If you're not a runner, the prospect of signing up for a 5K can be really scary. It can feel like committing to climb Mount Everest. But, training for a race doesn't have to be uncomfortable or unpleasant. To prove it, we enlisted training consultant and creator of the Run Walk Run method, Jeff Galloway, to teach us how to get physically and mentally 5K-ready in just four weeks.
On each of the next four Fridays, we'll be sharing a calendar with action items for the week — including three essential rest days — plus insight from Galloway on how to stay motivated and keep injuries at bay.
Got the finish line in sight? Good. It’s time to lace up your sneaks and get out there.
The Run Walk Run method can and will work for you precisely because it involves starting slow. Including walk breaks reduces fatigue and orthopedic stress, making the routine safer and more sustainable than an intense, nonstop training plan. “When you go farther than you’ve gone before, your muscles, tendons, and joints need time to rebuild stronger,” says Galloway. That’s why our plan designates built-in rest days before and after your long runs, plus postural strength training such as crunches and weighted-arm running. Get details on how to do those exercises here.
This week, try running for five to 10 seconds at the beginning of every minute, walking for the remaining 50-55 seconds, and repeating. You’ll find that you gradually increase the time you spend running and decrease the time you spend walking. If, at any point, you start to huff and puff, walk gently with short strides until your breathing returns to normal. Overexertion is the quickest way to get injured.
One last thing: Warming up and cooling down are vital to protecting your muscles from pulls and tears. Galloway recommends beginning each day’s task with three minutes of walking and ending it with a 10-minute slow jog that includes as many walk breaks as you want, followed by three to five minutes of walking. If this warm-up and cool-down routine sounds extensive, it’s totally fine to work it into your total minutes for the day.
Ready, set, run!
Now that you've spent a week getting accustomed to the low-impact, low-time-commitment Run Walk Run method, you deserve a pat on the back. You've stuck with the program, worked through your "I don't think I can do it today" moments, and are ready to take things to the next level.
During week two of your training, commit to understanding — and practicing — the right kind of workouts on non-run days.
"Any exercise that does not fatigue the calf muscle is safe and recommended on Mondays, even though they're technically listed as rest days," says Galloway. "Walking, aqua-jogging, swimming, cycling, using the elliptical, and rowing are all good bets, but stair machines, leg-weight work, and step aerobics are not." But, you really must take it easy (hey, it’s the perfect time to catch up on The Bachelor) on Wednesdays and Fridays, since these fall before and after your long run.
Why do anything besides couch potato it up on days you could technically take off? Because light cardio continues to condition your body without exhausting it to the point of injury — or over-using the calf muscle. Light exercise on Mondays will leave you better prepared come race day. Although, replaying the drama from the last rose ceremony right around mile three could be a solid way to distract yourself from the intense burn.
You've been walk-running for two weeks now — consider us impressed. You're strength training every week, doing your light cardio, and taking advantage of those rest days with well-deserved Netflix marathons. Now that you're halfway (!) through the program, you're ready to dive deeper into the world of postural muscle strengthening and bust the myth that stretching is always a good thing.
Believe it or not, a little muscle tightness can actually reduce your chance of injury and make running easier. Some research even indicates that stretching may encourage injuries in distance runners. Galloway suggests you skip it. Instead, he recommends massages (you don't have to ask us twice), including self-massage using tools such as foam rollers. But, there is one exception to the no-stretching rule: your iliotibial (IT) band, which runs down the outside of your upper leg. If yours feels tight, stretch it before or after a run-walk — or whenever it starts to hurt. In place of additional stretching, try Galloway's favorite injury-preventing, postural-muscle-strengthening moves.
1. The Toe Squincher: Point your toes until the toe muscles cramp; then, release. Repeat 10 to 30 times a day. This prevents plantar fasciitis and strengthens the feet and ankles.
2. Arm Running: To strengthen your back, shoulders, and neck, hold dumbbells — use a weight that makes you feel tired after a set of 10 — while standing, and go through the same range of motion you would while running. Keep weights tucked close to your body. Start with one set of 10 and work your way up to three to five sets, once or twice per week.
3. Crunches: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the ground. Raise your torso off the floor a few inches and return to your starting position. It's important to use a limited range of motion to avoid risking injury. Work up to about 40 crunches per day.
The best thing about these exercises? You can do them whenever, wherever — no sneakers or leaving your bedroom required.
The race is just a week away. You've got one more long run, and then rest until game day. At this point, you've proven you can stick to the schedule. As for your final week of training — it's more mental than physical.
"Having a strategy will keep your conscious brain focused and in control of what you do," says Galloway. Without one, the subconscious brain can take over. "Then, the body and mind go on separate missions." To avoid that, try these four proven tactics: 1. Keep your eye on the prize. Whether it's thinking about the huge sense of accomplishment you'll feel at the end of the race, the cause you're running for, or the giant fudge sundae you're planning to celebrate with, focusing on what motivates you is one of the best ways to push ahead.
2. Pump up the jams. Make yourself a killer playlist — we're thinking a little Icona Pop and some Walk the Moon — for the length of the race. There are even apps that will change the tempo of a song so that it matches your pace. 3. Call for backup. If you're running for a cause, you're probably raising money. That's great motivation. If it's just for you, consider sharing your training schedule with a friend and asking her to hold you accountable — and to text you a few words of encouragement.
4. Let go of the all-or-nothing mindset. The key to your training has been listening to your body, not pushing it beyond its limits. It's crucial to keep up that mindset. If you tell yourself that you MUST run the full 3.1 miles at a seven-minute-per-mile pace, you're setting yourself up for injury and disappointment. Be kind to yourself, do your best, and let the work you've done until now be something you're proud of.
A few parting words before the big race: Remember to break in your running shoes, don't skimp on sleep the night before, and know that undertaking a challenge like this is seriously admirable — regardless of your finish time. We'll be cheering for you!