Peloton's Ultimate Guide to Training for Your First 5K
Everything you need to know to successfully complete a 5K.
By Team Peloton•
There’s nothing quite like a 5K to bring together athletes of all stripes. When you run a 5K, you’ll likely be running shoulder-to-shoulder with people of every imaginable age, body type, fitness, and experience level—from first-time racers to the race-lovers who might be doing this as part of their preparation towards a half marathon.
Consider the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, an annual 5K event that takes place in many communities and commonly includes entire families running alongside each other. So, you might see super-fit Uncle Mike, who ran the Ironman last year, running next to postpartum you, who is just trying to ease back into exercise, next to 13-year-old Jon, who is doing his first-ever race.
Still, a 5K isn’t really the kind of thing where you roll out of bed on race day and decide only then to give it a go. Whether you’re gearing up for your very first race or you’re a seasoned marathoner, taking on a 5K requires some planning and prep. Let’s go through it.
How Many Miles Is a 5K?
What are you signing up for again? The “K” in 5K stands for kilometers. A kilometer is 0.62 miles. Thus, a 5K = 3.1 miles.
For some, running just over 3 miles may sound easy; for others, it might sound completely unattainable. Regardless of your fitness level, a 5K is the ideal first race distance to start with. It’ll help you find out if you want to pursue a more consistent running habit and whether you should start signing up for longer races. (Or, maybe you’ll discover you love running, but races aren’t for you—and that’s OK too.)
A 5K is long enough to be a challenge, but not so long that it’s too hard. Training for and completing a 5K requires discipline and stamina, making it the perfect goal for beginner runners.
Training for a 5K: Beginner to Advanced
When it comes to training for a 5K, or running in general, it seems that everyone has an opinion about how much distance you need to travel or how intense the run needs to be in order for it to count as “good training.”
But the truth is, running is so popular because it is one of the most accessible forms of exercise out there, even for beginners who are more sedentary than active. In fact, nearly 50 million people in the United States went running or jogging at least once in 2021. It’s an approachable sport that requires motivation, quality shoes, comfortable and breathable clothing, and a few bits of knowledge to help ease yourself into it.
You also don’t have to be a seasoned runner in order to complete a 5K. Overall, running a 5K is a very achievable fitness goal with the right commitment and, yes, a little bit of training.
Here’s what to consider about training for a 5K, based on your fitness level.
For beginner runners, the goal of a 5K should be 100 percent laser-focused on crossing the finish line. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the need to keep up with others or maintain a certain speed. Either will lead to early burnout and might jeopardize your ability to complete the race.
But if the only goal is to finish the race, which is built to be accessible, why do so many beginners quit right after they start—or never even sign up for their first 5K?
Peloton running instructor Becs Gentry says the most common culprit for beginners who are training for a 5K is time: how difficult it is to commit time, on the regular, to a new and challenging hobby.
“Carving out time for anything in life can be very difficult,” Becs says, then “layer on something that is potentially hard work, and you see a lot of resistance to even begin.”
It’s a mental game as much as a physical one for brand-new runners. So, try to stay focused, commit to setting aside the time needed to train, and, while you’re training, keep your eyes on the prize: running 3.1 miles and finishing the race.
For intermediate-level runners, your training should focus on building your endurance so you can keep a steady pace for the duration of your race. As you’re training, try picking up your pace after a few weeks and challenging yourself to shave off some time so that you’re able to “keep up with the pack” during the actual 5K. This might mean incorporating more strength training into your 5K training plan, which we will discuss later.
If you’re an advanced runner, you might think that training for a 5K isn’t worth the effort, but setting a few weeks aside to plan for your 5K could make all the difference in how quickly you complete the race. Why not make winning your age group your goal, and use that as the impetus to train? Specifically, see how much time you can shave off your usual run time or even how quickly you can cross the finish line on race day. This could look like challenging yourself to treadmill sprints to help challenge your cardiovascular system and build your stamina.
5K Training Plan: Foundation and Goal-Setting
Once you’ve settled on the focus of your training, it’s time to lay the foundation for your 5K and settle on a training schedule. It’s far better to start your 5K journey by following a specific plan rather than winging it with a rushed or, worse, inconsistent training plan.
“A plan is going to help hold you accountable,” Becs says. “You see your training expectations ahead of time and can—hopefully—fit them into your schedule. This way, you show up and treat the training sessions like the important meetings they are.”
If you’ve already signed up for your 5K, choose a training program designed to last the same number of weeks between now and race day—so your training aligns appropriately.
If you haven’t signed up for a 5K yet, and would rather schedule it for after you’ve trained, we recommend setting aside six weeks to lay your foundation, with your ultimate goal to complete your 5K at the end of the 6th week.
One study found that when novice runners completed a 6-week training program, their levels of health-enhancing physical activity, both in the short and the long term, were positively influenced.
