Peloton member running outdoors

Peloton's Ultimate Guide to Training for Your First 5K

Everything you need to know to successfully complete your race.

By Team PelotonUpdated May 15, 2024

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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 toward a half marathon. Even though a 5K is one of the shorter race distances you can tackle, you’ll benefit from learning how to train for a 5K properly. Whether you’re gearing up for your very first Turkey Trot or you’re a seasoned marathoner feeling the need for speed, training for a 5K requires some planning and prep. Let’s go through it.

What to Know About 5K Training Plans

So, what exactly are you signing up for again? Here’s a quick overview of how to train for a 5K before we get into the specifics.

How Many Miles Is a 5K?

The metric system strikes again. As any of our UK Instructors will tell you, the “K” in 5K stands for kilometers. A kilometer is 0.62 miles. Thus, 5K is equivalent to 3.1 miles. 

Who Should Try a 5K Training Plan?

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. However, even if you’ve completed several endurance races or treat yourself to a long run every weekend, you may find value in training for a 5K. Switching up your training goals can help keep you motivated, and you may even improve your half marathon time after a training cycle that’s more devoted to speed. 

Training for a 5K: Beginner to Advanced

When it comes to training for a 5K, it’s important to remember that anyone can find a training plan that fits their fitness levels, goals, and lifestyle. 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’s doing his first-ever race. 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.

Beginners: Focus on Finishing

For beginner runners, the goal of a 5K should be focused on crossing the finish line feeling strong. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the need to keep up with others or maintain a certain speed. Either could 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. 

Intermediate: Enhancing Endurance and Speed

For intermediate-level runners, your training should focus on building your endurance so you can keep a steady pace for the duration of your 5K 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 or interval training into your 5K training plan (more on that in a minute). 

Advanced: Optimizing Performance

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.  

Developing a 5K Training Strategy 

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 (like the Go the Distance: 5K program on the Peloton App) rather than winging it with a rushed or 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.”

Choosing Your Target 5K Race Date

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 sixth 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. 

Determining Your 5K Training Schedule

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 six-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

  • Tuesday: Rest

  • Wednesday: 30-Minute Go The Distance 5K Race Prep with Becs Gentry

  • Thursday: Rest

  • Friday: 30-Minute Go The Distance 5K Endurance Run with Marcel Dinkins

  • Saturday: 15-Minute 5K Go The Distance 5K Recovery Walk

  • Sunday: Rest

Each day you run, try to increase your goal, so you end up running more than walking as the weeks go by. And don’t skip rest days or push yourself too hard on cross-training days. If you push your body too far during training, your race-day performance will be subpar. You don’t want to make the rookie mistake of burning yourself out or risking injury before you even get to the starting line. 

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.  

Indoor vs. Outdoor 5K Training: Benefits and Tips

Which is better: running indoors or running outdoors? Luckily, 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 for training for a 5K is simply to follow your training plan, whether you’re completing your scheduled runs inside or outside. 

Benefits of 5K Training on a Treadmill

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.

Benefits of 5K Training Outdoors

You should 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? Try to get a little time outside, but ultimately you should do what’s best for you, and the benefits will follow, whether you’re training inside or outside.

Understanding 5K Pace: Utilizing a 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. 

On race day, some runners will slap a temporary tattoo of their pace chart on their forearms, which is especially helpful during longer races like half marathons or marathons. However, for shorter distances like 5Ks, you can easily write your paces on your arm in permanent marker or make them the lockscreen on your phone for convenient viewing.

The perk of using a 5K 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 to Expect: Average 5K Times and How to Improve Yours

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. 

Peloton member running outdoors

How to Train for a 5K and Avoid Injury

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, hamstrings, and ankle. We’ve compiled a few tips below for you to consider so that you can avoid injuries while training for your 5K. 

Avoid Overtraining with Peloton’s Schedules

There will likely be a temptation, especially as you first start your 5K training program, to go too hard too fast. Try to avoid pushing yourself beyond your capabilities as you adapt to running. While there’s a lot of value placed on “pushing yourself” each day, 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. 

