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Sofa to 5K Training Tips

In two to three months, you can go from slug to star with this 5K training plan.

From the WebMD Archives

Emily Gilbert is the first to admit it: She's an on-again, off-again exerciser. Ever since her college lacrosse team days, she's geared up many times to make exercise a habit again, but then fallen off that wagon just as many times.

But now, the 24-year-old publicist from San Diego says she has a plan and is sure she will soon become a regular exerciser. She's training for a 5K that she plans to run in about three months. ''The stability of needing to train will keep me in the process [of working out],'' she says. She's hoping training for the 5K will help her make that transformation to a regular, lifelong exerciser.

"I want to get back into that mentality," Gilbert says.

5K Training Plan

Picking a 5K -- 3.1 miles -- as her route back to fitness is smart of Gilbert, exercise experts agree. And she's not alone in thinking that training for her first 5K may propel her on the road to lifetime fitness.

It's among the most popular of road racing event distances, says Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, a national association of running clubs and events. "The boom is in the 5K and the half marathon," she tells WebMD.

''I think the 5K is a great distance for beginning runners," Knaack says. Or even walkers, as many 5K events are now billed as run/walks.

Why? The 5K is doable, Knaack says, even if you've spent many more hours in front of the TV than on a treadmill, if you train appropriately.

Here, experts talk about how you can join Gilbert in going from the couch to the 5K course, paying attention not only to your physical training but also your mental attitude. In three months or less, you could go from couch spud to fitness star. (It's always recommended, especially for adults over 50, that sedentary people check in with their doctor before starting to train.)

Psych Yourself Up -- and Off the Couch

While most people focus on the physical training -- at least feeling comfortable jogging or walking 3 miles or so before the big event -- mentally preparing is just as important, says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.

Continued

Step one, he says, is not thinking about the 3 miles, which can be intimidating, but the steps it takes to get there. ''Think about the process,"' Comana tells WebMD. That breaks down what might seem intimidating -- run 3+ miles when you have yet to run 1 -- into manageable chunks.

For instance, you may tell yourself: "Long term, I am getting ready for a 5K. But for the next two weeks, my process goal is to be able to get off the couch and jog or walk at a reasonable pace. I will try 1K."

When you have worked up to a 1K, Comana suggests, "Do a self-evaluation." Ask yourself what words come to mind when you finish. If you are thinking pain and fatigue, he says, you're probably doing too much. "If you feel energized," he says, "it's a good indication you will continue."

Each time you meet a ''process'' goal, reward yourself, he suggests. "Go see a movie, buy yourself some training gear."

You can also focus in on the intrinsic rewards of exercise, such as your newfound joy of movement, your gratification at meeting a goal, your sense of accomplishment.

Write down the reasons you want to do the 5K, Comana suggests. It might be to improve your health, lose weight, look better in your clothes. Then list the obstacles, such as: you have to get up earlier to squeeze in the training, you need to buy a good pair of running shoes. The pros probably outweigh the cons, which is motivating.

Getting Into Shape

Jeff Galloway, an Olympian and veteran running/walking coach, is good at taking the intimidation out of a 5K. He tells prospective joggers and walkers: ''The bottom line for training for a 5K is very simple. You just need to build up your long weekend run to about 4 miles. That makes the 5K relatively easy to do."

Before sedentary people freak at the 4 miles, hear the rest of the advice from Galloway, who has written numerous books, including Running Until You're 100.

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You can walk-run the event or even walk the entire event. Galloway says he and his wife, who are both veteran marathoners, take walk breaks throughout running the 26.2 miles of a marathon.

Here is Galloway's ''crash course'' version of his training plan. (For more specifics, see his training chart at the end of this article.)

First, pick the date for your 5K. It should be two or three months away.

If you plan to walk the entire 5K, you can get by with much less training time than if you plan to jog or run all or part of it, he says.

