How to Prepare for a 5K (From the First Week)

No matter your fitness level, you can learn how to prepare for a 5k race (3.1 miles). You may be coming back from a running layoff, or you’re a new runner with a fitness goal. Maybe you just want to organize your training a bit better and hit a PR. Regardless of your motivation, you can do this! 

We’ll show you how to train for a 5k starting with the most important piece of gear all the way to some considerations on race day. We’ll explain how to avoid injuries, integrate mobility work, and set yourself up for successful recovery. Your first week of training will be fully explained in this article so you can hit the ground running. 

See you at the starting line!

How to Prepare for a 5K

Coach Craig on how to prepare for a 5k

If the first week rocks your running work, then don’t forget that the full 5k training program is available in our app. For six weeks, each workout is fully programmed and organized for you. There will be speed work, running drills, strength training, and restorative work to get complete training without injury. Not only that, but our running coaches are also in the app to answer any questions you may have. Our running community is training right alongside you in the app, too. Download it here to join us!

Now, let’s dive into some of those essential components of how to train for a 5k. Lace up your running shoes and here we go!

1. Always Warm Up Before You Run

Prioritize giving yourself enough time to complete a warm-up before every workout.  This gives you a leg up on injury prevention and benefits your recovery. By performing a warm-up, you heat up your core temperature and prepare your joints and muscles for movement. You can also use a warm up to grease the groove of good running mechanics. For example, performing a few burpees will wake up your hip flexors and core, two areas that are responsible for a lot of your movement while running. 

The focus of your training isn’t just the workout, but also how you prepare for it. For a more detailed explanation, we’ve got a great article which tells you all you need to know about warming up. 

If video is more your style, check out this one with Coach Holly. This routine should be a priority for you on race day, so spend some time working through it during your training schedule so you’re familiar with it on the big day.

2. Perform Form Drills To Become A More Efficient Runner

Running with an inefficient form is like cooking without the right ingredients. 

Spend some time evaluating and fine-tuning your running form and mechanics. This helps reduce the risk of injury, run faster, and helps you move more efficiently as a runner. Think of it like running-specific cross-training

To start, ask yourself these questions:

Are my feet underneath my hips? Does my torso rotate? Is my spine straight or rounded?

Each of the drills we’re about to explain will tackle some elements of those questions. You’ll get just a brief overview here, but for the full explanation you can either read our blog post about these favorite running form drills, or you can just click on the video below:

  • Heel-toe rocking: Learn to keep your hips forward while running. 
  • Hopping drill: Stay light on your feet. 
  • High Knees: Practice a quick cadence with fast feet. 
  • Butt Kick: Engage your glutes and hamstrings 
  • Inseam Pull: Combine the previous two drills to practice an optimal stride
  • Stable arm drill: Prevent excessive rotation while running
  • Carioca: Move your spine through a great range of motion

You can build these drills into your dynamic warm up or sprinkle them throughout your next run.

3. Add Cadence Drills To Your Training Plan

Cadence refers to the number of times your feet hit the ground in a minute. Increasing your cadence means that you decrease the amount of time your feet are on the ground with each step. This helps reduce the impact of running on your body as well as encourages an efficient stride. Additionally, it helps maintain your running form as you keep your feet closer to under your body and avoid landing with your foot too far in front of you. 

To learn more and improve your cadence, check out this video below and try the running workout yourself!

There are several free metronome apps available on your smartphone. Find one that works for you and let’s get running.

To find your baseline cadence, run in place and count the number of steps you take in one minute.

Got your number? Great! Set your metronome to that number (ex: baseline= 175; set the metronome to 175 beats per minute). You will be repeating short run intervals, which can be done on a track for 600m (1.5 laps), or on the road for about 30 seconds.

