Run Tucson

5K Training Plan

5K Training Plan

The best way to train for a 5k is to find your comfort zone and gradually add in hills, speed and tempo running.

Step 1:

Finding your comfort zone.

Your comfort zone is the pace you can maintain "comfortably" for at least 30 minutes without stopping.  This is completely individual and should not be based on anything except your own lack of discomfort while increasing your heart rate.  On an effort scale of 1-10, your comfort zone should be between a 2 and 4 (1 being a very slow walk and 10 being running as fast as you can).

Step 2:

Adding hills to your training routine.

Powering up a short/steep incline (7-10% grade) strengthens your toes, ankles, achilles, calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes and prepares your body to handle faster running. Hill repeats tend to be a safer way to introduce speed to your running routine than jumping right in to running fast on flat ground. On an effort scale of 1-10, short hill repeats should be between 6-8 and should only last between 10-15 seconds, with at least 1 minute walk or jog back down the hill to the start. Your form is important when doing hill repeats. Instead of hunching over and leaning forward, attempt to stay tall with your back straight and hips forward. Think of a helium balloon tied to your head, lifting you up. Your arms should be pendulams moving rapidly back and forth close to the bottom of your rib cage, avoiding excessive arm swing. Always begin a workout with a 5-10 minute warm-up walk or jog and finish every workout with a 5-10 minute cool down. Eat and drink something within 20 minutes of your workout.

Step 3:

Adding speed to your training routine.

Once you've spent some time on the hills, you can start adding in shorter/faster intervals on flat surfaces.  A park is the best place to begin adding speed intervals.  Later you can go to a track but for now a grassy park works perfectly and is easier on your shins.  Start with short intervals of speed that last 20-30 seconds, commonly known as "strides" "build-ups" or "pick-ups."  As the different names imply, you pick-up speed during the interval, starting conservative (effort level 3-4) for 5 seconds, pick-up speed (effort 5-6) for the next 5 seconds, pick-up speed again (effort 7-8) for the next 5 seconds, then gradually slow back down in the last 5 seconds.   Walk or jog easy back to where you started.  

Once you become comfortable doing 6-8 strides, you can add intervals into your training routine. A common speed workout for practicing different paces or effort levels is a "ladder" workout. In a ladder workout, you start with a shorter interval of faster running followed by a rest period, followed by a slightly longer interval, followed by a rest period, followed by an even longer inetrval, followed by a rest period, etc. More experienced runners will usually go up and back down the ladder. An example of a ladder workout looks like this: 1 minute at effort level 7-8 + 1 minute comfort zone + 2 minutes at effort level 6-7 + 2 minutes in comfort zone + 3 minutes at an effort level 5-6 + 3 minutes in comfort zone. (Notice that the effort level gradually gets easier as the interval gets longer.) Once you get to the top, or finsihed with the longest interval, go back down the ladder, if you can. Always begin a workout with a 5-10 minute walk or jog and follow it up with a 5-10 minute cool down walk or jog. Eat and drink within 20 minutes of your workout.

Step 4:

Adding tempo to your training routine.

Tempo running is running at a comfortably hard pace or at an effort level of 5-6, it is somewhere between speed and your comfort zone.  You want to be able to maintain a "tempo" pace for at least 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes.  A good beginning tempo workout is 2 sets of 5 minutes at effort level 5-6, with 2-3 minutes of comfortable effort in between. These are also known as "cruise" intervals and are different than speed intervals.  Your body can recover much more quickly from cruise intervals because they are not at maximal effort and you are not breaking down muscle fibers.  If you are able to hold your tempo pace for longer than 5 minute intervals, start with a 10-12 minute tempo run.  Always begin and end each tempo workout with a 5-10 minute warm-up and a 5-10 minute cool down.  Eat and drink within 20 minutes of your workout.

Secret to success:  Give yourself time to adapt to each new skill.  Spend at least 3-4 weeks sharpening each skill before a new one is added.  Typically, a 5k training program should be between 10-16 weeks.  If you try to add everything to your training schedule at once, you will more than likely become injured and not make it to the race.  You will be rewarded for being patient and methodical with your training.  Good luck!