Galloway's training plan works for busy 9-to-5'ers. He suggests keeping Tuesday and Thursday runs to 30 minutes or less -- even briefer in the beginning, starting at 10 minutes -- and doing the long run (actually a run-walk) on the weekend. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are devoted to walking or cross training (XT), and Saturday is a day off. Cross training involves alternating your walking/jogging routines with other forms of exercise to increase your performance and overall fitness without stressing your body to the max.

"Back up from the date of the race," he says. ''One week before, do the last long run, which could be a 4-miler. The weekend before that, say 3.5 miles. Count back a half mile each week."

Start slow. That's crucial, Galloway says. "My advice for beginners is they not go longer than about 15 minutes on the Tuesday and Thursday runs the first week," he says. Increase the time very gradually, such as three minutes at a time, until you are up to 30 minutes.

"Pacing must be slow enough so that there is no huffing and puffing," Galloway says. "I recommend insertion of a one-minute walk break after one to three minutes of running (beginners should run a minute/walk a minute) as the maximum."

Don't try to play catch-up if you miss a workout, Galloway says. "If you miss one of your walks, you don't suddenly go from 2 miles to 4 miles."

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Play 'Mind Games'

No matter how jazzed you may be at the beginning, when motivation wanes, you need help fast.

If getting out of bed in the morning early enough to train is the problems, Galloway suggests you lay out everything you need to wear the night before. Put your gear by the coffee pot.

As you lull yourself to sleep, repeat a mantra such as "Feet, alarm, coffee." "You are formatting your brain for action," he says. The plan: feet hit the floor, turn off the alarm, head for the coffee pot. "As you are brewing your coffee, you are getting dressed, then walking out the door.

"The principle here is, the body in bed wants to stay in bed," Galloway says. "The body in motion wants to stay in motion."

Refer back to your pro-con list, Comana suggests, when motivation lags.

If the cons have started to outweigh the pluses, search for more reasons to do the event, he suggests.

One Woman's 5K Plan

Gilbert knows why she is motivated this time and what will keep her going. Her boyfriend is training at the same time to do a half marathon, and he will spur her along.

She's already decided she will go to the gym in the morning, before work, to train. "While it's painful to get up that early, my boyfriend is willing to go with me," she says.

She'll also depend on the support of several co-workers who are runners. "I'll look to them as people who can be there for me, too," she says.

Then there's the bottom-line motivation that she's sure will propel her all the way to that 5K finish line: "I want to take more control of my life."

5K Training Schedule

Galloway shared the following 5K training program with WebMD (below). Cross training (noted as "XT" on the chart) isn't a must for finishing a 5K, and Galloway doesn't recommend cross training for more than an hour per session.

5k Training Schedule

Week

M-W-F

Tues-Thurs

Saturday

Sunday

1

walk or XT

run 10-15 min

off

1 mile

2

walk or XT

run 15 min

off

1 mile

3

walk or XT

run 15-20 min

off

1.5 mile

4

walk or XT

run 15-20 min

off

1 mile

5

walk or XT

run 20-25 min

off

2 miles

6

walk or XT

run 20-25 min

off

1 mile

7

walk or XT

run 25-30 min

off

2.5 miles

8

walk or XT

run 25-30 min

off

1.5 miles

9

walk or XT

run 30 min

off

3 miles

10

walk or XT

run 30 min

off

1.5 miles

11

walk or XT

run 30 min

off

3.5 miles

12

walk or XT

run 30 min

off

1.5 miles

13

walk or XT

run 30 min

off

4 miles

14

walk or XT

run 30 min

off

2 miles

15

walk or XT

run 30 min

off

5K Race

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 02, 2013

Sources

SOURCES:

Emily Gilbert, publicist, San Diego.

Jean Knaack, executive director, Road Runners Club of America, Arlington, Va.

Fabio Comano, exercise physiologist, American Council on Exercise, San Diego.

Jeff Galloway, former Olympian; running coach; marathoner; Atlanta.

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