Zero to 3.1 in Five Weeks — How to Train for Your First 5k

by | May 31, 2023

Summer is upon us, and that means it’s 5K season! If you’re like most people, you’re likely seeing near-daily announcements about 5K races going on in your community. Maybe you have friends or family members who run 5Ks, or maybe you’re getting pressure from your co-workers to support a worthy cause. Whatever the reason, if you’re considering a 5K and don’t feel like you’re ready for one, we’re here to help.

Let’s face it: As a first responder, the chance that you’ll need to run 3.1 miles as part of your daily work is slim to none. But that’s not the point. It’s the training for the event (and not the event itself) that’s most valuable to you as a “tactical athlete.” Even if you work out in the weight room daily, adding some cardio to your fitness routine is important for your cardiovascular health. One perfect way to begin is to train for your first 5K.

On top of that, 5Ks are great for community engagement. As a first responder, they give you a perfect opportunity to rub shoulders with the people you serve. They also allow you to support causes that are important to you or raise money for projects and initiatives you endorse. Finally, running a 5K can be fun, though you might need to experience one before you believe this.

Just as you needed training before you could do your job properly, you’ll need to do some training to successfully complete a 5K race event.

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Now it’s time to move!

Before You Start Running

1. Talk to your doctor. Simply put, health is more important than fitness. Before starting any new fitness regime, it’s a good idea to get checked by your doctor to make sure you don’t have any underlying conditions that could be made worse by cardio. (Simply being out of shape doesn’t count!)

2. Get some good shoes. The only gear you absolutely need to start running is pair of good running shoes. While you may be tempted to ask your runner friends what shoes they wear, no single brand or model is an ideal fit for everyone. A better option is to visit a specialty run store for a gait analysis and professional fitting. You’ll find out whether you need specialty shoes (for example, if you over-pronate), and you can “test drive” a variety of makes and styles. Good shoes aren’t cheap, but they can be worth every penny.

3. Get adequate clothing. While you can run in cutoffs and cotton socks, we don’t recommend this. Cotton absorbs moisture and keeps it against your skin, which can lead to chafing and blisters. Instead, invest in some lightweight clothing made of “technical” fabrics such as polyester, nylon and Lycra. (Bamboo is another popular, more earth-friendly option.) What you want is something lightweight and wicking that will keep you cool and comfortable and chafe-free. Bonus points if it also makes you look great!

4. Get a running watch or phone app. While you can run without GPS, training is much easier if you have a device to provide feedback about distance, pacing and other details. If you already own a smart watch, it should be just a matter of installing or activating a tracking app. You can also buy an entry-level fitness watch that will serve the same purpose — and do other things like count your steps and monitor your heart rate. If you’re not ready to make the leap to specialized tech, you can install a free app (or the free version of an app) such as Strava or Runkeeper to keep track of your training. Your phone may also have a fitness app that came pre-installed.

How to Train

Getting your gear together is the easy part. Now it’s time to move!

If you’d prefer a fully digital app for your training, you can’t go wrong the Couch to 5K running app by ACTIVE. This app provides an easy-to-follow training plan that’s geared specifically toward beginning runners. Another option, if you want a more quirky way to train for your first 5K, is to use the Zombies, Run! app. It’s a lot like the Couch to 5K app, but with zombies.

If you’d prefer a more traditional, science-based training plan, try one of the plans below.

Beginner’s Training Plan

If you’re the kind of person who likes to say, “I only run if something’s chasing me,” you’ll want a training plan designed for people who are starting from square one. This is a five-week plan that will get you up and running immediately, but won’t push you so hard that you injure yourself.  Remember, to optimize your workout experience and results, have a healthy snack and drink water 30-plus minutes before you begin each workout.  Start each workout with a 10-minute warm-up (i.e., walking at a fairly brisk pace) and continue hydrating during and after each workout.  Give yourself credit for every step you take, because every step is a step in the right direction towards a healthier heart.

