Training for a 5K race in eight weeks

North Wind sports writer and NMU cross country skier and runner Christina Gillis outlines the basics of the sport of running and how to prepare for a 5km race in two months or less. Gillis created an eight week plan for someone who has little or no running experience and isn’t currently exercising. It can also be useful to those who engage in physical activity on a regular basis, but have never tackled the challenge of preparing for a 5km. However, they may be able to skip the first easier weeks of training and jump right into the more intense preparation. If while following this training plan at any point the pounding becomes too painful on your knees or other injuries seem to be developing you can always substitute runs with other endurance sports such as swimming or biking.

Most college students are looking for a way to stay in shape this summer and have fun in the process, but don’t know where to start. Why not try the oldest and simplest sport around – running. Running costs little to nothing, you can do it anywhere and it’s one of the best ways to get into shape.

When you are beginning the training process, the hardest thing is getting off the sofa and out the door. Setting goals and having a friend accompany you are two simple ways to gain motivation. Pick a 5km to race this summer, and set a goal, whether it is just making it through the whole race without walking or if it is a specific time to set your sights on. It’s also a good idea to have little goals along the way. The first thing you should shoot for is being able to run 30 minutes without stopping. Having someone else train with is also useful because not only will they motivate you on the days you feel like running, but they will also drag you out of bed the days you don’t want to.

Week one

Walk/jog three to four times for 30 minutes. Start out by walking, and slowly ease into a jog. See if you can jog for three to five minutes, then walk for the same length of time – switching on and off for 30 minutes. As this starts getting easier, increase the jogging time and decrease the walking time.

Week two

Jog four times for 30 minutes. Again, start out with a few minutes of walking, but this time, ease into your jog, but don’t stop. Once you have jogged nearly 30 minutes, ease back into a walk for the last minute or two, and make sure to stretch immediately afterwards.

Weeks three and four

Jog four to five times a week and try to make at least one of these runs a bit longer (45 minutes to an hour.) The goal now is to increase your strength and build up your endurance.

Weeks five through seven

It’s now time to add some speed. Once a week replace an easy run with either a ladder interval workout or a tempo run to intensify your training plan. The ladder is an interval set in which you go hard and then easy for equal amounts of time. Your intervals should be done in this order (in minutes): 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1. Start by warming up really well with stretches and jogging in place, as cold muscles are more likely to be pulled or injured. Once you’ve warmed up, run hard for one minute, then rest for one minute before starting the two-minute interval. Continue this pattern until you reach the four-minute interval, then go back down the ladder. Make sure to cool down and stretch once you’re finished.

Similar to the ladder intervals, is the tempo run. You should also start this workout with a good warm up. Once you feel ready, ease into a Level 3 pace. Level 3 is considered your threshold level, meaning a relaxed, but hard pace. This pace should be slower than your race pace, but faster than your easy runs. Your tempo run should last 15-20 minutes. Again, don’t forget to cool down and stretch.

Week Eight

It’s race week. You have worked hard for this, so it’s important to be smart and give yourself the optimum chance to perform to the best of your ability. If you do intervals or a tempo run, do them early in the week so your body has a chance to recover before the race. You may want to go out to the racecourse and run for one of your workouts, so you’re familiar with the course. Make sure to get plenty of sleep all week. Sometimes the night before the race, nerves and anxiety keep you awake so it’s especially important to get a good sleep two nights prior to the race. Proper nutrition and hydration are essential to peak athletic performance as well.

Race Day

Make sure to wake up early enough to eat three hours before the race. Eat whatever your body is used to – although if you usually eat greasy sausages, eggs and donuts for breakfast, you may want to try something else. It’s important that you stay hydrated throughout the morning with liquids that suite your body. Again, if your drink of choice happens to be Coke or Pepsi you may want to try water or a sports drink. Next, it’s important to get to the race with plenty of time to stretch and warm-up. As the race approaches, stay calm and remember this is for fun.

When the gun goes off try not to be sucked in by the race hype, because if you start too fast you will likely regret it the last mile. Finally, it is important to remember that running is hard. There will be a point in the race when you are not feeling good, a lot of this is mental – your body is capable of doing amazing things as long as you let it.

After your eight weeks is over hopefully you have crossed the finish line a little lighter and little tanner, with a newfound confidence. If you find yourself wanting to pursue the sport further you can surf runnersworld.com, check out their magazine or even just go to one of the local sports shops that have trained staff that would be happy to answer any questions.