A Complete Guide to Running 5K for Beginners

As a relative running newbie, you’re still striving for more endurance and stamina. When eventually even your practice runs begin to feel easy, you’ll push on to the next challenge, your first race. A 5K is a suitable goal for a runner of your skill and experience level, but how do you excel when running this distance?

Successfully running a 5K is all about the preparation. You must train and practice comfortably running that distance before competing in your first race. Make sure that you take care of your body ahead of the race too, getting plenty of sleep and fueling up with carbs that will act as your energy source to get you to the finish line.

If you want even more information on doing 5Ks as a new runner, you’re in luck. In today’s guide, we’ll discuss the length of a 5K, how to prepare for one, what to do on the day of your race, and what comes after. 

What Is a 5K? How Long Is It?

When many runners think of the shortest distance races, a 5K springs to mind. In actuality, 3K races exist, but they’re a little less common. Assuming you jump straight into a 5K for your first race, exactly how far are you running?

A 5K is named that because it’s 5 kilometers long. That’s 3.107 miles, or 3.1 miles if we round up. 5Ks are appealing to runners and athletes of all skill levels and backgrounds since they aren’t as heavy on the endurance as 10Ks and up. 

That doesn’t mean running a 5K race is a breeze, nor does it mean you can forego the prep. However, compared to many other races that runners compete in, a 5K is a great chance to dip your toes into the water of competitive running. 

Exactly how long can you expect to spend running when you’re in a 5K race? Well, that depends on your pacing and your age. Healthline has a breakdown of how long it takes men and women to complete a 5K by age. Here’s the info:

  • Ages 16 to 19 – 12:09 for women and 9:34 for men
  • Ages 20 to 24 – 11:44 for women and 9:30 for men
  • Ages 25 to 29 – 11:42 for women and 10:03 for men
  • Ages 30 to 34 – 12:29 for women and 10:09 for men
  • Ages 35 to 39 – 12:03 for women and 10:53 for men
  • Ages 40 to 44 – 12:24 for women and 10:28 for men 
  • Ages 45 to 49 – 12:41 for women and 10:43 for men
  • Ages 50 to 54 – 13:20 for women and 11:08 for men
  • Ages 55 to 59 – 14:37 for women and 12:08 for men
  • Ages 60 to 64 – 14:47 for women and 13:05 for men
  • Ages 65 to 99 – 16:12 for women and 13:52 for men

These race times are assuming that you run for the entire duration of the 5K. More than likely, for your first time around at least, you’ll rely on a combination of running and walking to get through. You might even walk more than you run, which is expected as a beginner. It can take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes to walk a 5K, so don’t necessarily think you’ll be done with your race in 16 minutes or so.  

How Do You Train for a 5K Marathon?

You want to ace your 5K even though you’re still pretty new at running. The good news? It’s totally possible, but you will have to commit to a long-term training schedule of six weeks. That’s about a month and a half. You’ll exercise all but two days a week, and not exclusively running, either.

Here’s a sample plan you can follow.

Week One of 5K Training

Monday should be your rest day, so leave that open. On Tuesday, gear up for a mile-long base run. To get you in 5K shape, set your pace so you’re walking for 30 seconds then running for three minutes, repeating this until you hit that mile marker.

If you’re tired after your run, Wednesday can be your second rest day or you can save it or Friday. If you do exercise on Wednesday, then do a strength workout. You want to incorporate the following moves into your routine:

