Here we present our step-by-step beginner’s guide, plus your first, 9-week 5k training plan from Canadian national champion runner and lululemon global ambassador, Rob Watson. Follow our lead, along with the help of Amy Hughes, record-breaking endurance runner and lululemon ambassador, and turn conquering 5k into a truly fun run.
If you want this new habit to stick, give it some thought. Too often the pursuit of new fitness follows the narrative of boom then bust. Not this time.
Give your week some structure. The biggest hurdles to starting a new running plan often have nothing to do with your fitness levels – you’re stronger than you think. It’s about lifestyle and fitting running into your already busy schedule. Print out Watson’s plan and stick it on your fridge. Then block out time in your diary to do the work.
Shoe selection is important. Too many injuries come from people running in the wrong shoes. Hughes recommends that any new runner go to a specialist shop and get a gait analysis. There, the experts will watch you walk and run and recommend shoes that best fit your body, providing support where you need it
It sounds simple but it’s super effective. You can go to bed with all the will in the world – tomorrow you’ll get up and run! Only for morning to arrive and the furthest you move is rolling over for another 5 minutes of sleep. Make it as easy as possible to get out the door, lay your kit by your bed the night before. Have a coffee pod in the machine ready to go. Then you’re on the road.
Hydration has an incredible impact on your energy and focus levels, and therefore your motivation. Not only that, it impacts your performance too. Sink a large glass first thing and aim for two litres throughout the day. This will keep you mentally focused and also make your run feel easier, both of which will bolster any wavering motivation levels.
Warm up gently and save the long, static stretches for after the run. It’s about increasing your muscle temperature and breathing rate to get your body ready to move. Hughes recommends high knees, rotations for your core and even shoulder circles. “People forget running is a whole-body workout,” she says.
There is always a risk of injury in new runners – after a hit of endorphins and the subsequent sense of accomplishment, they get carried away. The urge then is to go from not running at all, to running every day. This new stress puts your muscles and joints at risk. Taking it slowly makes it more sustainable. If you’re serious about becoming a runner in the long-term – sometimes less is more.
Take a day off. They’re just as important as your training days. Set your goal at running 3-4 days a week. It’s more easily achievable, which means you’re more likely to stick to it. This in turn will boost your sense of accomplishment and fire up your motivation. Overcommit and a missed run will feel like a failure (it’s not by the way!) and training will become a grind rather than a pleasure.
Keep things interesting by mixing up your styles of run too, advises Hughes. Fill your week with: a short, sharp intervals session to build speed, an easier recovery walk-run, a tempo run where you try to run faster for longer, and then a long run, which can be a plod but it gets your body used to spending time on your feet.
As a rule, runners just love to run. But they’re doing themselves a disservice with their one-track mind. “For long-term success you need a well-rounded training plan,” says Hughes. Two strength sessions a week will help. Squats and deadlifts will build power and resilience in your lower body. And don’t forget to do single-leg exercises like lunges – running is a series of single-leg exercises, after all.
Hughes also recommends a couple of Pilates sessions a week to bolster your core strength and target the smaller stabiliser muscles around your joints.
As well as your joints, your feet need a lot of love too. They’re the tools of your new trade. The most common mistakes come when picking the wrong shoe size. A good rule of thumb is to go half a size up, especially if you’re looking to push on to longer distances. Feet swell and running forces your foot forward in the shoe, so you want extra room to avoid rubbing. Don’t pull your laces too tight, either.
Finally, get some proper technical running socks. They need to be sweat-wicking. Cotton socks hold onto water, which leads to friction and eventually the painful blisters that can stop your fledgling running career in its tracks.
But not too closely. The first thing to realise is that everyone runs differently. Tips about running form should only ever be viewed as guidelines, not strict rules. Here Amy Lane, legacy ambassador and marathon runner, has the simple tips you need to keep moving forwards.
Without thinking, the effort of running causes your muscles to tense. That’s good news in your legs and core, but less so everywhere else. The extra tension is exhausting and expends valuable energy you should be trying to preserve.
