons licence

In the grand scheme of things, a 5K is almost a sprint compared to some of the other charity runs people do. There’s plenty of marathon runners out there these days, many of whom continue to look for even greater challenges than 26 miles. Some of you might have the perfectly reasonable question: how many miles is 5K? The simple answer is ‘not many’. It is just over 3 miles (3.1 miles to be exact) so if you are already on your feet all day at work or school, and somewhat active, you should be looking to get a good time for your 5K, rather than just hoping to complete the course. To put the distance into some context, if you watch athletics on the television, the 5000 meters is twelve and a half laps of the 400m track.

Training For a 5K

Beginner’s Plan – Run and Walk

If you are a total beginner to running and general fitness, you will need to start off at a very leisurely pace. When I first started out, it was a case of struggling at a slow pace for 1 km, and then taking a break to walk for 20-30 seconds, and then return to jogging for another 1 km. Because where I live is very hilly, the second kilometre used to be more of a stagger, broken up with two to three stops to catch my breath and drink some water. I then increased the distance gradually over a few weeks, until I had reached 5 km, and finally began to decrease the length of time I spent walking, until I was able to run the full 5 km in one go.

Here’s a 5k running plan you can use to get you prepared for race day. You should aim to run three times a week, with at least one recovery day in between training sessions. If possible, find a nice flat route to start out with, though I know from my own experience that this can sometimes be difficult depending on where you live.

Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 1 Run 1 minute
Walk 4 mins
Repeat x4
Run 1 mins
Walk 4 mins
Repeat x5
Run 2 mins
Walk 3 mins
Repeat x4
Week 2 Run 2 mins
Walk 3 mins
Repeat x5
Run 2.5 mins
Walk 2.5 mins
Repeat x5
Run 3 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x5
Week 3 Run 3 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x6
Run 3.5 mins
Walk 1.5 mins
Repeat x5
Run 4 mins
Walk 1 mins
Repeat x5
Week 4 Run 4 mins
Walk 1 mins
Repeat x6
Run 6 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x4
Run 6 mins
Walk 1 mins
Repeat x4
Week 5 Run 8 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x2
Run 8 mins
Walk 1 mins
Repeat x2
Run 10 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x2
Week 6 Run 10 mins
Walk 1 mins
Repeat x3
Run 12 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x2
Run 12 mins
Walk 1 mins
Repeat x2
Week 7 Run 15 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x2
Run 15 mins
Walk 1 mins
Repeat x2
Run 18 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x2
Week 8 Run 20 mins
Walk 2 mins
Repeat x1
Run 20 mins
Walk 1 mins
Repeat x2
Run 30 mins
Walk 0 mins
Repeat x1

This is a great introductory running schedule for new athletes who are just getting started. It was developed by one of London’s top fitness coaches, Jamie Baird, and is available along with other training plans on his website, The Fitness Coach, and in his excellent book Running Fit (also available in the UK) – which also has a ton of great information for runners; I particularly like (and use) the exercises for building and strengthening core abdominal muscles to help with correct running form and posture. Jamie’s website also has training plans for a beginner’s 5K and an intermediate 5K plan, plus schedules for preparing for longer races such as the 10K, half-marathon and marathon.

Ultimately, you should train at your own steady pace, as there’s nothing worse, than dreading going out for a run because you devised an exercise plan that was just way too challenging. When you train for a 5K using the plan above, there are plenty of rest days, so your new achey muscles can recover, and it doesn’t ask too much of you too soon. The best advice is to repeat a week if you find it a struggle – but don’t be tempted to skip a week or try to progress too fast!

As you might expect, everybody has their own idea of what is entailed in creating a 5K training program, so if the one described here is not your cup of tea, feel free to try out a Beginner’s 5K Schedule as outlined by the magazine Runner’s World. Or try their Intermediate 5K Program if you are already doing a little running but want to get better and improve your times.

Finally, if you have any questions, drop them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them. When I’m not injured (which I am at the time of writing!) I run the parkrun 5K time trials every week, at least during weekends when I haven’t got a 10K race to run. Or for more general 5K training tips, take another look at the Runner’s World site and their 5K Q and A.

Ironman

Neil (nickname Ironman) is an avid runner and sports fan, who writes about all things triathlon-related, especially running and cycling. He also writes about sports injuries and regaining fitness - mainly from personal experience rather than academic knowledge - although he does study that too!

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