Among road runners, no other distance is more popular than the 5K. At 3.1 miles (or 5 kilometers), it’s the type of event that’s long enough to challenge pros, yet short enough to be ideal for newcomers. Ready to sign up? Your options include a 5K “fun run” (not timed), a virtual 5K or a 5K competitive event. Whatever your motivation or type of race, preparing to run it requires commitment—and a plan.
Below is a basic training plan for a 5K road event. You can find many others out there as well. (“Couch to 5K” plans are seemingly everywhere.) The best plan for you will be one you can stick with, and it should include the following:
- An initial physical assessment
- A variety of running tempos
- Dynamic warmup, along with post-workout cooldown and stretching
- Cross-training to build strength and endurance
- Rest days
Steps to Take Before You Start Your 5K Training
This article assumes you have a good sense of your physical fitness and have already decided to run in a 5K road event.
Step #1 is to consult your physician. Feeling you’re reasonably fit is one thing, having your physician confirm it is another. You don’t necessarily need to schedule a physical just for the event, but you should talk to your doctor about it before beginning to train.
Consider whether you want to train solo or with help. The plan here is designed for you to train on your own, but you might also consider taking some classes or joining a running club.
Consider some “preseason” strength training. If your event is many weeks away, you have time to build up baseline strength, balance and stamina. Training Exercises for Running has techniques and tips for this type of training, and suggestions about how to transition to this (or another) run-focused training plan closer to the event.
Decide how to monitor your heart rate. You’ll do each type of running in this plan at a particular heart rate, so you need a way to monitor yours. The training heart rates you use vary, too, based on your age, fitness and other variables. To learn how to calculate your maximum heart rate (HRmax) for training, read the how to calculate your HR max section of our article on how to train using heart rate zones.
Heart rate functions are available on dedicated heart rate monitors and most fitness trackers. (For tips on choosing a model, read How to Choose a Fitness Tracker.) If you’re not interested in getting that technical with your training, you can also guesstimate your heart rate for each training pace by using a simple talk test:
- Easy run pace: 60–65% of HRmax or you can carry on a conversation as you run (or a soliloquy if you’re training solo).
- Long run pace: 70–80% of HRmax or you can speak sentences, but not tell long-winded stories.
- Threshold run pace: 85–88% of HRmax or you're only able to utter single words.
- Speed run pace: 90+% of HRmax or you’re only able to gasp or grunt, not speak.
Interval training vs. continuous pace training: Do speed work and threshold work using a repeated set of intervals: running at the needed pace for a short period of time followed by a short period of rest (an easy jog or walk) to allow your body to recover. In contrast, do easy runs and long runs continuously at the required pace.
5K Training Schedule
Follow the simple day-by-day calendar below:
|5 min. speed work*||Active rest||20 min. threshold work*||Active rest||Cross-training||40 min. long run||Rest|
|7.5 min. speed work*||Active rest||20 min. threshold work*||Active rest||Cross-training||45 min. long run||Rest|
|7.5 min. speed work*||Active rest||30 min. threshold work*||30 min. easy run||Cross-training||50 min. long run||Rest|
|10 min. speed work*||30 min. easy run||15 min. threshold work*||30 min. easy run||Cross-training||60 min. long run||Rest|
|12 min. speed work*||25 min. easy run||30 min. threshold work*||30 min. easy run||Cross-training||45 min. long run||Rest|
|6 min. speed work*||Active rest||20 min. easy run||20 min. easy run||Rest||Event day!||Sleep|
*Your day's goal is this much time spent doing intervals at the speed pace or threshold pace; total day's time will be longer. You can vary how these days are done—see examples below.
Use the training calendar in this article as is, or as a starting point. With this (or any other) training plan, consider modifying it for your needs and circumstances. Regardless of the exact steps in your chosen plan, your weeks should start easy, gradually become harder and then become easier the week prior to your event.
5K printer-friendly version (PDF)
Warming Up and Stretching Before and After Your 5K
Begin each type of run (except easy runs) with a warmup and end with a cooldown and some stretching.
- Dynamic warmup: Activities like skipping, lateral shuffles, high-knee exercises and butt kicks can help you warm up muscles through a range of movement. Spend at least 5 minutes before each run doing these.