Start your workout:

  • 1st Interval = Baseline (test result)
  • 2nd Interval = Increase by 5 steps per minute (1st was 175, 2nd = 180 BPM)
  • 3rd Interval = Increase again by 3 steps per minute (175, 180, 183 BPM)

4. Make Sure To Cool Down After A Run

Resist the urge to jump in the shower or car as soon as you’re done running. Start your cool down by walking to first get your heart rate down. Afterward, follow along with Coach Kirk in the video below to stretch out and encourage blood flow to areas that tend to get tight while running. You can also read a breakdown of this cool down routine here.

  • Enjoy that cool down walk to start. Try untying your shoes so your feet can breathe. 
  • Hip circles work your hip flexors and prevent tightness. Flowing to a hamstring stretch will loosen up the back of your leg. 
  • Your ankles will get a good stretch by working your knee ahead of your foot, or by using the classic downward dog yoga position. 
  • Use a staggered squat to deeply flex your toes and stretch the fascia in the bottom of your foot. 

5. Mobilize Your Muscles And Tissues

Post cool down is the perfect time to work in some mobility and tissue massage. Your joints and muscles can get stiff with the repetitive movements and the stress of a workout. By using either a foam roller, a ball, and/or a PVC pipe, you can restore full range of motion to your tissues and avoid excessive soreness. All in all, this is a great way to set yourself up for your next workout!

Follow along with Coach Kirk with three great lower leg restoration and injury prevention exercises.

  • To massage your lower leg muscles, grab a PVC pipe, a broomstick, or a roller such as a Tiger Tail. Roll out your calves down to your ankles just like you would with dough and a rolling pin.
  • Using a golf ball and/or lacrosse ball, sandwich the tissues surrounding your shins to release tightness that can build up over a run.
  • Increase the range of motion in your ankle by sitting back in a kneeling position and pulling up on the knee while pressing your ankle into the ground.

Feel free to use these mobilizations on rest days, too! And if you’re interested in learning more of the science behind foam rolling, check out this explanation from Coach Nate.

More Resources on Preparing for a 5K

Just before we jump into your first week of training, let me mention that we have other goodies on the blog to help you prep for your 5k training.

How to Prepare for a 5K: Week 1

Here’s your first week with everything put together:

Day 1: Breath & Mobility

  • Yoga sequence:
    • Downward Dog to Upward Dog, repeat 5-10 times
    • 3 Legged Dog to Long Lung, repeat 3-5 times
    • Pigeon Pose, 1-20 breaths per side
    • Forward Bend, hold for 5-10 breaths

Day 2: Run Drills

  • Warm Up:
    • 5 minutes of easy running
    • 10 hip circles per leg
    • 10 arm circles, forward and backward
  • Main Set:
    • 10-20 minute run at moderate pace
    • Every minute, breathe only through your nose for 5-10 breaths. Breathe normally for the rest of the minute. 
  • Cooldown & Mobility:
    • 3 minutes of easy running
    • Foam roll the quads for 2-3 minutes per leg

Day 3: Strength, Power, & Agility

  • Warm Up:
    • (Optional) 5-15 minutes of easy running
    • 60 seconds Jumping Jacks
    • 10 Boot Strappers
    • 20 Plank Shifts
    • 20 Leg Swings per side
    • 15 Arm Circles forward and backward
  • Main Set:
    • 10-8-6-4-2 ladders: Complete one ladder of each exercise grouping before moving on to the next
    • Alternating Lunges, Mountain Climbers and Bicycles
    • Push Ups, Burpee Broad Jumps, and Sit Ups
    • Single Leg Hops and Glute Bridge March
  • Mobility: 
    • Foam roll the T-spine (upper back) for 2 minutes
    • Foam roll lats for 2 minutes per side

Day 4: Quality Run

  • Warm Up:
    • 5-15 minutes of easy running
    • 10 hip circles per leg
    • 10 arm circles, forward and backward
  • Main Set:
    • 12 minute run
    • Alternate 30 seconds of running with 30 seconds of walking. 
    • Advanced runners can alternate running for 30 seconds with 30 seconds of slower jogging. 
  • Cooldown & Mobility:
    • 5 minutes of easy running
    • Foam roll the calves for 2-3 minutes per leg

