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Now that a new semester has begun, and New Year’s resolutions are in full swing, it’s likely you have considered making some kind of change to your workout routine. Maybe last year’s workouts were boring and monotonous, or maybe you have never worked out before and want to give it a shot. No matter what the reason is, it’s time to change gears and set some concrete goals! Why not make your daily routine more purposeful by training for a 5K? The great thing about running a 5K (or 3.1 miles) is realizing that it is not very far – which means you can successfully train for one in a matter of weeks (instead of the half-year-plus commitment that marathon training entails). Read on to find out how to get yourself 5K-ready in 9 easy steps!

Step 1: Choose a local 5K in your area, and sign up. Once you pay the $30 entry fee, you’re more likely to follow through. Plus, having a specific date to work toward helps the daily grind. Use the Runner’s World “Race Finder” to find a 5k in your area. If you are feeling exceptionally ambitious, or are already in exceptional shape—run your local Thanksgiving Day 5K! It’s a great way to get a workout in before you feast for the holiday.

Step 2: Buy yourself a snazzy new pair of running shoes. Looking good and having the right gear always helps motivate you to show off your speed! When buying running shoes, talk to the people who work in the store. It is important to buy the right shoe for your foot. Use the sales people’s advice, and be open to trying on lots of different brands: despite their sometimes less than stellar appearance. Your feet will thank you.

Step 3: Map out a plan. Running daily becomes much less of a chore when you give yourself a purpose for each day. Count how many weeks until your 5k, and work backwards from there. Depending on your starting fitness level, the intensity should increase to meet your levels. Set a “goal mileage” for each week, and increase your mileage by roughly 5 miles per week, or as you see fit. A basic way to structure training:

  • Sunday: Long run. Today’s run should be the longest run of the week. Ideally, 1/5 of your total week’s mileage.
  • Monday: Recovery day. Average distance run.
  • Tuesday: Speed day. Do a “fartlek workout”: 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, repeat for 20 minutes. Lengthen the hard minutes as your fitness progresses.
  • Wednesday: Recovery day. Shortest run of the week.
  • Thursday: Run. Average length run.
  • Friday: Speed day: work some surges into your run to break up the distance.
  • Saturday: Rest day!

For more advice, and detailed plans to help you structure your training, check out RunnersWorld.com’s section on Running Training for Beginners.

Step 4: Give me a break! Running and racing is one of the most rewarding athletic accomplishments you can sign yourself up for, however, it is no secret that it can be extremely monotonous. Pick one day a week, like “every Thursday,” and decide that it will be your rest day/cross train day. This will give you a chance to recuperate mentally and physically. Running is hard on the body, and on the brain – your rest day can give you something to look forward to. Either take the entire day off completely, or cross train on the bike, elliptical, pool, yoga, weights, etc.

Step 5: Stay healthy! Injury is the fastest way to get out of shape. Running comes with many aches and pains – but when something doesn’t feel right, or when something is painful all day long – it’s time to take a few days off. It’s always better to take one or two days off at the first sign of trouble, then take weeks off down the road because it turns into something bigger.

Step 6: Recruit a fan base! Tell all your friends about your 5K and get them to go out and cheer for you on race day. Having support out on the course makes a big difference when pain sets in. You might even be able to find some training partners this way. Try creating a Facebook event and inviting all your friends to it! If you feel funny promoting yourself, enlist a friend to make one for you!

Step 7: Take it easy. Starting 10 days before your race, start to taper—or shorten—your training. This will ensure fresh legs and mind come race day.

Step 8: Choose a racing outfit. If you look good, you feel good. Plus it’s an easy excuse to buy yourself something extra for your workout wardrobe.

Step 9: Race! Have fun! Trust all of the work you put in during the weeks leading to the race. Tip: The fastest way to improving your best 5K time is simply: run more. But be smart about it—gradually increase your weekly mileage and make sure you are giving yourself sufficient rest for your body to fully recover.

Runner’s World
Jason Saretsky and Amy Gozstyla, Harvard Cross Country/Track and Field Coaches

A self-proclaimed sports fanatic, Hilary May, Harvard class of 2011, is a History Concentrator native of Newport Beach, CA. Hilary is a member of the varsity track and cross-country teams for the Harvard Crimson, specializing in the middle distances. After a sensational internship at ESPN last summer, she hopes for a career in on-air TV sports broadcasting. At HerCampus Magazine, Hilary wants to shed light on the athletic world to both jocks and gym-goers alike. When she isn't training, studying, or cheering on the Crimson, Hilary enjoys surfing, stand-up paddling, going to the beach, and eating Mexican food.
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