5K Plans for Beginners

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Or for those who are getting back into the sport – like me!

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On Monday, I’ve got my four-week post-partum check up.  Also known as the appointment that will or will not give me clearance to exercise beyond walking.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll get the all-clear; I feel great and am very much looking forward to getting back into shape.  


I’ve got multiple goals – they don’t all have to be achieved right away!


  • Get back into running shape – I haven’t run a single step for 26 weeks.
  • Return to swimming; I swam until a few days before delivery so this shouldn’t be too hard, but I would like to increase my distance back to my pre-pregnancy normal.
  • Strength train and build muscle.
  • Do a sprint triathlon before the season ends.


I’ve been thinking a lot about how to tackle my return to fitness, and I think one word sums it up quite well: SLOWLY.  I know that doing too much too soon could be disastrous, especially considering that my priority is taking care of Henry.  I’m not looking to wear myself out or feel miserable on top of the mild sleep deprivation that I’m (obviously) suffering from.  I also don’t want to spend tons of time away from Henry and the Husband.  On the other hand, I think it will be good for me to return to my beloved hobby and do something for myself.  I just need to tackle my goals slowly to ensure success.


I want to work up to a 5K by the end of September.   I’m planning to use the Couch-to-5K Running Plan; it’s a nine-week walk/run program that assumes you can’t jog more than 60 seconds at a time to start off with.  Honestly, 60 seconds of jogging sounds really hard right now, so I may add a few weeks to the beginning of the program and start with shorter run intervals.


The walk/run method is exactly what it sounds like:  you walk for a bit and then run for a bit.  Some programs are based on distance (“run for 0.25 mile”) and others are based on time (“run for 30 seconds”).  Others don’t follow a strict interval program and encourage you to simply run until you need a break.  Over time, you decrease the amount of walking and increase the amount of running; the goal isn’t necessarily to totally phase out walking.  There is NOTHING wrong with walking breaks!  In my book, you’re still a runner even if you take walking breaks.


I really love the walk/run method because it keeps you from feeling physically and emotionally burnt out.  Walk/run is also great because you see true improvements each week.  It’s very motivating!  Attempting to run 2.0 straight miles right now would probably be extremely DE-motivating because I’d crash and burn within the first 500 yards.  But I could probably walk/run 2.0 miles and finish feeling pretty decent.

Here’s a quick summary of other 5K training plans for beginners that encourage the walk/run format.


A 7-week plan from Mayo Clinic

A 15-week plan from Jeff Galloway

An 8-week plan from Hal Hidgon

A 6-week plan from Fitness Magazine

A 7-week plan from Shape Magazine


I could look at this experience – having to rebuild my running endurance back from nothing – and be annoyed, but honestly, I’m very excited.  I’m looking forward to proving to myself that I can do it all over again – and have fun at the same time. 


Have you ever used a walk/run training plan?  What did you think of it?



  • Sarah July 5, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Good luck with Couch to 5K! Be sure to go really slowly. I tried to pick running back up too quickly after my pregnancy (and was still nursing) and ended up with stress fractures in both of my heel bones. Apparently when you are nursing, your calcium goes to the baby before you and can weaken bones in some – like me! Injuries are healed now and I’m up to run/walk intervals but I am taking it painfully slow so the heels don’t flare up. Happy running!

  • jen July 5, 2012, 12:57 pm

    i have never even run as much as .5 a mile before but over the last month i’ve worked my way up to 3 miles using the walk/run method. i started out following the couch to 5k plan doing just 60 secs of running and it went from there. one day i just ran a whole mile without stopping and i was shocked. i’ve never considered myself to be athletic-much less a runner-so it was exciting for me. btw-hearing you say you’re still a runner even if you walk some was so encouraging!

