How to Train for a 5K or 10K

Prep for Your Goal Race in Just 8 Weeks

Your first race. Whether it’s a 5K or 10, just the thought of getting to the start line can be daunting. But, like the race itself, it really is all about taking it one step at a time. We’ve asked Saucony Ambassador and 'SuperCoach' Laura McLean to guide us through those steps, day-by-day, for the 8 weeks leading up to your first race. Laura coaches in her club 
Longboat Runners in Toronto as well as with the Ryerson University Cross Country Program. Here she puts some of that invaluable experience into a program tailored just for you. Take it away, Laura!

Welcome to my 8-week training plan, designed to prepare a beginner runner for a 5K or 10K race. The program is written in minutes, rather than mileage, so anyone can do it. All you need is something to keep the time! If you want to track your distance with a GPS watch or an app on your phone, that’s great — but it isn’t necessary for success. What I do suggest is keeping a training log in which you write down what you ran on each day and how you felt.

If need be, the program can be modified to a 10-1 run/walk program (run 10 minutes/walk 1 minute), where on easy and long runs 10-1 applies, and for workouts the first minute of recovery can be walked. If you're aiming for a 5K race, the long run days can be limited to 35 minutes.

Week 1: Introduction Part I

Your first week of running! Exciting, isn’t it? The goal this week is to run 30 minutes a day, 4 days of the week. If you can’t run the whole time, that’s okay. Just slow down to a walk and keep moving forward. Try to run 10 minutes/walk 1 minute. If you can’t do that, try to run 5 minutes/walk 1 minute. When running “easy,” you want to be able to hold a conversation with your running partner (if you have one), or otherwise breathe consistently through your nose.

Week 2: Introduction Part II

This week, we will continue to build our base with 30 minute runs every other day, but include strides twice this week. Even if you are doing the 10-1 or 5-1, be sure to add in the strides. If you did 5-1 last week, try 8-1 this week. You may need to slow down to find your optimal pace.

Strides are gradual 20 second accelerations at about 85% effort — so not all out, but by the end of the 20 seconds you’re approaching all out. They are to be completed at the end of your run. You can run the 20 seconds and then walk back from where you started and repeat 3 more times.

Week 3: Speed Play

This week we are going to introduce a workout and lengthen the long run. The new workout is a “fartlek” (fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”). We’ll simply be introducing some speed by running faster for 2 minutes and easy again for 2 minutes, five times. Have fun with this and try to feel out a pace you think you can maintain for the full 10 minutes of faster running.

If you’re doing 10-1, on the workout day run the fast repeat, and walk the first minute of the slow repeat. If you’ve been doing 8-1, try bumping yourself up to 10-1. Finally, if you're aiming for a 5K race, limit the long run day to 35 minutes.

Week 4: Halfway to Race Day

We’re going to continue to increase the length of our long run and add in a second workout. Remember the fartlek from last week? We’ll be doing another one of those but with one more repetition. We’ll also include a hill workout. It’s going to be tough but you can do it! Find a relatively long hill that isn’t too steep. You want to be able to run up to about the same effort as you did during your fartlek workout.

Again, if your goal race is a 5K, you can limit your long run day to 35 minutes.

Week 5: How Far We've Come!

This is the first of two big weeks, the heavy part of your training before you begin your taper. It will feel hard but manageable. We’re now up to 2 workouts and a long run; this week we will add in an optional 5th run.

This week we’re going to do some longer intervals; it’s only 10 minutes of hard work. Focus on running comfortably hard, where you can feel yourself pushing but you’re able to complete both sets. This is also the first of two 1-hour long runs (unless you are aiming for a 5K race - then you can keep the long run day at 35 minutes).

Week 6: The Big Push

This is the last week before we taper. There’s only one hard workout mid-week, but there is a lot of quality in your long run. At this point, your goal race should be in sight. Look back at how far you have come and focus on how you want to feel during your race!

For a 5K goal race, skip the final 10 & 15 minute sets on your long run day.

Week 7: Taper Week  

You’ve worked hard the last six weeks and now you’re going to enjoy a bit of a recovery week. There’s just one workout and a long run — the rest of your running will be done at an easy pace.

Week 8: Race Week!

You’ve done it! The hard work is now behind you, and it’s time for one last pre-race workout and some strides. Take the time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, and let it sink in that you’re ready for your race! Go out there and #RunYourWorld — and have fun!