  • Leg lifts: A leg lift is a core exercise. To do it, start on the floor with your back flat. Move your legs together and straighten them. Then, raise your legs as high as they will go, keeping your back in place. Put your legs back down slowly, but don’t drop them to the floor. Hover them just above the floor for a few moments, then repeat.
  • Bird-dog: The bird-dog involves muscles such as the thighs, glutes, lower back, and abs. Roll out a yoga mat and get down on your knees. Keep your knees in-line with the width of your hips. Then put your hands on the mat, distancing them to your shoulders. Raise one hand up and out and then lift your foot straight out and back on that same side. Hold the pose, lower it, and repeat on the other side. 
  • Side plank: The side plank is a variation of the standard plank, which you should do as well. To start your side plank, you may begin in the plank position or on your side. Bend your knees slightly and use the elbow that’s closest to the floor to boost yourself up. Lift until your hips are off the floor, stay like this for six seconds, then drop and repeat on the other side. 
  • Glute bridge lift: To form a glute bridge, lay flat on your yoga mat. Put your hands face-down on the mat and your feet flat as well. Arch your knees up and begin to raise your mid-section until your butt is off the ground. Your back should not move, nor should your arms. 
  • Plank: The classic plank is an easy exercise for even beginners to do. Lay on your yoga mat face-down but keep your arms bent. Your elbows should be in-line with the distance of your hips. Keep your toes facing the mat as well. Lift your arms up and hold, tightening your core, glutes, and quads if you wish. 
  • Bicycle crunches: Start your bicycle crunches by laying on your back on your yoga mat. Tuck your hands behind your head and pull your head down towards your chest. Then lift one knee near your chest, raising your shoulders as you do so you’re crunching. Then do the same with the other leg. 

For each of these core exercises, do three sets at about a minute each. That should take you 20 minutes altogether. 

On Thursday, you want to repeat the same one-mile run you did on Tuesday. This time, walk for a minute and then run for a minute. This is a somewhat easier base run since you exercised a lot yesterday. 

Assuming you didn’t rest on Wednesday, then Friday will be your second rest day of the week. On Saturday, you’ll be right back at it, running for two miles this time. Maintain a pace of walking for one minute at a time, then running for five minutes. 

Wrap up your week on Sunday with another strength training session per the routine above. 

Week Two of 5K Training

Congratulations, you completed the first week of 5K training! You’re going to be a little sore and probably tired too, but this is no time to quit. For the second week, start off with a rest day on Monday just as you did last week.

Tuesday is running day, and you’re not wasting any time. Run two miles on this day, walking for only 30 seconds at a time and running in four-minute increments. On Wednesday, it’s strength-training time. Although you’re increasing your running distance, do not start doing more strength exercises. The routine from above is more than sufficient for getting you in running shape.

On Thursday, you’ll do a 1.5-mile run, walking for a minute then running for a minute until you complete the distance. Again, Friday is a rest day, so take full advantage of that. 

When Saturday rolls around, you’ll start your weekend with a two-mile run as you did last Saturday. This time though, you want to run for seven minutes at a time and walk for one minute. Complete the week with a strength workout on Sunday. 

Week Three of 5K Training

You’re about midway through your 5K training, so don’t stop now. Monday is still a rest day so you can get your week off on the right foot. Like you did last week, you’ll run two miles on Tuesday. You’re trying to reduce how often you’re walking, doing so for only 30 seconds at a time. You should be running in five-minute bursts without feeling too winded by this point.

Wednesday is strength-training day. This Thursday, change things up by adding four strides to your 1.5-mile walk. It’s okay to walk longer, for one-minute clips, then run for two minutes. Round out the workweek with a rest day on Friday.

For the weekend, plan a 2.5-mile run on Saturday, which is your longest to date. You’ll also push yourself further, as you should run for eight minutes before taking a 30-second walking break and repeating that until you’re done. Then do your regular strength-training routine on Sunday. 

Week Four of 5K Training

On the fourth week, you should notice that your endurance and stamina are far better than they were before you started training. Keep it up! Monday is a rest day as always, and on Tuesday, you’re back to running 2.5 miles. Like you did on Saturday, run for eight minutes at a time, then walk for 30 seconds, and keep repeating that. Then do a strength-training workout on Wednesday.

Repeat your workout from last Thursday, a two-mile run with four strides where you run for two minutes at a time then walk for one minute. Take a break on Friday so you’re ready for Saturday, as you’ll run for 2.5 miles. Try to keep up your running pace for as long as you can; time yourself if possible. Once you complete that run, end your week with strength training on Sunday. 