  • Shelly @ EpicOrganic.net July 5, 2012, 1:06 pm

    Just ran my first 5K in 7 months… I’d run my 2nd half marathon last December, and burnt myself out after 2 years of over-enthusiastic trying-not-to-walk-EVER running. I climbed back on the horse 6 weeks ago or so, and am training this time exclusively with a run/walk plan (Jeff Galloway’s). Even with walk intervals, I’m way faster than I expected to be (13:46/mi for yesterday’s super hot 5K, with 4 min/1 min run/walk intervals). I signed up for another half marathon in October which I plan to do run/walk. I suspect I might even beat my last HM time (2:36) with the run/walk plan. It’s refreshing to throw my “must run all. the. time.” ego out the window and enjoy the process!

  • Janae @ Bring-Joy July 5, 2012, 1:07 pm

    Love the walk/run program–mostly because I’m not crazy about running, but love walking, so you get a good mix of both.

    I always returned quickly to exercise after all of my babies. With my fourth, exercise after having baby was the thing that helped me stay sane (& lose the 25 pounds of baby weight!).

  • Kim @ wonderings July 5, 2012, 1:13 pm

    I am currently working through the couch to 5k. I definitely think it’s a long program but I have never run a 5k before. Just about to register for my first at the end of this month!

  • Rebecca July 5, 2012, 1:17 pm

    I was really happy to read this post. I am currently trying to start running using the couch to 5k intervals and it’s nice to know that you plan on doing it too!

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats July 5, 2012, 1:23 pm

    I hope you get the go ahead to start running again! I’m sure it won’t be easy, but I know you are definitely someone with enough determination to do it!

  • Claire @ Live and Love to Eat July 5, 2012, 1:26 pm

    I’m planning on my first 10K in September and need to find a good plan. I know so many people who have been really successful with couch-to-5k.

  • Annette@FitnessPerks July 5, 2012, 1:28 pm

    I think your goals are great- and your expectations are pretty solid too! The number one mistake people make is going in too much too soon.

    I’ve never done a walk/run plan, but they seem to work for a lot of people-so I am sure you would see success with it 🙂

  • Kristy Doyle July 5, 2012, 1:32 pm

    I can run pretty much forever, but I started off with a walk/run program. I didn’t do a structured one like CT5K, but just ran until I felt like walking. Now, when people ask me how to break into running, I always refer them to CT5K. It’s such a great program.

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat July 5, 2012, 1:32 pm

    I think those are really reasonable goals Caitlin. I haven’t run for about 6 weeks (well, running to the extent that I used to) due to an ankle injury so I know how it feels to be just itching to get out there. Recovery has been slow, but like you said, it needs to be done. In the meantime, enjoy your morning walks with Henry!

  • Michelle July 5, 2012, 1:47 pm

    I recently just started training for a 5k and found a great app for my iPhone. It is based on the couch to 5k method. It is called 5K Runner. The first 4 or 5 runs are free and then afterwards you can decide if you want to buy it or not. So far I love it. You start the app and it tells you when to run and when to walk. It also lets you know when you have reached your half-way point. I put on my Pandora radio app when I run but you can also play your iTunes. This may be a good app just to help you start running again.
    Good Luck & Happy Running!

  • Natalie July 5, 2012, 1:59 pm

    Ooooh, I just finished the C25K myself; it was the first (and only) running program I have ever done. My co-runner and I ran our first race two weeks ago, and we managed a 10K! (with walk breaks)

    Good luck Caitlin! I’m super excited to read about your workouts and return to fitness again, as you have been a HUGE inspiration to my own new-found commitment to health and fitness. Henry looks to be doing amazing… I’m excited for you both!


  • Sarah July 5, 2012, 2:06 pm

    I did Couch to 5k a couple of years ago and got so excited about my quick progress that I didn’t cross-train, strength-train or stretch and got a stress fracture. Oops.

    Now I’m doing a 10k running program but very, very slowly. And I LOVE walking intervals too!

    It’s funny, I’m up to the point of running for 35 minutes straight and I cannot WAIT for the plan to switch back to run/walk intervals next week. 20 minutes of running, 5 minutes walking, 20 minutes running sounds SO much more manageable!

