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Close up cropped low angle photo of shoe of female athlete on the starting line of a stadium track, preparing for a run.

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 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 can help you prepare for race day, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran.

Yes, You Can Do a 5K“: No matter your current fitness level, completing a 5K is both doable and fun.

Ready, Set, Race: 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: 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.

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

First-5K Survivor Schedule

WEEK

MON. TUES. WED. THUR. FRI. SAT. SUN.

1

1/2 mile walk to warm up;
1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk to cool down
Rest 1/2 mile walk to warm up;
1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk to cool down
Rest 1/2 mile walk to warm up;
1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk to cool down
1/2 mile walk to warm up;
3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk to cool down
Rest

2

1/2 mile walk to warm up;
3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk to cool down
Rest 1/2 mile walk to warm up;
1 mile run;
1/2 walk to cool down
Rest 1/2 mile walk to warm up;
1 mile run;
1/2 walk to cool down
1/2 mile walk to warm up;
1 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk to cool down

Rest

3 ­

1/2 mile walk;
1 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
1 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
1 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk;
2 mile run; 1/2 walk
Rest

4

1/2 mile walk;
2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk;
2 1/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest

5

1/2 mile walk;
2 1/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 1/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 1/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk;
2 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest

6

1/2 mile walk
2 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk
2 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk
2 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest

7

1/2 mile walk;
2 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk
2 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest

8

1/2 mile walk;
2 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk
2 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk;
3 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest

9

1/2 mile walk;
3 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
3 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
3 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk;
3 1/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest

10

1/2 mile walk;
3 1/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
3 1/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
3 1/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk;
3 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest

11

1/2 mile walk to
3 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
3 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
3 1/2 mile run;
1/2 walk
1/2 mile walk;
3 3/4 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest

12

1/2 mile walk;
2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
2 mile run;
1/2 walk
Rest 1/2 mile walk;
1 mile run;
1/2 walk
Your First 5K Race Rest, recover, celebrate!

Download the PDF of the First-5K Survivor Schedule.

This article has been updated. It was originally published on January 1, 2008.

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