Week Five of 5K Training

The fifth week of training shouldn’t change too much from the fourth. You still want to rest on Monday, run 2.5 miles on Tuesday, do a strength workout on Wednesday, and run for two miles with four strides on Thursday. Friday should be another rest day. 

This time, on Saturday, run for three miles. Think of this as your 5K preview. Once more, try to maintain an even running pace for as long as you can. 

Since last weekend, you timed how long you can run without slowing down, you should have a good idea now of your running duration. Try to limit your walking times as much as you can. Then do a strength-training workout on Sunday.  

Week Six of 5K Training

This is it, your last week of training and possibly your first 5K race as well. Monday should be a rest day and on Tuesday, run for two miles as you have before. Wednesday is also unchanged as a strength workout day. 

Since you may run a race this week, reduce your run on Thursday to 1.5 miles with four strides. The day before your race should be a rest day, as should the day after! 

What Should You Eat the Night Before a 5K? What about Pre-Race and Post-Race?

You could be the most well-trained 5K runner in the race, but if you eat the wrong foods before your run, you’ll hinder your own performance. Which foods should you avoid? We discussed this on the blog. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Beans and legumes, as the natural mold in these foods could lead to inflammation and reduce the much-needed oxygen you require for your run.
  • Vegetables such as lima beans, acorn squash, green peas, collard greens, parsnips, carrots, spinach, broccoli, and artichokes, as they’re too high in fiber for a race.
  • Apples and pears, which are also very high-fiber.
  • Cheese, since the lactose in this dairy product might lead to bloating and even diarrhea.
  • Red meat, including bacon, as all the protein in the meat hogs too much of your digestive abilities, leaving you low on energy elsewhere.

Are you curious which foods are allowable for your 5K race? We’ve got your covered.

What to Eat the Night Before a 5K

When you fuel up for a 5K or any long-distance race, your body needs three sources: fats, protein, and carbs. You might be surprised to see fats and carbs on the list, as aren’t those the two biggest no-no foods around? Not necessarily.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered healthy. Ingesting these fats may reduce your cholesterol and even protect your heart. As for carbohydrates, they get a bad rap, and unfairly at that. Carbs are simply nothing more than energy. When you’re running in a race, you need the energy to burn, so upping your intake of carbs is a smart idea. 

Balance your night-before meal so it has 25-percent fat content, 25-percent protein content, and 50 percent of carbs. To get healthy fats, you have all sorts of options, including extra virgin olive oil, chia seeds, nuts, fatty fish like salmon, whole eggs, dark chocolate, and avocados.

Here are some high-protein foods to incorporate into your night-before meal:

  • Turkey breast – 26 grams of protein per three-gram serving
  • Pumpkin seeds – 9 grams of protein per one-ounce serving
  • Quinoa – 8 grams of protein per cup
  • Tuna – 27 grams of protein per 142 grams
  • Lean beef – 25 grams of protein per three ounces
  • Greek yogurt – 17 grams of protein per six-ounce serving
  • Oats – 11 grams of protein per cup
  • Chicken breast – 53 grams of protein per chicken breast
  • Almonds – 6 grams of protein per 28 grams
  • Eggs – 6 grams of protein per egg

Just because you can eat carbs doesn’t mean you want to derail your diet with junk food. Here are some healthful carb sources to incorporate before your 5K:

  • Chickpeas – 27.4 percent carbs when cooked
  • Kidney beans – 22.8 percent carbs
  • Apples – 13 to 15 percent carbs
  • Grapefruit – 9 percent carbs
  • Blueberries – 14.5 percent carbs
  • Oranges – 11.8 percent carbs
  • Beetroot – 8 to 10 percent carbs
  • Sweet potatoes – 18 to 21 percent carbs
  • Bananas – 23 percent carbs
  • Buckwheat – 71.5 percent carbs
  • Oats – 66 percent carbs
  • Quinoa – 21.3 percent carbs

What to Eat the Morning of a 5K

Your alarm blares and you groggily drag yourself out of bed. Once the realization hits you that you’ll run today, you become a bundle of nerves. Although eating might be the furthest thing from your mind right now, you still have to do it.