  • K @ Finding a Skinnier me July 5, 2012, 2:07 pm

    I am currently going back to my walk/run program. I had started one a few months ago, started feeling great about how far I was able to run, but then school/work have been exhausting me so much the last few weeks I stopped doing my program.

    I will be back on it again Monday. Honestly for bigger girls or really out of shape girls it is the best program and I just run till I can’t anymore than walk till I start to feel better. I hate following time limits because they always make me feel worse when all I can think about when I am running is if the 60 seconds is done yet.

    Good luck!

  • Brigid July 5, 2012, 2:15 pm

    I have tried a couple of different methods, but the one that finally did the trick for me was the C25K Free app on the iPhone. When I’m not training for a race (which isn’t often — I’m about to start work on my third), I like to use the MapMyRun app to keep track of how I’m doing. Another thing I’ll do is listen to music and tell myself to run through three (or however many) songs and then walk through one. That way I don’t stare down the stopwatch, but I know I’m still getting a good workout. Plus, sometimes I get lost in the music and go longer.

    Good luck in your re-training! As I mentioned, I’m about to start training for my third race, which will be my first 10K. I’m nervous but excited!

  • Ali @SeeAliEatSeeAliRun July 5, 2012, 2:20 pm

    I had major hip surgery in March and just got clearance to begin running again. I’m using a run/walk method for the first time in my life! I’m on a program similar to Galloway or a C25K program until I’m sure my hip can take the added stress of distances. So far so good! But I really do prefer just running 🙂

  • Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) July 5, 2012, 2:44 pm

    I’ve used the Couch 25k before and I do really like it. I’m a trainer that hates to run. I’m learning the ins and outs of it though because I think, as a trainer, I need to understand running so I can train my clients more efficiently. Great post Caitlin and good luck on getting the clearance!

  • Tara July 5, 2012, 2:49 pm

    I actually started the C25K programs a few months ago. I have asthma, so I was worried about jumping into anything too strenuous with too much running right away. I really liked it. I got up to week 4 and then found out I was pregnant, so I did stop just because I was paranoid of pushing myself that hard (and honestly the last time I tried it before testing I couldn’t even get through it I was so tired and couldn’t figure out why it was so hard). I do plan on using it again next year when I get the all clear from the Dr after baby arrives. I really enjoyed the fact I could throw on my iPod and use the app to tell me when to run/walk.

  • Sara July 5, 2012, 2:52 pm

    I started the Couch to 5K program last summer and LOVED it – it helped me fall in love with the sport of running in a way that felt good and naturally progressive. It was amazing to see how much longer/farther I could run each week – I still remember that first week with the 20 minute runs and thinking, “I’ll never be able to run for twenty minutes straight!” But then I did it and it was awesome. I just celebrated my one-year anniversary of becoming a runner and am currently training for my first half marathon!

  • Brandi@StringCheeseRunner July 5, 2012, 2:56 pm

    When I very first started running, I just did the walk/run method. I didn’t do it in a time frame like the couch to 5k, I just did it through feel. Some days I would run more than walk and other days vice versa. I remember thinking I would never finish a 5k, and then 9 months later I finished my first half marathon.

  • jameil July 5, 2012, 3:50 pm

    Love, love, LOVE C25K. I introduce people to it all the time! I wouldn’t be training for a half today if not for doing c25k starting last August. It completely changed my life. Like you said, the measurable gains were so amazing week to week! From before I started (see: childhood – adulthood) I was wholeheartedly disinterested in running. By the 3rd week I was hooked! & now it consumes my life! LOL

  • Tabitha July 5, 2012, 3:53 pm

    Thanks for the articles. I am not training for a 5K but I am looking to get back into running. This was perfect! I’m addicted to your positive outlook on life and all it’s changes!

    Thanks for always brightening my day!

