How To Train For A 5K, Start To Finish

No matter your fitness level, a 5k race (3.1 miles) is an achievable goal. 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. See you at the starting line!

Rock Your 5k Training

As you read through how to train for a 5k race, don’t forget that we have a full training program in our app. For six weeks, each workout is fully programmed and organized for you. You’ll do 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!

Coach Craig running

Alright, let’s get started!

Choose The Right Shoes For You

Running gear is a gateway drug to the sport! First, it’s shoes, then it’s a GPS watch, and on down the line until you’re all geared up. It’s important to find the right pair of shoes, but there are so many out there it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with style, colors, and brands. The right pair will be specific to your needs as far as cushioning and the sole are concerned. 

For example, if you know you’ll be sticking to the roads for your 5k training plan, then a smooth sole will suit you. On the other hand, if you’ll be hitting the trails occasionally, you might want to get a pair with better traction on the bottom. Some runners prefer a highly cushioned shoe to help absorb the impact of the miles, while others prefer closer contact with the ground in a minimally cushioned shoe. It’s all about finding what is right for you. 

Check out this to get a better idea of how to narrow down your choices:

The four types of shoes:
  • Maximal shoes are mostly high cushioned shoes and focus more on recovery and long runs.
  • Stability shoes come with less cushion, but usually, have support by the arch to help correct a runner’s gait, improving their overall running posture.
  • Neutral shoes are the most versatile out of the four categories. They can be worn for speed work, daily running, and, if well-acclimated, long runs. They are less corrective than the stability shoe and provide more response from the ground to the foot.
  • Racing flats provide a barefoot-like response to the ground. They are beneficial for increasing foot arch strength. They are also the lightest type of shoe and for the more advanced runner. These shoes have a transition period and should not be interchanged quickly from neutral shoes.

If you’re new to running it’s best to stick to one basic shoe to keep things simple. Remember, regardless of brand, what’s most important is the fit and purpose of your shoe. 

On a final note, don’t forget that no matter which type of shoe you choose, it’s not a miracle cure for poor running form. Integrating regular running form drills is an important piece of your training to keep your body feeling strong, all the way down to your feet. If you’re not sure which drills you should be doing, keep reading because we’ve got them all laid out for you!

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.

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 element 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.

Add These 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)

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. 

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.

Prepare For 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!

Don’t stop now! 

You’ve made it to the finish line—literally and figuratively—so use that momentum to keep training for the next goal. Ready to build up to a half marathon? Maybe you’re curious about what goes into marathon training. Or maybe you want to stick with the 5k distance and focus on injury prevention or strength training. Whatever the case, click here to download the app and browse all our full training programs and our running community!