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Testing the legs and lungs against one's own limits is an ancient pastime.
If you're feeling bogged down by a sedentary lifestyle and need a reason to wander out into the heat, training to finish a 5K, a 3.1-mile road race, might be just the reason to shrug off your listlessness. Training for and completing America's most popular race distance -- more than six million people finished a 5K in the U.S. during 2012 -- is a challenging but achievable goal.
Josh Clark, the co-creator of CoolRunning.com and the founder of the Couch-to-5K Running Plan, advises keeping several general training principles in mind as you work to get in shape for a 5K. First, you need to do "only" 20 to 30 minutes of walking and jogging three times a week to get in sufficiently good shape to finish a 5K, even if you're starting from scratch. Second, it's fine to run for time rather than distance and actually makes the bookkeeping side of things easier for most people. Finally, to help prevent injuries and undue fatigue, don't increase your workouts by more than a few minutes from one to the next.
Almost without exception, the voices of experience advocate mixing walking with running in the early stages of training to finish a road race. If you're younger and have a recent background in sports, you can most likely ramp up to uninterrupted running more quickly than an older person who's been couch-bound for years and may be overweight. In any case, err on the side of being conservative. According to "Runner's World," experts agree that you need to run three or four days a week by the time you're within a month or so of your 5K. During one of those weekly runs, increase the amount you can run continuously until you either cover the race distance or run for as long as you expect the race to take you.
Endurance and Speed
After a few weeks of regular running, you'll be past almost all of the soreness that usually accompanies going from no exercise to regular workouts. Do most of your runs at a comfortable pace, especially if your goal is simply to finish the 5K. But because running faster is the best way to boost both endurance and speed, consider doing some quicker workouts even if you're new to running. Professional coach Chris Carmichael, for example, says that running three hard 1-mile segments with recovery walks will do more to improve your running pace than running three miles without a break. Aim for do some faster running one or two days a week, even if these are unstructured; if you're a little too winded to talk, you're probably at the right intensity.
Tapering and the Race
Cut your training by about one-third to one-half in the last week before your race, so you can be assured of heading into the 5K on fresh legs. Jeff Galloway, former Olympian and author of "Galloway's Book on Running," suggests lining up at the back of the pack to discourage an overly ambitious starting pace and allow you to gradually work up to your all-out pace in the third mile. As far as your pace goes, Carmichael, while stressing that your main goal should be to have fun and experience the rewards of your new-found fitness, says that you can reasonably expect to race about 30 seconds a mile faster than your everyday training pace.