  • Danielle July 5, 2012, 3:59 pm

    I tried doing a Couch to 5K plan once… it was very difficult for me. I’m not sure if I have exercise induced asthma? I found it really difficult to run for stretches longer than 2.5 minutes, my lungs just felt like they couldn’t handle it. (Also, I personally do not want to use an inhaler.) I’m not sure if I was running too fast? And then I got sick with a really bad cold and just stopped the program. I would like to try again but am afraid of literally running my system down. Maybe someone has advice for me. 🙂

  • Hillary July 5, 2012, 4:06 pm

    When I first started running, I built up my endurance with the run/walk method. At first, I ran for about a block and walked for two, then gradually built up to running 3 miles (and then 5, and then 10, and then 13!) over time. I think it’s great for runners of ALL levels—I still do it sometimes, especially when I’m training for a big race and trying to build my endurance.

  • Dana July 5, 2012, 4:44 pm

    I actually just started using a beginner’s training plan off of the Runner’s World web site called Training Peak and so far I like it. They give you a workout plan that you can alter and tweak as you need and it helps give you ideas on pace, time, breath, which is good for beginners like me. The plan has a walk/run method as well as encouraging cross training. I have a race coming up in 4 weeks and I’ve been happy with it so far!

  • Sophie @ threetimesf July 5, 2012, 5:17 pm

    I have been trying to get back in to C25K for a few weeks now, so will be joining you 🙂 Hope all goes well at the appointment 🙂

  • Tabitha July 5, 2012, 5:19 pm

    I know you’ve probably written an article on this topic already. But I was wondering if you could dedicate an article too providing a simple starter diet on how to eat more ‘whole.’ And how to start running. I know you posted the links today on the walk/run methods. I was just wondering if you had any thing that helped you when you started to get back into running after collage. I’d love to lose a little weight and become more healthier…it’s hard to find the motivation and the courage. It all seemed so simple for you.

  • Emily July 5, 2012, 5:55 pm

    I’m actually in the middle of a walk/run training program now (though I can’t remember which one; I copied and pasted into a Word document). When you’re trying to learn to run on your own, it’s easy to psyche yourself out. My first week involved running for one minute and walking for two, for thirty minutes, and when I couldn’t do this without considerable pain, I was so discouraged that I almost quit. Thankfully, I kept at it, lowered my outdoor runs to twice a week, and did cross training on the elliptical. I had to stay at “week one” for almost a month, which was so frustrating to me because I always want to be on task and on time. I’m running my first 5k at the beginning of August, and at first I was crushed because I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the whole thing by then. Now, my goal is to be able to complete the entire thing by running three minutes, walking one minute. I think what I’m saying is that walk/run plans are great, but it’s important to adapt them to YOUR abilities – just because it says it’s for “beginners” doesn’t mean you can’t tweak it to suit you!

  • Joanna@DrizzleofSunshine July 5, 2012, 6:02 pm

    Bookmarking this post for when I have my baby. I can’t wait to get back into running. Starting at square one is a bit daunting, but this post gives me some motivation!

  • brooke @ sweats & sweets July 5, 2012, 7:01 pm

    I used C25K and I loved it. I still have minor walk breaks (no more than a minute or two) because it just rejuvenates the legs and mind for a second.

  • Kelli Noel July 5, 2012, 7:16 pm

    I am so excited for you! Last fall I had surgery on both of my feet and had to get back in running shape after 3 months of recovery (i.e. not running at all and barely cross training). I started with a whopping 4 minute run in October and built back up to 7 miles by December. It was both insanely difficult and rewarding…This experience will make you a much stronger athlete mentally!

  • Lisa July 5, 2012, 7:23 pm

    In Canada it’s a 6 week appointment…no exercising till then!

    • Caitlin July 5, 2012, 7:32 pm

      Its 4 – 6 weeks here, but I opted for 4 because I thought I’d be ready.

      • Krista July 9, 2012, 9:19 am

        I started running at 4 weeks after my first. I had a weird prolapse issue after my 2nd (6 months ago) and didn’t start running until he was 6.5 weeks. It feels SO good to get back to doing things like that after putting it all on hold for so long while growing a baby!

  • Alice July 5, 2012, 8:22 pm

    I am in love with the C25K program! It makes training so much easier. I always feel really accomplished when I finish one, and I can feel the change in my attitude, health, and happiness!

