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Have you ever fantasized about triumphantly crossing the finish line with your loved ones cheering you on? Or maybe you just want to feel confident enough to leisurely walk a race on your own? Either way, training for a road race is a fun and rewarding goal to work toward whether you’re looking for a challenge or are just getting started on a fitness routine.
The crisp, fall weather is perfect for taking workouts outdoors. Having a specific end goal — like a race day — can keep you committed by giving you something to reach for. If you've been following our walking plans for a few months and have made fitness a solid habit, training for a race can be a great way to stay motivated and step it up!
I've designed training plans for three different fitness levels that will make finishing a 5K totally doable — regardless of where you're at right now. Five kilometers — or a 5K — is a popular race distance that is an achievable goal. In case your metric conversion skills are a little rusty, five kilometers is 3.1 miles.
You can find a 5K in most towns and cities, but you can also sign up for a virtual race or chart your own path. Then pick the plan that works for you, lace up your sneakers and hit the road. Any one of these plans will take you from the couch to a 5K in time to celebrate with a big holiday meal!
Whether you’ve had a “reindeer run” on the calendar for months or think there’s no way you could every complete one, there’s a training plan that will get you race-ready in just six weeks.
6 weeks to a 5K: Choose your training plan
We will all follow the same training timeline, but the plan you follow will differ based on your individual fitness level and goals. After a few weeks of cardio only (walking, running, or a combo), you will add in a strength and stretch routine to your training plan. This routine is designed to help stretch and strengthen the muscles used when walking and running, helping you to move more efficiently.
The plan is broken down into three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced so that you can walk, run/walk, or run three miles in five weeks. Are you ready?
Beginner: Walk a 5K
The goal of this beginner plan is to take you from sedentary to walking a full 5K. The walking pace is your normal walking pace. For the "speed" segments, you’ll power walk and pump your arms.
- Week 1: ½-mile walk
- Week 2: ½-mile walk, ½-mile speed
- Week 3: ½-mile walk, ½-mile speed x 2
- Week 4: ½-mile walk, 1-mile speed, 1-mile walk
- Week 5: 1-mile speed, ½-mile walk x 2, 0.2-miles speed
- Week 6: 1-mile speed, 1-mile walk, 1.2-mile speed
Intermediate: Walk/run a 5K
This intermediate plan is for people who currently have a regular walking routine and want to be able to walk and run a 5K. You'll start out mostly walking interspersed with running for short distances. As your training progresses, you'll increase the time and distance of the running segments. The walking speed is faster than a leisurely stroll — pump your arms and try to walk quickly. The run is a light jog (or faster if you see fit.)
- Week 1: ½-mile walk, ¼-mile run, ½-mile walk
- Week 2: ½-mile walk, ½-mile run, ½-mile walk
- Week 3: ½-mile walk, 1-mile run, ½-mile walk
- Week 4: ½-mile walk, 1-mile run, ½-mile walk, ½-mile run
- Week 5: ½-mile run, ½-mile walk, 1-mile run, ½-mile walk, 0.7-mile run
- Week 6: ½-mile run, ½-mile walk, 1.5 mile run, ½-mile walk, 0.2 mile run
Advanced: Run a 5K
This advanced plan is for people who want to be able to run a 5K in 6 weeks. If you’ve been walking and have experience running, or if you’ve been walking and really want to push yourself, follow this plan. The jogging speed is a slow run, and the running speed should be a faster pace than the jog — but not a full sprint.
- Week 1: ½-mile jog, ¼-mile run, ½-mile jog
- Week 2: ½-mile jog, ½-mile run, ½-mile jog
- Week 3: ½-mile jog, 1-mile run, ½-mile jog
- Week 4: ½-mile jog, 1-mile run, ½-mile jog, ½-mile run
- Week 5: ½-mile jog, 1-mile run, 1-mile jog, 0.7-mile run
- Week 6: 1-mile jog, 1-mile run, ½-mile jog, .07-mile run
How to measure your distance
If you have a smart watch that you use to track steps, you can use it to track miles for you. You can also use a free app on your smartphone like MyFitnessPal, Google Fit or Strava. Most of these apps will allow you to select a 5K distance goal and give you audio alerts when you reach certain distances along the way.
If you’re on a treadmill, it will clearly display your distance and it will let you set your speed. You can also do your training at a local park with mile markers or on a track (one lap is typically ¼ of a mile).
If you don’t have a smart phone and want to track the mileage in blocks — like my grandma in Michigan! — no problem. One mile is the equivalent to 20 blocks. So ½ a mile is 10 blocks. In bigger cities, keep in mind that the blocks vary in distance going north to south and east to west. In other words, you may have to adjust or simply Google how many blocks are in a mile in your area to figure out how many blocks you need to make 5K.
Training days and rest days are built into the plan. On training days, you will be actively walking or running. On rest days, you can take the day off or choose another activity, but it is important to give your body some recovery time from pounding the pavement.
Our strength training routine or 5-minute yoga stretch are both great ways to add movement into your rest days. The rest days are meant to give your body a break from running and power walking, but you can still move your body in other ways! Whatever type of workout you enjoy doing is encouraged. And of course, if you want to continue with a daily walk, feel free!
5 minute strength-training routine for walkers and runners
These four exercises provide both a stretch and strength workout. They are designed to help warm you up, strengthen your muscles, help you move more efficiently and improve your performance on race day!
Stretch: This exercise will stretch the inner thighs and strengthen both the inner thighs and the glutes. Start by standing with your feet wider than your shoulders. Move back and forth to the right and left side lunging in place in continual motion. Bend the right knee to the right as you stretch the left leg’s inner thigh, then come through center and bend the left knee as you stretch the right inner thigh. Be sure to keep the knee in line with the ankle and don't move too far forward. Repeat this 5 times.
Strength: To strengthen the inner thigh and glute, hold the right-side lunge for 5 seconds, then go to the left and hold for 5 seconds. Push off the heel of the bent knee to come back through center as you shift sides. Repeat 5 times.
Half squat into toe rock
Stretch: Loosen up the hips and strengthen the back of the legs with this exercise. To start, squat back halfway to the ground from standing and then rock forward to straighten your legs and come up onto your toes. Move through this without pausing, use a little bit of momentum and be sure to not go down further than half of a squat. Move through this 5 times.
Side leg swing
Stretch: Open up the outer and inner hips while strengthening the outer hip and thigh with this move. To start, stand with your feet as wide as your shoulders. Place your hands on your hips for balance. Lift the right leg up and swing it out to the right side almost as high as your hip. Bring it through center and swing it over toward the left. Repeat this 5 times.
Strength: Next, hold the right leg out to the right as high as possible, engaging the outer hip. Hold for 5 seconds and then swing past the midline holding for 5 seconds toward the left. Repeat for a total of 5 repetitions. Then switch legs.
Forward leg swing
Stretch: Loosen up the hip flexor while strengthening the quads and glutes with this exercise. To start, stand with your feet as wide as your shoulders. Swing the right leg forward and then reach it back using momentum. Repeat this 5 times.
Strength: Then, swing the leg forward and hold this forward leg lift while engaging your quad for 5 seconds. Swing it through center and reach it toward the back with a straight leg, holding for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times and then switch to the other leg.