An ideal training schedule might include running or walking at least three days a week, cross-training twice a week, and resting the remaining two days. In Peloton’s 6-Week, Go The Distance: 5K Training Program on the Peloton Tread, a typical week might look like this:
Monday: 20-Minute Go The Distance Walk + Run with Susie Chan
Wednesday: 30-Minute Go The Distance 5K Race Prep with Becs Gentry
Friday: 30-Minute Go The Distance 5K Endurance Run with Marcel Dinkins
Saturday: 15-Minute 5K Go The Distance 5K Recovery Walk
Each day you run, try to increase your goal, so you end up running more than walking as the weeks go by.
Don’t push yourself too hard on cross-training days or skip rest days. If you push your body too far during training, your race-day performance will be subpar. Don’t make the rookie mistake of burning yourself out or risking injury before you even get to the starting line.
And remember that your training schedule is meant to work for you, not be a burden on your already full life. If you need to switch your running days around and change up your schedule week-by-week in order to keep yourself motivated and engaged, do it! Don’t let a too-rigid schedule be the reason you end up quitting. You can rearrange your training plan so that the running, cross-training, and rest days meet your schedule’s demands.
Should You Train Inside or Outside?
There isn’t a wrong answer to this question. It depends on your preference and access to training sources like a Peloton Tread or outdoor track/sidewalk. The most important rule is to follow your training plan, whether you’re completing your scheduled runs inside or outside.
By running on a treadmill, you get a lower-impact running experience than running outside on a hard surface, as the treadmill adds extra cushioning. This can protect your bones, especially your feet and ankles, and cause less wear and tear on your joints. One study concluded that running on the treadmill helped prevent forefoot injuries and increased the positive effects of exercising.
You should also consider training outside when possible and as the weather permits. This is because if you’re going to run a 5K, it will likely be outside, so you should get used to the feeling of running on a street, track, or sidewalk.
“Neither [outdoor or indoor running] is better than the other,” Becs says. “Run however you are going to get it done. The only thing to remember is that most races are outdoors, so having some outdoor running experience will benefit your race-day performance. I like to ensure that the long runs are done outside if all other sessions are chosen to be on a tread.”
The moral of the story? Do what’s best for you, and the benefits will follow, whether you’re training inside or outside.
What Is a 5K Pace Chart?
In running, a pace chart is meant to help you determine what pace you need to keep in order to hit your target race time. Instead of trying to do the calculations in your head, it’s easier to refer to a chart that will break down your 3.1-mile race, mile by mile, with how fast you should be running at any point so you can maintain your pace.
The perk of using a pace chart is that you can see at a glance what it takes to reach your race goal. The downside of a pace chart is that you might get too wrapped up in the mechanics of your run and pacing and forget to just enjoy the freedom of letting loose and running at the pace your body is most comfortable with.
If you’re a beginner, striving to hit a certain time in your 5K might end up creating too much stress during training, which could lead to burnout, quitting, or failure to complete the race. Again, the goal for your first 5K should be to cross the finish line, no matter how long it takes. As you get more comfortable with running and sign up for more 5Ks, you will likely want to use a pace chart or find other resources to help you find your baseline and subsequent ideal race pace, so you can start beating your best times in the most methodical way possible.
What Is the Average 5K Time?
It’s tough to define an average 5K time, because ultimately the average depends on age, gender, skill level, running conditions, and more. If you’ve completed a training program and are prepared to run the majority of your 5K, you can probably finish it in 30-45 minutes. Experienced runners might complete a 5k in 20-25 minutes.
Again, you should make your ultimate goal for your first 5K to finish the race, not try to hit a certain time.
Training Smart: How to Avoid Injuries
While statistics on running injuries vary, somewhere between 30-75 percent of runners are hurt annually. Beginners should take care to avoid some of the most common running injuries, such as those impacting the knee, Achilles tendon, IT band, shin, hamstring, and ankle. We have compiled a few tips below for you to consider so that you can avoid injuries while training for your 5K.
There will likely be a temptation, especially as you first start your training program, to go too hard, too fast. Try to avoid pushing yourself beyond your capabilities as you adapt to running. While there is a lot of value placed on “pushing yourself” each day, when it comes to fitness, overdoing it can have really negative repercussions on your training schedule. In addition to not pushing yourself too hard during your runs, make sure to observe proper rest days in between training days. You need to give your body time to recover in order to start seeing results.
Use Proper Running Shoes
It might be tempting to throw on your standard sneakers as you begin training, but investing in a proper pair of running shoes will benefit you immediately. While improper footwear might not cause immediate running injuries to your lower limbs, it will gradually increase your level of discomfort, as well as the risk of developing problems like blisters and recurrent shin pain. It’s better to invest in your shoes upfront so injuries and muscle fatigue don’t keep you from making progress.
Ultimately, shoes really do matter. Make it a goal to get a running assessment early to find the perfect pair based on your tread and stride.