Mentally check in from time to time. If your shoulders have risen up underneath your ears – bring them down. Shake out your jaw, forehead, wrist and fingers, too. To keep your hands loose, imagine that you’re cradling eggs in either hand as you run.
Running, especially on pavements, can send a lot of impact up through your legs and affect your lower back. One thing that can help, according to Lane, is to run with a slight brace in your core. This creates some protective tension – we’re talking a 2/10 effort level. Eventually it will become second nature.
Running is a whole-body workout, and what you do above the waist is important, too. Lane recommends actively pushing your elbow back as you bring that same leg forwards. Beginners need to combat a lot of upper body rotation because you’ve not yet got the coordination between upper and lower body.
If you don’t push back, the elbow sticks into the ribs and you end up twisting your upper body to help drive your legs forward. This exhausts your core, tiring you out but also increasing your risk of injury. Pumping your arms will offset that.
Finally, lots of runners, especially when they’re fatigued, struggle with what Lane refers to as the ‘runner’s shuffle’ – where you barely pick up your feet. This’ll slow down progress and performance even more. There’s a simple fix, though. Pick up your knees with each stride and you’ll inject some spring back into each step.
Come in, flop on the floor, you can even switch on the TV – but the process hasn’t quite finished yet. These are the finishing touches.
Now your muscles are nice and warm, it’s the perfect time to improve your flexibility. As you use your muscles more while running they get stronger, but also tighten up. Just 10-minutes on the living room floor after each run can loosen you off. Try moving through a lying quad stretch, hamstring stretch, half-pigeon to open your hips, seated spinal rotation for your back, and then you can finish by relaxing in child’s pose.
The simplest way to do this is to reach for a foam roller and work over your lower body spending about 30 seconds on each muscle group. The process should help to ease tension and speed up recovery.
If you’re struggling to really get into any tight spots, then a golf ball might help you hit those trigger points. “Rolling a golf ball under my feet after a run really helps to release the fascia,” says Hughes. Plantar Fasciitis, heel pain caused by inflammation of this tissue, is one of the most common injuries, so remember this tip if you feel a niggle.
If you want to properly fuel the fires of recovery, you need to eat well. Carbs for energy and protein for muscle repair are important, but it’s always smart to keep things in balance.
Eating plenty of vegetables along with that chicken and rice will give your body the vitamins it needs to recover well. And don’t forget to rehydrate, either. You need to replace those fluids lost through sweat.
In bed is where the magic happens. If you can get an early night and enjoy 8 hours rest then your body will have plenty of time to repair. This is when all the benefits of your training actually take effect and you wake up fitter and stronger.
If you’re struggling to nod off then clean up your sleep routine. Avoid blue light by swapping your phone for a book in bed, for example. It sounds strange, but when you’re training hard then the more you sleep the fitter you’ll become. It’s the tip so easy you can do it with your eyes closed.
If you’re starting from scratch, give yourself 8-9 weeks. You’re better off building up slowly and surely, not going all-in. The longer you take over these things the more that they will become habits that stick. You might be able to get up to running 5k more quickly, but if you want to train to run 5k consistently, then this is a timeframe to aim for.
It depends on what time you’re planning on running. Eating just before you go is a bad idea. Try to eat an hour before, at least. It can just be a snack, like a banana – perhaps dipped in some peanut butter. Or if you’re going out first thing then a light breakfast of peanut butter on toast or some oats is the best start. Basically, you want simple carbs that provide an energy boost but don’t sit heavily in your stomach.
To get faster at running you need to work on your speed. You won’t do that with slow, longer runs. You need to mix in shorter interval sessions and faster tempo runs. Running faster will hurt but your body will adapt and then maintaining that speed will become easier. The seconds will start falling off your time.
If you’re a beginner then just completing the 5k run is cause for celebration. The first goal should then be to work towards finishing in under 30 minutes. The more you train, the closer you’ll get to 20 minutes. Finishing under 20 minutes is what many consider the gold standard for the distance, although the world record is all the way down at 12 minutes 35 seconds!