So You Want to Run a 5K – Part 3 – Choosing a Training Program

Welcome to Part 3 of our "So You Want to Run a 5K" series.  We talked about where to run in Part One, and essential running gear in Part Two.  Now that you're decked out and have a place to run, it's time to start training.  Do you just head out and run?  Walk?  Both?  Maybe…it depends on a lot of things. 

While you could just start running, I definitely think some sort of plan is better than just winging it, although you can certainly come up with your own plan (I did).  Here is an overview of the plans that I looked at (note that while some of the plans say "jogging", I say it's "running" if it's faster than you walk), as well as what I actually did:

Blisstree's Couch to 5K in 6 weeks
This plan consists of three workouts per week, and I think it's pretty intense – you get to the full 5K in only 6 weeks.  This program trains by time rather than by distance, and the first workout has you doing 5 minutes of running and a 5 minute cool down.  As you progress, you gradually increase your run time until you're at 30 minutes at the end of week 5.  You then taper off and run your race at the end of week 6.

While this plan mentions that you shouldn't be afraid of the walk break, the thought of even 5 minutes of running when I started was way too much for me.

Hal Higdon's 8-week 5K program for novices
Whether you do his plans or not, Hal Higdon's site has a lot of great information, including a walking program if you aren't at a running level yet.  He has novice, intermediate, and advanced training programs for all sorts of distances (hello, half-marathon).

Coming from doing the 30 Day fShred daily, I really like that his novice 5K program has activities on 4-6 days a week.  But the first scheduled run is 1.5 miles.  Perhaps that's not a lot for people who are currently (or used to be) runners, but as someone who had NEVER run before, this was a bit daunting.  He mentioned that "if running 1.5 miles for your first workout seems to difficult, you might want to begin with the walking program."  I felt like the walking program was way too easy, though.  I needed somewhere in between the two.

Cool Running Couch-to-5K
This plan consists of 3 workouts a week for 9 weeks.  The first week you run/walk for 20 minutes, alternating between 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking.  You gradually increase the amount of running you're doing, and then decrease the amount of walking until you're running the whole 5K.

Of all the plans I looked at, I liked this one the best because it was in between walking and running.  The intervals weren't quite right for me, but it was definitely a good starting place.

My 5K plan
I basically took the Cool Running plan and adapted it for my fitness level.  I started out as they did (90 seconds of walking/60 seconds of running), but I added a warmup walk before, and rather than stopping at 20 minutes I did a full 5K (3.1 miles) every time.  Since I was in decent shape, I thought it was important to get used to the distance, regardless of if I was walking or running.  I was also running 4 times a week instead of 3.

As I got more comfortable with running I'd bump up the run time and/or decrease the walk time.  By somewhere around week 6 I got to 3:15 running and 0:45 walking, and that interval has been comfortable for me since (although I need to change it up at this point).

What's important to remember is that none of these plans may be exactly right for you.  Feel free to adapt them to fit your level of fitness, and remember not to overdo it.  The best way to hate running is to overdo it.  After a while you might want to push yourself, but take some time to ease into it.  You might actually find you enjoy it!

Next time…extras you can play with!

- Bill

3 comments for “So You Want to Run a 5K – Part 3 – Choosing a Training Program

  1. August 20, 2009 at 10:32 am

    When I was a VERY beginning beginner, I needed an exceedingly gradual program (the Couch to 5k was too much for me!). I used this one from Lifehack that has you walking more than you’re running until week 5: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/running-for-beginners.html
    (and now I’m cheerfully running 10k distances and vaguely considering half-marathons in my someday-plan, if that makes anyone feel better about where they’re starting out)

  2. limejuicy
    August 20, 2009 at 10:39 am

    iTunes has a great couch-to-5k app for the iPhone, called c25k. You play your favorite running music playlist and then start your next c25k workout. The program signals you (over your music) when you should walk/run/cooldown. I’m on week 5 of the 8 week program and I still love it.

  3. August 20, 2009 at 11:44 am

    When I first started, eons ago, I just started by running from one mailbox to the next. And then I’d worked up to two mailboxes. Definitely an unscientific way to do it, but it worked!
    I like the C25K approach they have now! It makes a 5K accessible to everyone, not just the elite.

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