If you've never run a race before, the concept can be daunting. A 5K, or 3.1 miles, is a good place to start. Most races feature runners of all shapes, sizes and levels. Giving yourself six months to prepare allows you to build up your musculoskeletal system and stamina to successfully go the distance.
Beginning to Run
You should introduce running only after you are comfortable walking for 30 to 60 minutes straight at a brisk pace. Start to add in short jogging intervals of 30 to 60 seconds for every five minutes of walking. Over the next couple of months, extend the amount of time you spend running and decrease the amount of time you walk until you are able to jog for 20 to 30 minutes straight.
Spend another two months just working on stamina. This time builds up your connective tissues and joints to bear your weight for a regular running routine. Cool Running recommends not training for races until you've been running consistently for six months to give you time to develop this endurance. If you've gone from the couch to the road, you might take the majority of the six months to simply get accustomed to running. If you are in relatively good shape, doing other activities such as cycling, swimming or aerobics, you can get ready to run a 5K fairly quickly, says noted runner and coach Hal Higdon. The stamina-building stage involves running three to four times per week for 20 to 45 minutes at a time. Make these runs slow and feel free to intersperse walking drills as needed.
Allocate about eight weeks of your six-month prep for dedicated race training. Begin with just three runs per week on every other day -- each lasting just 1.5 miles. Spend one additional day walking 30 to 60 minutes and rest or casually walk on the other days. Each week add 1/4 to 1/2 mile to each run until two out of the three are three miles in length. Continue to do a long walk on one day and recover between the runs. If you are after a speedy finish, make one of the runs during the week an interval or tempo run. Interval runs involve running faster than race pace for 400 meters and recovering for an equal amount of time with a light jog for the duration of the 1.5 to three miles. A tempo run has you build up gradually over the 1.5 to three miles from a modest pace to a pace slightly slower than your 5K goal -- for example, warm up five minutes, run 10 to 15 minutes speedy and then cool down with a slower pace for five minutes. Ease up the volume of your training the days before the race -- resting for two days before you hit the start line.
Experienced runners don't usually need six months to prepare for a 5K unless training for an elite event. Five to six weeks of elite training can involve speed training and time trials to test leg turnover and oxygen usage. An elite runner might use the six months to tweak nutrition, form and race strategies as well.
As with all physical activity, please consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.