5 Weeks To Your First (Or Best) 5-K

The 5km is the perfect distance: five kays require relatively little build-up, the training doesn’t take over your life, and the race is over fairly quickly.

By logging only three or four runs per week, you can be ready run a 5km race in just five weeks.

And having that race date on your calendar gives your training purpose. Runners are much more motivated knowing the 5-K is approaching than they would be if they simply promised themselves they’d run.

Chris Carmichael, founder of Carmichael Training Systems and personal trainer to Lance Armstrong for both his cycling and running races, also encourages runners – whether they’re competitive or not – to try a 5-K:

People run for a variety of reasons, but I’ve found that they get more out of it when they are working toward something specific: a 5-K race is an attainable goal for any runner.

Plus, there’s the fun factor! The best things about 5-K races is the atmosphere. Almost everyone there is in a good mood. How many other events in your life are like that?

THE PLAN: Five Weeks

In the five weeks leading up to your first 5-K, most coaches agree that you need to run three or four days a week. During one of those weekly runs, you should focus on increasing the amount you can run at one time until you build to at least the race distance, or the equivalent amount of time spent running. Focus on minutes, not distance. Thinking in minutes is more gradual and self-paced.

Completing the equivalent of the 5-K distance in training gives you the strength and confidence you need to finish the race. And if you increase your long run up to 10-K (or roughly twice the amount of time it should take you to cover the race distance), you’ll run with even greater strength (or speed, if that’s your thing).

Most of your running during the week should be at a comfortable pace. This is especially true for runners who simply want to finish the race. But since adding some faster training to your schedule is the best way to improve your speed and endurance, even novices should consider doing some quicker running. Intervals are not reserved for elites. Running three 1.5km intervals with recovery between will do more to increase your sustainable running pace than running 5-K at once.

First-time racers can do some faster running one or two days a week, but these sessions don’t have to be regimented. Alternating between faster and slower running works just as well. Do about 20 minutes of speedwork, made up of four minutes at an easy pace, followed by one minute at a hard pace. Always be sure to bookend workouts with an easy five- to 10-minute warm-up and cool-down.

We have two programmes, one for complete novices and one for someone wanting to run their best 5km.

Download the 5 Weeks to 5km programme (beginner and intermediate)

THE BIG DAY: Five Kays

The greatest challenge of running a 5-K is finding the right pace. Start out too fast and you’ll likely struggle to finish the race.

All first-time racers (including veteran runners) should start at the back of the pack at the starting line. This prevents an overzealous start and allows you to gradually build up speed, ideally running the final kay the fastest.

But how fast should you expect to run come race day? The number-one goal should be to have fun, but expect to race about 20 seconds per kilometre faster than normal training pace. Specifically, runners training at a 5min/kay pace should finish around 23:20; those training at 6min/kay pace should finish between 28:10 and 28:30; and those training 7min/kay pace should finish around 33:20.

Most experts discourage first-timers from shooting for strict time goals:

  • Make it a race against yourself, because it’s your progress that’s most valuable to you.
  • Just get to the finish line. If you have a great experience, you’ll do it again. And chances are you’ll have an even better time.

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7 Responses to 5 Weeks To Your First (Or Best) 5-K

  1. Hitman 30 May 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    You guys gave a totally different training program for beginners (walk 5min,run for 1min)to start jogging,and now this program of Mr Carmichael is totally different,huh??????????????

    • Avatar of Runners World
      Runners World 30 May 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      Hi – can you please specify, which other programme are you referring to?

  2. Beginner 22 June 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Had been doing interval runs every week with a 2 day recovery period between run days….Run days would leave me with sore muscles and injuries sometimes leading to a miss in my run schedule. Hopefully this plan should sort it out!

  3. Arik Balin 6 January 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Hello
    It would be nice to have from you a programm to improve my result in 5 k.m. running
    I am 59 years old and my last result was 32:30 minutes
    The programm could be for 3 times a week
    Thanks a lot
    Arik Balin

  4. Penny 24 June 2013 at 10:01 am #

    I’m definately gonna try this programme. Hopefully it’ll help me away from injuries, as a less experienced runner, I turn to start at a speed pace..and end,not so well, I sprained a tendon on my last race.
    I’m at that point also now to start timing myself,moving away from just finishing. ThanksP

  5. Ponder 15 November 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Hi- any easier programs- I can hardly run for 3 lamp poles at a time… ?

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