Example schedule for first 3 weeks:  

Monday:  Comfort zone (walking or running) for 20-30 minutes.  More experienced: 30-40 minutes.

Tuesday:  Day off or alternate exercise:  Comfort zone (walking or running) for 25-35 minutes.  More experienced: 35-45 minutes.

Thursday:  Recovery day or alternate exercise for 45 minutes.

Friday:  Comfort zone (walking or running) for 30-40 minutes. More experienced:  40-50 minutes.

Saturday:  Alternate exercise (biking, elliptical, swimming, strength training, yoga, pilates, etc.)

Sunday:  Comfort zone for 40-50 minutes.  More experienced:  50-60 minutes. If you don't feel super comofrtable with this schedule yet, add a fourth week of the same type of training for good measure.

Example Schedule for next 3 weeks:

Monday:  Comfort zone for 20-30 minutes.  More experienced:  30-40 minutes.

Tuesday:  Recovery day or alternate exercise for 45 minutes.

Wednesday:  Warm-up jog for 10 minutes.  Followed by 3 x 10 second hill climb at effort level 7-8, walk or jog back down.  More experienced:  6 x 10 second hill climb.  5-10 minutes of cool down.  Add an additional hill climb each week.  You should feel more confident doing 5-8 hill climbs after 3 weeks.

Thursday:  Recovery day or alternate exercise for 45 minutes.

Friday:  Comfort zone for 30-40 minutes.  More experienced 40-50 minutes.

Saturday:  Alternate exercise for 45 minutes.  

Sunday:  Comfort zone for 35-45 minutes.  More experienced 50-60 minutes (hilly terrain optional).   If you don't yet feel comfortable with this type of training, add a fourth week.

Example of training for next 3 weeks:

Monday:  Comfort zone for 20-30 minutes.  More experienced:  30-40 minutes.

Tuesday:  Recovery day or alternate exercise for 45 minutes

Wednesday:  10 minute warm-up jog or walk.  Followed by 6 x 20 second "stride" interval (gradually pick-up speed & slow back down), walk or jog back to start.  Experienced:  8 x 20 sec. strides.  5-10 minutes cool down.  Add an additional stride each week.  By the 3rd week, you should feel more confident doing 8-10 strides at effort levels 4-6-8-6-4.  

If you are already comfortable doing strides, do 4 strides after your warm-up then try the ladder workout around the perimeter of the park:  1 min. EL 7-8 + 1 minute easy+ 2 minutes EL 6-7 + 2 minutes easy + 3 minutes EL 5-6 + 3 minutes easy (optional= 2 minutes EL 6-7 + 2 minutes easy + 1 minute EL 7-8 + 1 minute easy.)  Cool down 5-10 minutes.

Thursday:  Recovery day or alternate exercise for 45 minutes.

Friday:  Comfort zone for 30-40 minutes.  More experienced 40-50 minutes.

Saturday:  Alternate exercise for 45 minutes.

Sunday:  Comfort zone for 40-50 minutes.  More experienced 50-60 minutes on hilly terrain (optional).  If you don't yet feel comfortable with the skills in this training period, add a fourth week.

Example schedule for final 3 weeks:

Monday:  Comfort zone for 20 minutes + 6 or 8 strides + 5-10 minutes more of comfort zone.

Tuesday:  Recovery day or alternate exercise for 45 minutes.

Wednesday:  10 minutes of warm-up + 5 minutes of Tempo effort (5-6) + 3 minutes of comfort zone (2-3) + 5 minutes of Tempo effort (5-6).  More experienced:  10 minutes of Tempo effort (5-6).  5-10 minutes of cool down.  Add an additional minute to your Tempo effort each week.  Example, 2 x 6 min. & 2 x 7 min. and more experienced runners can increase Tempo run to 12 minutes & 14 minutes.

Thursday:  Recovery day or alternate exercise.

Friday:  Comfort zone for 35-45 minutes.  More experienced for 40-50 minutes.

Saturday:  Alternate exercise for 45 minutes.

Sunday:  Comfort zone for 40-50 minutes.  More experienced for 50-60 minutes (hilly terrain optional).  Add a fourth week if you would like to continue sharpening these skills.