 

5-week 5K Training Plan Beginner-level Walking Program
Week Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 Rest and
Stretch
Walk .5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk .75
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 1
Mile
Rest and
Stretch
2 Rest and
Stretch
Walk 1
Mile
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 1.5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 1.5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
3 Rest and
Stretch
Walk 2
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 2.0
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 2.5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
4 Rest and
Stretch
Walk 2.5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 3.0
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 3.0
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
5 Rest and
Stretch
Walk 3.5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 3.0
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk .5
Miles
5K Event

Intermediate Training Plan

If you practice some cardio but haven’t ever run a 5K before, consider trying the intermediate-level training plan below. You’ll build on the fitness foundation you already have and increase your endurance as well.  Remember to eat a healthy snack and drink water 30-plus minutes before your workout, and begin each workout with a 10-minute warm-up walk.

 

5-week 5K Training Plan Intermediate-level Walk/Run Program
Week Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 Rest and
Stretch
Walk 2.0
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 2.5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 3.0
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
2 Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 1/4 mile, then walk 3/4 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 1/4 mile, then walk 3/4 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 1/2 mile, then walk 1/2 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
3 Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 1/2 mile, then walk 1/2 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 1/2 mile, then walk 1/2 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 3/4 mile, then walk 1/4 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
4 Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 3/4 mile, then walk 1/4 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 3/4 mile, then walk 1/4 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
Interval Training:
Jog 1 mile, then walk 1/2 mile.
Repeat 3x.
Rest and
Stretch
5 Rest and
Stretch
Jog 3.5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Jog 3.5
Miles
Rest and
Stretch
Walk 1
Mile
5K Event

Above All, Have Fun

As a beginner, some of the best “prizes” that you can win with running are increased endorphin levels, reduced stress levels, and measurably improved heart health.  During your first 5k, it will be tempting to bolt out of the gate with a sprint to try to beat every person next to you, but it’s important to pace yourself for the entire run.  Remember, before you beat the person next to you, you first need to beat the years of statistics that have shown that first responders have an extremely elevated risk of experiencing a heart attack, even at a young age.  Health is wealth, and far more valuable than any race medal you could win.  Besides, as you optimize your health, you’ll get faster and faster, so you may just find yourself sporting a new race medal before you know it.  For now, enjoy the journey and keep it fun. Play your favorite rock or rap music and enjoy the fresh air and escape from daily stressors.  Cross the finish line of your first 5k with pride. You earned it!

Once you’ve completed your first 5K, what will you do next? Keep training at the same level and run another one in a month or two … but a little faster?  Add weightlifting, flexibility training, or push your training even further so your next race can be a 10K or even a half marathon? Whatever you decide, we encourage you to continue your physical fitness routine and enjoy the numerous valuable health and wellness benefits of doing so today and every day.

 

David Baker, LexipolDAVID BAKER is senior manager of content marketing at Lexipol. He’s a marketing communications professional with a strong background in writing and editing. Besides working on content for the Lexipol and Cordico blogs, he is an avid road racer and trail runner. David completed six marathons and seven half marathons in 2022, including the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon. He is also the proud father of a police officer son.

Mandy Nice, LexipolMANDY NICE has over 18 years of experience developing and implementing national award-winning physical fitness and wellness programs that measurably improve the health, strength, quality of life, and resilience of first responders and civilians. Her work has been featured in highly esteemed industry publications including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Police Chief Magazine and the FBI National Academy Associate Magazine, and she has routinely served as a Subject Matter Expert and professional speaker for industry-leading organizations including the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the National Justice Clearinghouse (NJC), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the National Foundation Research Associates (FRA), and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). While serving as the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Tactical Program Manager, Mandy teamed with world-renowned subject matter experts to create educational resources and toolkits that have continued to advance the law enforcement health and fitness industry. Mandy is Lexipol’s Strategic Wellness Director and also serves as Chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Officer Safety and Wellness Section Physical Wellness Committee. Her greatest motivator is helping first responders optimize their health so that they can enjoy strong, rewarding careers and long, healthy retirements.

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