  • Sam @ Better With Sprinkles July 5, 2012, 9:46 pm

    When I first started running, I definitely used the walk/run method. if I had tried to just jump into running long distance right away, I would have burned out so quickly!

  • Julia H. @ Going Gulia July 5, 2012, 10:28 pm

    I’m a huge fan of the Couch-To-5K program. Interestingly enough, when I first got into running, it was just from randomly adding bursts of running into my walks. There was no thought process behind it, but eventually I happened to work up to 4-mile runs. Several months later, I started having random minor running injuries that made me end up taking off from running for about a year. In May, I started running again and decided to use the Couch-To-5K program to get back into it (despite not at all being on “couch” level) solely because I wanted to do everything possible to avoid injuring myself. I’m now on the last week of the program, injury-free (knock on wood) 😀

  • luv what you do July 5, 2012, 10:36 pm

    I’m so impressed with your desire to do a tri by the end of the season. What a fantastic goal. You are truly inspirational! I have never done a walk run program, but after not running for 6 months becasue of a medicine I was taking, I was so sacred about getting back into it. I was told to take it easy and I did (kind of) but I think you will find that 5k is easy and you will be back to running it quickly. Especially since you stayed in such group shape for your entire pregnancy!

  • Alex @ Raw Recovery July 5, 2012, 10:49 pm

    Thanks for this post, Caitlin. I’ve been struggling with seeing lots of bloggers I admire be really into running and getting upset with myself and comparing for not being able to run for more than a few minutes before I get out of breath. For me personally I have to make sure I’m exercising for the right reasons: not to lose weight considering I’m a recovered anorexic, but to help me with my depression. It’s a hard balance to strike and I really like how balanced and real this post is. It’s nice to see a blogger talk about their limitations while at the same time trying to push boundaries in a healthy way. Thank you!

  • Katie July 6, 2012, 12:06 am

    I signed up for a sprint tri at the end of October with some friends, and I am TERRIFIED- I will be just fine during the swim and bike portions, but I can barely run a half mile. I’ve been using C25K for a few weeks and I already see the improvements in my running- I am determined to work myself up to a point where I can run the whole 5K at the end of the tri!

  • Claire July 6, 2012, 2:12 am

    I’ve never done a run/walk program because even at my lowest levels of fitness I’ve always been able to run for at least 5k without any problems, just lucky I guess. One of the happiest moments of my life was cracking out a 5k three weeks after giving birth to my 3rd, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
    Re your comment about starting from scratch, I don’t think this is the case in your situation. It is quite different to commence running for the first time compared to taking it up again, even after a longish break. I think the term is ‘muscle memory’, but essentially your body already knows how to run, and your mind also knows that you can run, so I’m sure you will be back up to speed in no time at all.

  • Lauren T July 6, 2012, 10:25 am

    I’m actually using the Couch to 5K running plan right now! I’m on week 3. My best friend recommended it to me, and I didn’t start with the intention of actually doing a 5K at the end. Now though I’m thinking about finding one to do in the fall! A walk/run plan is definitely a great idea for beginning runners…like me 🙂

  • Amy H July 6, 2012, 11:01 am

    Hi! I’ve never commented before, but had to share an idea for a good ct5k program. I’ve followed the NHS Choices Couch to 5k program. It’s a podcast that I download to my iPod. It’s a free program from the National Health Service in the UK. The music is good and it’s really easy to follow. Thought you’d appreciate the British connection! Good luck getting back on the road.

  • Lina July 7, 2012, 12:41 am

    Im due next week with baby #3 but planning to do that program to once im recovered and ready to start working out. I’ve never been a runner, but I want a new fitness challenge and running scares me for some reason.. 🙂
    Good Luck to you, and congratulations to your new baby boy!!!

  • Lexi @ You, Me, & A World to See July 7, 2012, 10:28 pm

    I love walking and slow jogging but find myself dreading running a lot more. I wonder if the run-walk plan would help with that?

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