How to train for a 5K

How long will it take, and where do I start?

Katie Chambers

13 July 2017

Why aim for a 5K?

A 5K is often the first goal for new runners for a few reasons. For a beginner, it provides a good challenge, but it can also be achieved within a few months with regular practise – there’s nothing worse than aiming too big and getting discouraged when it seems like you’re never going to get there! 5Ks are also really common so you’ll probably find it easy to sign up for a local one all year round – look out for the Race for Life or Colour Me Rad in particular!

How long does a 5K usually take?

This is a tricky question to answer because it all depends on your fitness level! Experienced runners could manage a 5K in 20 minutes or less, but I’d say the majority of runners are looking at 30-40 minutes.

How long does it take to train for a 5k?

Again, this depends on a number of factors, from your age and your existing fitness levels, to the amount of time you can spare each week!

For a beginner running 3 times a week, you should be able to achieve a 5K after 2-3 months of training. However, bear in mind that you may want a few extra weeks to get completely used to the distance and improve your time.

If you’ve got the time to spare, you can start with 3 times a week and increase to 5 times after the first couple of weeks which should help to improve your fitness faster. Just be careful not to do too much too fast – your muscles may need a rest day to recover and repair!

A 5k training plan

So you’ve bought your trainers and you’ve got a 5K race eyed up in a few months’ time – but where do you start?

Starting running can be a daunting thought – few people will be able to run a full 5K from day one, and, in fact, many will struggle to run for more than a couple of minutes at a time. This is completely normal, and you can still achieve your goal!

My first tip is to completely forget about distance at first and focus on time instead. As a beginner, attempting a whole 5k could involve a lot of walking, which could result in an hour-long struggle that you won’t be keen to repeat. Remember, aim small and build from there.

Your starting point will really depend on your existing fitness levels, but here is a rough plan to get you started. If you feel that you are really unfit or overweight, you might want to try a week of 1 minute running and 1 minute walking before starting the plan. This plan is aimed at someone running 3 times a week – if you’re running more often than that, then you can move onto the next stage every 3 runs. And finally, if you’re finding it a bit easy, don’t be afraid to skip ahead or add in an extra minute of running here and there.

Week 1: 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking (repeat for 20 minutes)

Week 2: 3 minutes running, 1 minute walking (repeat for 20 minutes)

Week 3: 5 minutes running, 2 minutes walking (repeat for 20 minutes)

Week 4: 8 minutes running, 3 minutes walking, 8 minutes running

Week 5: 10 minutes running, 2 minutes walking, 10 minutes running

Week 6: 20 minutes running

Week 7: 25 minutes running

Week 8: 28 minutes running

Week 9: 30 minutes running

Once you’re able to run for 30 minutes solid, it’s time to start looking at distance. Firstly, do your 30-minute run as usual, whilst measuring what distance you can cover in that time. There are lots of apps that can help you track your distance.

If you’re fairly close to a 5K already, then go for the 5K even if it takes you a bit longer than 30 minutes – you can always add in a few minutes of walking at the halfway point if you need to.

If you’re still a fair way off the 5K then continue to gradually increase your time and distance until you can reach the 5K in around 40-45 minutes.

How can I improve my time? 

Congratulations, you can now run a 5K! The next step you’re probably thinking about is how to improve your time now that you can run the distance.

One of the most effective ways to improve your time is to practise interval training. This is actually quite similar to the plan laid out earlier – essentially you’re looking to increase your speed for a certain length of time, and then rest for a short time, then repeat.

Start with 1 minute increased pace, followed by 5 minutes at your regular running pace. From there build up to 2 minutes increased running, then 3 etc., until your overall running speed starts to increase.

You can also work on your fitness outside of your usual runs. For example, you might want to try some of our exercise videos to help improve endurance, strength or flexibility without leaving the comfort of your home. These are great ways to improve your overall fitness and challenge your body further by focusing on different muscle groups.

For some more tips on improving your endurance, read our article on 7 ways to improve running endurance

Can Beetroot juice help me?

Lots of fascinating research about beetroot juice has been surfacing recently, with very promising results! It has been shown to improve oxygen consumption by the body – and more oxygen reaching your muscles, brain, and heart means better performance. In fact, one study from 2010 found that participants who had been drinking beetroot juice lasted 12%-14% longer on a treadmill!1

Many studies agree that the effects of beetroot juice are most noticeable in beginners rather than trained athletes – so now is the perfect time to take advantage of its benefits!

If you’re looking for a great-quality beetroot juice, we’d recommend Biotta’s beetroot juice. It’s made from 100% organic beetroot, and is never from concentrate, so it retains all the goodness of fresh beetroot! It goes through a natural lacto-fermentation process which produces gut-friendly L+ lactic acid that supports digestion but also act as a natural preservative.

What to eat while training for a 5K

Making sure you’re eating the right foods can really help to improve your performance as well as your recovery.

You’ll want to be eating a diet full of energy rich foods such as complex carbohydrates, as these release energy slowly over a sustained period. Fruit and veg are also important to replace lost nutrients and help your whole body perform the best it can.

You’ll also probably need some extra protein to help your muscles grow, strengthen and repair. You don’t necessarily need a protein supplement for this! Ensuring that you’re eating plenty of high protein food such as meat, pulses, nuts, seeds and tofu is often enough to provide your muscles with the protein they need. However, if you think you aren’t getting enough protein, then a good quality, natural protein powder like Pulsin or Purition can really help. Alternatively, there are lots of great protein bars available, or you can make your own!

Head here for some tips on what to eat before your 5K race.

1) ‘Beetroot juice and exercise: pharmacodynamic and dose-response relationships’ Wylie LJ et. al

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