Wake up early enough that you have at least an hourlong window before you have to get on your way to the race. You might even want to give yourself two hours because of the aforementioned nervousness, which could impact digestion. 

Add some protein to your breakfast but have the meal be mostly carbs. You can try something like a chia seed pudding with strawberries and a side of toast. A half a bagel with some jelly and peanut butter is sufficient, as is a cup of yogurt with a side of granola. 

If you need an on-the-go type of breakfast, prep a smoothie with protein powder, yogurt, and carb-heavy fruits. At the very least, eat some toast with peanut butter and banana. 

Let’s say you somehow overslept or you’re rushing around the house getting ready and hardly have time to eat. You’ll need fast-acting carbs to give you energy. These carb sources include dried fruit, dates, applesauce, dry cereal, and/or banana. 

What to Eat After a 5K

When you cross the finish line, even if you don’t win, you’re going to feel celebratory. After all, you just finished your first 5K, and that is indeed a big deal. You’ll probably be inclined to ditch the diet and eat what you want after following such a strict regimen for weeks now. Hold off a little longer on that.

Your body just did some major output, possibly even more exertion than you ever have before. You need to continue fueling yourself smartly. Here are some meals and snacks you can make post-race:

  • Greek yogurt with a side of granola and fruit 
  • Oatmeal bowl with chia seeds, bananas, and/or strawberries
  • Salmon with a side of asparagus and rice
  • Penne chicken pasta with broccoli
  • Grilled chicken with a side of roasted veggies

What Should You Do the Night Before a 5K?

You can still remember when you first started training for your 5K. Now the big day is almost here. On the night before the race, there’s plenty you can do to ensure the important morning ahead can start off without a hitch.

Gather All Your Gear

You don’t want to burn through your energy on the morning of your 5K looking for your waist pack or your missing running shoe. To prevent that, take the time now when you’re feeling calm and find everything you’ll need. Lay out your running gear, your shoes, socks, and accessories. You’ll wake up tomorrow and be far less stressed.

Relax and Unwind

You’re going to feel a bit emotionally frazzled thinking about what tomorrow can bring, so try your best to put it out of your head. Do something that you enjoy, such as binge-watch a favorite TV series, have some friends over, or listen to music. Try not to eat outside of the abovementioned diet, and avoid alcohol as well. 

Get to Bed Early

The more sleep you can get before your 5K, the better. Since the thoughts of tomorrow could leave you tossing and turning longer than you usually do, it’s okay to call it a night an hour or two earlier. 

How to Pace Yourself When Running a 5K

The race has begun and you’re off! What kind of pace should you strive for as you begin your 5K? At the beginning of the race and for at least your first mile, you want a steady, even pace. It’s okay if this feels slower than what you should be running. 

By pacing yourself like this, you prevent yourself from burning through all that frenetic energy in your first mile. That could lead you to turning up empty as the race nears its end, which is the last thing you want. 

Once you get to the second mile, begin picking up speed. You’re still not running as fast as you can possibly go, but that’s okay. Out of a 10, maybe you’re running at an eight. Listen to your body as you go. If you’re in pain, it’s okay to slow it down, as you’re still on mile two and the race is nowhere close to being decided yet. 

By the time you reach the third and final mile, you want to go 10/10 on the speed scale. Since you’ve managed your energy so efficiently, speeding up at this point shouldn’t be too difficult. Other racers who didn’t pace themselves will be sidelined and slowed down now, making it easy for you to pass them. 

You Successfully Completed a 5K – Now What?

The adrenaline rush you get from running is going to be at an all-time high after completing a 5K. After you take a few well-deserved days off, you’re going to wonder what your next running goal is. 

That’s up to you. If you didn’t win your first 5K, you might keep trying until you do. In the meantime, you can expand your training to gear up for a 10K race. Now that you’ve gotten a taste for running’s rewards, the sky is the limit! 

Final Thoughts 

Running a 5K is an attainable goal for beginner runners, but this race still requires training, practice, and preparation. With all the information in this guide, you’re not only ready to compete in a 5K, but you could possibly win as well. Best of luck! 

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Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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