Always Warm Up Before Running
It's in your best interest to find a blood-pumping, hype-inducing, heart-rate-elevating warm-up routine before your run. Why? Because warming up with stretching and light cardio is the best way to prevent muscle injuries. A proper stretching routine will help your body move more naturally while you run and will prime your ankles, knees, and hips for motion. A good warmup can also help you avoid side stitches on your run. The Peloton App features running-specific warm-ups that take the guesswork out of your plan.
On race day, prepare your muscles with dynamic exercises like walking and knee hugs. In addition to a physical warm-up, prepare your mind by listening to music and envisioning yourself crossing the finish line. Warming up on race day is just as important as any other day, if not more important, for preventing injuries and getting out those jitters.
Make Sure to Eat and Drink
As you begin your training schedule, consider what you’re putting into your body to help fuel your exercise and calorie-burning. Providing your body with proper hydration and nutritionwill give you the energy you need so you don’t burn out mid-run or see long-term health deterioration. Properly nourishing yourself could also help you avoid collapse or fatigue while training.
Another perk of proper nutrition is that incorporating adequate protein into your diet helps your body build muscle in all the right places. If you’re worried about eating something too heavy before or after your run, consider a protein shake or bar. Adjusting your food intake can be a little jarring, but just know that your body needs fuel to build muscle and get you to the finish line.
Since running is heavy on the cardio, cross-training can help you build up the muscles and core-strength necessary to help you go farther and run faster. Cross-training offers a variety of benefits, especially for runners. By incorporating it into your training regimen, you can enhance your athletic performance, improve your post-workout recovery, balance your fitness efforts, and prevent repetitive stress injuries.
Below, we’ll cover some of the most popular cross-training methods runners swear by.
Pay Attention to Your Running Form
Evidence continues to stack up, stating that poor running mechanics contribute to injuries. By maintaining proper posture and ensuring your footfall strikes at midfoot with every stride, you can start to reduce the impact of each step. Becs says that having good form helps you run with better efficiency, which can lead to a run being more enjoyable. Good form can also stave off injury, as it is supposed to encourage light running, a mid- to forefoot strike, and a strong arm drive.
Best Ways to Cross-Train
Cross-training while training for your 5K might feel counterproductive. Shouldn’t you be focusing on running, and running alone? And yet, this is how you strengthen muscles and build endurance to improve your running pace. When choosing how to cross-train, you’ll want to make sure the method you’re using is low-impact, so you’re not burning yourself out and you’re actually giving your muscles the opportunity to heal, recover, and grow in between your runs.
“Gentle cross-training helps keep you strong after the repetitive impact of running,” Becs says. “Working on leg strength and your core is going to do wonders for your running.”
Some of the best ways to cross-train include:
While running provides great endurance training for your leg muscles, alternating running with heavier-resistance strength training, like lifting weights, is a great way to improve your speed, as well as your oxygen use and running economy.
Studies have shown that a strength training program including low- to high-intensity resistance exercises performed 2-3 times per week is the right strategy to improve running economy. In addition to improving performance, strength training can help reduce your risk of injury.
Cycling is low-impact, so it can help you recover in between your running sessions during training. Runners love to use cycling as a cross-training method because, with cycling, you can actually build up and strengthen complementary muscles, like calf and shin muscles, with a focus on the core as well. By using cycling as cross-training, you not only strengthen complementary muscles and are less likely to injure yourself due to its low-impact nature, you can build speed and endurance – qualities you can definitely use in your next run.
Yoga and Pilates
Running can create a lot of tension, and not just in your leg muscles. So, choosing yoga or Pilates as cross-training activities will help you improve your flexibility and help correct any muscle imbalances that may arise from running tension. You can use yoga and Pilates to focus on your core and your breathing, while allowing your muscles to recover in between runs. There’s also a big mental focus (in yoga especially), which can aid your endurance mindset, which all runners rely on at some point. These mental benefits can transfer to running, allowing runners the clarity and focus needed to slay challenging races or long-distance runs.
Walking is a great choice between runs because you’re using the same muscles but with different focus and impact. Walking engages the core and hips in different ways than running, but can be a great source of recovery for overworked leg muscles while helping to improve circulation.
Next Steps: Finding a 5K Race Near You
Now that you’re fully equipped to start training for your 5K, it’s time to decide when and where you’re going to join your first race! It’s always fun to have a running buddy, especially for races, so you should check in with friends or family who may wish to join you.
Most 5K training plans are flexible enough to fit most schedules. Remember that the more you focus on meeting your training goals, the more your mind and body will benefit, whether you end up actually running a 5K or not. It’s good for your body and it’s good for your mind, so nothing should be stopping you from throwing on your sneakers and giving it a try for yourself.
“Getting started on any journey is exciting,” encourages Becs. “You are never going to know what you can achieve if you don’t give it a try. Get out there, lace up, and fly!”