One easy way to avoid overtraining? Following a Peloton training program and sticking to it. With the Peloton 5K training plan, you don’t have to do any of the work of figuring out what workout to tackle that day—it’s all in your app or on your Peloton Tread. We’ve even included recovery walks for your active recovery days. All you have to do is pencil the workouts into your calendar and show up for yourself. 

Choose the Right Footwear for Optimal Performance

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 at a speciality running store early to find the perfect pair based on your gait and stride.

Always Include Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs

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 from running. A dynamic 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 5- to 10-minute warm-ups that take the guesswork out of your plan.

After your run, it may be tempting to hop right in the shower and move onto the next part of your day—but don’t give in. Instead, carve out a few minutes for a cooldown walk and stretch. Research has shown that an active cooldown (like jogging and gradually slowing to a walk) can improve your next-day performance, and active cooldowns can also help your heart and lungs recover faster (read: you won’t be panting and red-faced two hours post-run). Interestingly, while stretching hasn’t been scientifically proven to reduce soreness or improve recovery, it’s also unlikely to cause any harm—so if you love a good lower-body stretch after a run, go ahead and dial up the Peloton App.

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. Then, once you cross the finish line, take a few minutes to walk around and slow your heart rate as you bask in your accomplishment.

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 nutrition will 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. 

One macronutrient you should definitely be focusing on during your 5K training? Protein. Protein is your BFF when you’re training hard because it helps you build muscle and improve your muscular conditioning (read: perform at a higher level). Even more importantly, protein is a must for muscle repair post-workout. Here’s why: When you work out, you make microscopic tears in your muscles. For the next 24 hours, your body's working overtime to synthesize new muscle protein in order to help repair and regrow those tiny tears. Taking in more protein during this time helps speed up your recovery and build new muscle so you can stick to your training plan.

Finally, make a plan for hydration during your 5K training (yes, literally, write it out—one study found that athletes who wrote down their hydration plan drank more than those with no plan at all). As your workouts get more intense, increase the amount of fluids you drink daily. Proper hydration replaces the sweat you lose during your runs, and it also improves your circulation so that your blood flows smoothly throughout your body. Make sure you’re drinking consistently throughout the day, not just chugging water before and after your run. And if you’re running outdoors in particularly hot weather, consider adding electrolytes to your hydration strategy to help replenish key nutrients like sodium, calcium, and potassium.

Include Cross-Training in Your 5K Training

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 strength training, yoga, barre, and/or Pilates into your training regimen, you can enhance your athletic performance, improve your post-workout recovery, balance your fitness efforts, and prevent repetitive stress injuries. We’ll dive deeper into cross-training in the next section. 

Maintain Proper Running Form

Evidence continues to stack up 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. 

If you don’t have access to a personal running coach, the next best thing is a guided run with a Peloton instructor. On Peloton Tread runs and guided outdoor runs, instructors often cue runners to notice their form. You’ll hear regular reminders to keep your shoulders back and arms swinging at your sides, among other form-perfecting suggestions.

Peloton member stretching outdoors

Effective Cross-Training Methods to Complement Your 5K Training

Cross-training while training for a 5K might feel counterproductive. Shouldn’t you be focusing all your efforts on running? And yet, cross-training 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.” 

Here are some of the best ways to cross-train for a 5K.

Strength Training for Runners  

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 two or three 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. Try searching “Strength Training for Runners” in the Peloton App to start off strong.

Cycling for Runners

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 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, but you can build speed and endurance–qualities you can definitely use in your next run. 

Yoga and Pilates for Runners  

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. 

Integrating Walking into Your Routine  

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 and Preparing for Your First 5K Race

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 accountability 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,” Becs says. “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!”

For more sources of running inspiration, check out the Peloton App for outdoor and Tread classes on demand—and don’t forget the Go the Distance: 5K program. These on-demand classes will allow you to build up your running chops with a supportive online community and test out a variety of classes and challenges which will help to get to that 5K finish line and beyond.

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