Living Columns & Blogs

Want to run a 5K? Here's how to train

Runners, joggers and walkers join the annual Flutopia 5K in Tom Tudek Memorial Park in State College in July 2017.
Runners, joggers and walkers join the annual Flutopia 5K in Tom Tudek Memorial Park in State College in July 2017. Centre Daily Times, file

Central Pennsylvania offers numerous 5-kilometer races each year. Many are suitable for beginning runners and walkers of all ages, whether they move at a fast or a slow pace. Training for a 5K (3.1 miles) can be great motivation for anyone wanting to improve their overall fitness and health.

As with any new physical activity, it’s a good idea to get clearance from a physician before training for a 5K, especially for someone who has a heart condition, diabetes, orthopedic problem or other medical condition.

Running is an affordable activity for most people to start, since the only required equipment is a good pair of sneakers. If possible, buy running shoes at a specialty store where the staff is trained to fit customers with comfortable, supportive shoes. The salesperson should watch how a customer walks and runs in the sneakers to assess individual gait and fit.

Expect to replace the shoes every 350 to 500 miles. A person who wears the shoes for other daily activities might need to buy them more often because the interior loses its support, even though the sole might still have good tread. Running or walking in excessively worn shoes can lead to stress injuries in the feet or legs.

Special clothing isn’t necessary for running and walking, however, it is recommended to have clothes made of moisture-wicking material that will keep you dry and comfortable. Wearing layers is helpful because the runner or walker can easily discard a layer after warming up. Consider whether the day’s forecast calls for a hat, sunglasses or gloves, as well as sunscreen.

An optional piece of equipment is a sports watch or activity tracker, especially if someone is training for a specific time goal. This can be as simple as a basic watch that measures minutes and seconds, or as complex as a smartwatch with apps for counting steps, timing intervals for walking vs. running, measuring heartrate, mapping your steps via GPS and more.

Get started

An internet search for “5K training plan” yields numerous options for eight-week training schedules. These vary according to the person’s initial activity level and goals. Someone who is active in another sport, such as biking or swimming, can probably start at a more advanced running/walking level than someone who leads a relatively sedentary life.

Most 5K training plans gradually build a person’s endurance or speed over the two months leading up to race day, often alternating intervals of walking and running, or faster and slower running, within each session. Even though a 5K race is a specific distance, most beginning training plans specify workouts by number of minutes to help build endurance gradually.

Stay healthy

  • Warm up before and cool down after each training session. This could be as simple as an easy five-minute walk.

  • Stretch muscles after the warm-up, not before.

  • Consider training with a friend to motivate each other.

  • Follow the “talk test”: A healthy pace is one that allows some conversation, but not so slow as to be able to sing an entire song.

  • Eat a light, nutritious meal or snack about 30 minutes before exercising to give the body fuel without weighing it down.

  • Drink plenty of water during and after exercise.

  • Get a good night’s sleep to help the body recover and prepare for the next day.

It’s not unusual to experience occasional muscle soreness when training; scheduled rest days should allow the body to recover. If chest pain or breathing difficulty occurs, stop and get emergency medical help right away. Pain in a leg or foot could be a sign of a stress fracture or muscle injury. If the pain persists after a rest day, it could be time to see a medical professional.

Signing up for a 5K can be the perfect motivation for becoming more active and living a healthier lifestyle. Follow the training plan, enjoy the actual race ... and get ready to sign up for the next one!

Dr. Kathryn Gloyer is a sports medicine physician with Penn State Sports Medicine, a part of Penn State Health.