- Cooldown: Spend at least 5 minutes after your running session jogging slowly, then walking.
- Stretching: Spend 5 to 10 minutes after your cooldown doing gentle static stretches. Concentrate on your least flexible muscles. Yoga poses and foam rolling during this time can also improve flexibility and recovery.
Types of Run Paces
Your body can adapt to doing the same thing repeatedly—like running a particular distance on a particular course. In order to improve, you need a variety of paces. Each pace engages a different energy system, which in turn provides benefits ranging from improved efficiency and running mechanics to better cardiovascular conditioning.
Varying training paces also mimics road running conditions, because changes in running surface and elevation require you to adapt your running pace. Our training plan includes the following paces:
Speed work: Here’s where you practice running at your speed pace (90+% of HRmax) for an interval, followed by a walk or easy jog. Then you repeat this sequence until you reach the total speed-pace time for that day.
Be creative in reaching a day’s speed time. Your speed interval can be from 30 seconds to 4 minutes. Your jogging (recovery) interval can be the same as the speed interval or twice as long.
Example 1: 10 minutes of speed work could be 10 1-minute intervals at speed pace with a 1-minute jog after each speed interval (10 minutes of speed time; 20 minutes total training time).
Example 2: 7.5 minutes of speed work could be 5 1.5-minute intervals at speed pace with a 3-minute jog after each speed interval (7.5 minutes of speed time; 22.5 minutes total training time).
If your event course is hilly, then you can do some or all of your speed work on hills. Run uphill during your high-intensity intervals; to recover, jog downhill or uphill farther. Speed work improves cardiovascular conditioning and heart/lung strength. Your body learns to run at a fast pace more easily, making you a more efficient runner.
Threshold work: You do this type of training at your threshold pace (85–88% of HRmax) for a prescribed amount of time, followed by a walk or easy jog. Then you repeat this sequence until you reach the total threshold-pace time for that day.
Be creative in reaching a day’s threshold time. Your threshold interval can be from 1 to 5 minutes. Your jogging (recovery) interval can be half as long as the speed interval or the same.
Example 1: A 30 minutes of threshold work could be 10 3-minute intervals at threshold pace with a 1.5-minute jog after each threshold interval (30 minutes of threshold time; 45 minutes total training time).
Example 2: 20 minutes of threshold work could be 5 4-minute intervals at threshold pace with a 4-minute jog after each threshold interval (20 minutes of threshold time; 40 minutes total training time).
Threshold work improves metabolic efficiency, making it easier to run at this pace for longer periods of time before muscles fatigue.
Easy run: The goal of an easy run is to stay active as you build cardiovascular base miles; you do this run continuously for your day’s training time at pace of 60–65% of HRmax. Easy runs are the foundation of any training program. Slip in a run between your other responsibilities. Make it social to help you stay motivated.
Long run: This type of run stretches the limits of your base miles and develops your aerobic endurance. Plan to do this run continuously for your day’s training time at a pace of 70–80% of HRmax. Get out and explore new trails and focus on honing your running mechanics rather than racing.
Cross-training: The purpose is to increase the fitness and strength of muscles that support the primary running muscles. Plus, you get a break from running’s repetitive motion. Include a core workout, plus resistance and strength training.
Active rest: Do any nonstrenuous activity that keeps body and muscles moving: activities like light walking, passive yoga poses or a stretching/foam-rolling session. Active rest days help prevent soreness and reduce the likelihood of injury.
Rest: The goal on these days is to give your body a break. Rest days are critical to avoid overuse injuries.
5K Training Tips
Don’t run too fast on “easy” runs: Don’t expect the miles to melt away, because an easy pace will often feel far too slow for a new runner. You might also struggle with it because you’re not moving fast enough to feel like you’re in “the zone.” If you keep chugging along at a pace where chitchat comes easy, then you’re doing fine.
Train by time, not distance: This is especially true for new runners because fixating on a distance can make it hard to maintain your correct training pace. It can also dishearten you if you’re simply not ready to run a longer distance yet. And there’s the practical argument, too: Most of us have busy schedules and need certainty about the amount of training time we’re setting aside.
Try to catch injuries early on: Trying to push through injury is a common mistake. The result is inevitably more damage and having to abandon training altogether until you’re completely healed.