Day 5: Balance, Stability, & Core

  • Warm Up
    • (Optional) 10-30 minutes of easy running
    • 30 seconds Arm Circles, forward
    • 30 seconds Arm Circles, backward
    • 30 seconds Arm Swings, front to back
    • 20 Leg Swings per side
    • 10 Hip Circles per side, clockwise, then counterclockwise
    • 10 Hamstring Flosses, each leg
  • Main Set:
    • 3 x 8 reps:
      • Quadraped per side
      • Single Leg Deadlifts per side
      • Rest 60 seconds
  • 4 minute Tabata: 8 x 20sec work w/10 sec rest, each exercise
      • Super Plank
      • Reverse Plank
    • 3 x 8 reps:
      • Weight Shift Pushups
      • Cossack Squats per side
      • Rest 60 seconds
    • 1-minute Squat Hold
    • Belly Breathing for 20 breaths
  • Mobility:
    • Roll out each foot for 2 minutes 
    • Foam roll each shin for 2 minutes

Day 6: Long Run

  • Warm Up:
    • 5 minutes of easy running
    • 10 hip circles per leg
    • 10 arm circles, forward and backward
  • Main Set:
    • 2.5-5 mile run minute run
    • Every 3 minutes, stop running and perform 10 air squats
    • Advanced option instead of air squats:
      • Start: Easy for 1 mile
      • Pick-up: Run 2 minutes at 5k Race Pace, recover 2 minutes
      • Repeat 2 more times
      • Finish: Easy for the remainder of the distance
  • Cooldown & Mobility:
    • 5 minutes of easy running
    • Foam roll the glutes for 2-3 minutes per side
    • Foam roll the hamstrings for 2-3 minutes per leg

Day 7: Fun Run Or Cross Train

  • Optional Run:
    • 2-4 miles if you’re body is well recovered
    • Or, choose to relax outside, play with your dogs or kids, or do chores around the house

With this first week of training, you’ve got a clear picture of just how we structure our training. Slow running isn’t a warm up for faster running, and no workout is complete until you’ve gotten in your mobility. Those are the golden rules that you’ll see in the rest of our 5k Training Program, in addition to strength training and form drills. 

Make sure to download the app to get access to the full videos for this first week of how to train for a 5k as well as the rest of the program! 

Prepare for 5K Race Morning

Race day is something special. You’ve put in the training and now it’s time to run your 3.1 mile race. We always recommend getting to the race location nice and early so you have plenty of time to deal with race day logistics. Depending on the size and location of the race, parking and walking to the start line could take a good 20-30 minutes. Study the layout of the race and form a plan of action the night before so that getting to the starting line isn’t the most stressful part of your race. 

Once at the race site, be sure to perform a proper warm up, just like you’ve practiced. Don’t let the first mile of your 5K be your warm up; the shorter the workout or run, the longer the warm up should be. If you’re looking for few extra tips about your race day warm up, Coach Holly has you covered:

  • Perform a shakeout jog up to 10 minutes to get your core temperature warm, focusing on breathing and the proper running mechanics you’ve practiced in your dills.
  • Follow up that run with a dynamic warm-up, choosing up to 3 movements that will sufficiently warm up the joints and tissues. Arm circles, leg swings, and lunges are solid choices.
  • Finish with some strides to primer the performance of your hips, lungs, and chest.

With a solid warm-up, you’re ready for a great day. Let this race be an expression of all the work you’ve put in on your form, your cadence, and your recovery!

Start Preparing for Your First 5K

You’ve made it to the finish line—literally and figuratively—so use that momentum to prepare for your 5k race. Five more weeks of detailed training await. Who knows…you might just decide to carry on and build up to a half marathon. Or double down on injury prevention and strength training.

Whatever the case, click here to download the app and browse all our full training programs and our running community! They’ll teach you more tips and tricks for how to prepare for a 5K race.