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Ask an Expert - Preparing for a 5K Run

My 13-year-old daughter wants to participate in a 5K run with me. Neither of us has run more than one mile at a time. How should we prepare?

Gary Liguori, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

You have a number of things to consider when preparing for your first 5K. Some key questions are: Do you want to run the entire distance (as opposed to taking periodic walking breaks)? Do you want to achieve a certain time? How much time do you have to train? How long until the actual event?

The ideal length of time to prepare for a 5K is no less than 12 weeks, three to five days each week. If you can run one mile, we will use that as your starting point. Assuming that running a mile takes you about 12 minutes, you can anticipate a 5K time of 30 to 40 minutes. (Five kilometers is 3.125 miles; 12 minutes times 3,125 miles is 37.5 minutes.)

If possible, you may want to do some or all of your training at the time of day you will be running the race. Some people find that training in the evenings, then being prepared for an 8 a.m. race, is quite challenging.

For an event of this duration, special hydration needs usually are not necessary unless you live somewhere particularly hot
and humid. Otherwise, drinking water before and after each training session is sufficient. You do not need to use any type
of “energy” food during a training session or the race.

So, for a weekly plan, the idea is to gradually increase the total amount of time running, using one-minute walking breaks throughout. Most people will find that on the day of the race, given the excitement and adrenaline, completing the entire distance without walking will be quite possible.

A word of caution, however, is that most novice racers start out far too quickly, which can make the last mile quite a challenge. During your training sessions, make sure to run an even pace throughout, which should help on race day. A heart rate monitor, although not necessary, can be a good tool to keep you from starting too quickly. Use the monitor during all of your training runs to get a good sense of what your heart rate should be normally during a run. Then on race day, make sure not to exceed this, especially in the first mile.

Here is a weekly plan to prepare for the race:

  • Weeks one and two - total running time: 15 minutes (three to five times each week); (run three minutes, walk one minute) x 5
  • Weeks three and four - total running time: 20 minutes (three to five times each week); (run five minutes, walk one minute) x 4
  • Weeks five and six - total running time: 24 minutes (three to five times each week); (run eight minutes, walk one minute) x 3
  • Weeks seven and eight - total running time: 30 minutes (three to five times each week); (run 10 minutes, walk one minute) x 3
  • Weeks nine and 10 - total running time: 30 minutes (three to five times each week); (run 15 minutes, walk one minute) x 2
  • Weeks 11 and 12 - total running time: 40 minutes (three to five times each week); (run 20 minutes, walk one minute) x 2; no running for two days prior to race
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