Experience Life Magazine

3 Months to Your First 5K

Competitive running doesn’t require superhuman athletic ability – just a willingness to train and a realistic plan. Here’s how to make it to the finish line for the first time.


In three months, you can go from nonrunner to 5K finisher. Three months. Twelve weeks. Ninety days (give or take). One season.

Three months works because it’s long enough to let you make physical and mental changes, yet short enough so you don’t give up along the way. Three months is the perfect time frame to make you a 5K runner, because it’s just enough time to get you into shape — without trying your patience.

So what exactly will it take to get you to the finish line? Lots of overwhelming workouts? No. Runs so long that you collapse exhausted on the road? No. Weekly mileage that will give you blisters? Thankfully, no.

That’s the beauty of the 5K. You can train for it and still have a life. Sure, some workouts will be tougher than others. You’ll run farther per day at the end of the program than you did at the beginning — but by then it will feel easier. And your weekly mileage will rise from single digits to low doubles. Meanwhile, you’ll get to experience the miracle of athletic adaptation — the process by which your body changes from that of a couch potato to that of a budding athlete.

A 5K is eminently doable, even if you have little or no athletic background. You just need a good pair of shoes and comfortable running clothes. Then follow my First-5K Survivor Schedule below. The goal of the program is simply to finish the race without walking, but my book 3 Months to Your First 5K (Perigee Trade, 2007) also includes schedules for those looking to run the race in 34 minutes, 32 minutes, 30 minutes or 28 minutes. Good luck. By the time you hit the tape, I hope you call yourself a runner. ˙

Assess Your Running Form

Everyone’s running stride is different, and different quirks work for different people. That said, there are still some general rules of running that apply to form. Here they are, from head to toe:

  • Head up and gaze forward to avoid undue neck strain.
  • Mouth open. Breathe through both your mouth and nose.
  • Lips loose. Having relaxed lips means having a relaxed upper body.
  • Lean your body gently forward to engage gravity, reduce effort and take strain off joints (don’t bend, lean).
  • Shoulders straight. Square but not tense.
  • Arms and hands relaxed. Arms loose and swinging from your shoulders, which should be unhunched, to your elbows, which should be at a nonrigid right angle. Hands closed lightly, like you’re holding an egg in each palm.
  • Chest relaxed. Running isn’t a bodybuilding contest.
  • Hips aligned. Pelvis aligned beneath your shoulders, tucked very slightly in (your back should not be arched).
  • Knees forward (but not up). Avoid the exaggerated knee lift.
  • Ankles loose. Your ankles should stay limber and relaxed.
  • Feet relaxed. A lack of tension is the first key to a solid foot strike. The second is to land near the back of the ball of the foot.

Ready to Race

The following articles (see Related Articles at right) can help you prepare for race day, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran.

Ready, Set, Race (March 2006): Get the scoop on everything from finding and registering for your ideal event to preparing for race day and celebrating your first finish.

Gradual Is Good (March 2007): Once you hear about all the benefits of a thorough warm-up and cool-down — such as better performance and lower risk of injury — you’ll be far less likely to skip them.

Strategic Advantage (May 2007): Proper prerace planning and solid race strategies can help you get to the finish line faster — and happier.

Lean Into It (October 2006): If you’re plagued by chronic injuries, it might be time to try ChiRunning, an intuitive running style that works with your body.

Dave Kuehls is a contributing editor for Runner’s World and the author of 4 Months to a 4-Hour Marathon (Perigee Trade, 2006). This article is adapted from his book 3 Months to Your First 5K (Perigee Trade, 2007).

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7 Comment to 3 Months to Your First 5K

  • sue says:

    Run a half mile on day 1??? That doesn’t make sense. That’s not practical or feasible for day 1. Especially if you’re not a runner.

  • Alyssa says:

    If you are out of shape doesn’t it seem to progress quickly?

  • Loren says:

    The site is messed up. I cannot read the schedule.

    • Jamie Martin says:

      Hi Loren: Our apologies for the crazy page display. We have deleted the table and updated it with a graphic image of the training schedule. We’ve also added a downloadable PDF for your convenience. Thanks for letting us know, and good luck with your training! —Jamie Martin, Experience Life Digital Initiatives Manager

  • madkat says:

    Krysta, have you checked out coolrunning.com? Or halhigdon.com? I’ll bet both of those sites would have a training plan for the longer distances. 15k isn’t a very common distance, in my experience, but I’ll bet if you took a 10k training plan, and increased the distances a bit, you could easily work up to 15k.

  • krysta says:

    Does anyone have any tips on training for a 15K, or know of links to any good tips? I’ve been doing 5K runs for a while and have the opportunity to run my first 15K in February. I’m in good physical condition and have been working on improving my long distance running endurance – I’m just a little clueless though on what the BEST way to train for a longer race is. Any help would be appreciated!

  • S. Alis says:

    What great timing. I was just starting to seriously consider running a 5K this late spring/early summer. Now I have a guideline for how to get there. THANK YOU!!! You guys rock – you always seem to have articles that instantly hit home. Keep it up. You are easily the best health and fitness magazine on the market today; I don’t know how you do it, but it is definitely appreciated.

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