How to master running a 5K even if you're a total beginner

We asked an expert trainer for tips on getting started and the average time it takes.
How to master running a 5K even if you're a total beginner
Cosmopolitan UK
CosmoBy Cosmo -

Running is great for a plethora of reasons, from the mental benefits it offers to the fact that it's completely free (after you've sorted yourself out with the right kit). Load up a solid playlist and pretty much you're good to go! Right?

Well, if you're a total beginner and want to start smashing a 5K (which translates as a 3.1 mile run in imperial terms), it can still all feel a bit daunting... How do you know what time to aim for? What should your posture look like? And what are the basics to master? We asked personal trainer and health practitioner, Jason Briggs, who also works with ShoeHero, for his advice – and it's well worth paying attention to.

How do I start running?

First thing's first – Jason says he always tells his clients who are new to running that initially it's a good idea to choose to run for either distance or speed. "If you aim to do both, the likelihood is that you'll take up running for a week and deem it too difficult to pursue and drop it," he explains. "Aiming to run a 5K is a nice starting point, because it's an ambitious goal without being overly intimidating."

Running involves every aspect of the body working sufficiently and adequate breathing is crucial. "For your first run, begin with a light jog and ignore the distance travelled," Jason recommends. "Focus on the breath – inhale gently through the nose and exhale via the mouth in a controlled manner. Your back should be straight with your shoulders back and down." Your stomach should be held in to support the spine and your arms should move in a controlled way too, he adds. The speed of your legs will then mirror the action of the arms. "Once you have nailed the basics, then you can move onto obtaining objectives that focus on distance or speed."

If you're looking for a beginner's running plan, Jason recommends mapping out runs for the first four weeks that include a mix of both intermittent running and walking.

For example:

-> Run 1 – 1 min jog; 45 second walk
-> Run 2 – 1 min jog; 40 second walk
-> Run 3 - 1.15 min jog; 40 second walk

What's the average time to run a 5K in?

Once you've got the basics down, you can move onto smashing a personal best. "To start with, concentrate on building up longer jogs and shorter walking times into your routine," Jason says. "Then, once you're jogging the full 5 kilometres you can work on time. For a beginner, completing a 5K run in 30mins is very good going."

However, he's keen to stress, this is very much an end target for a beginner and not a goal for your first run. Ten minutes per mile (or 1.6 kilometres) is fairly average for a beginner. "I must highlight, exercising is a positive release of energy," he adds. "Don't be hard on yourself if you can't complete averages, you're making a healthy commitment which is a great thing!"

How can I run faster?

"If you're running at an immediate level, I recommend that you consistently reassess the basics before you embark on a new fitness goal," notes Jason. "If you want to increase distance, set the goal of adding on an extra half a mile per week." This doesn't mean that every run you commit to has to be half a mile longer, he clarifies. Instead, aim to reach an extra half a mile once a week, every week.

As for speed, try asking a friend or family member to film you running for a couple of minutes. "Having a visual representation of what they may be doing wrong can often surprise people," Jason says. "For example, running with a poor posture. If you wish to increase speed, aiming to shave 30 seconds off your usual running time is a good start." From then on, gradually increase your speed. However, it's important to remember to be realistic – ten minutes isn't a lot if time in daily life, but in the world of running it’s substantial.

Remember, one of the biggest plus points of running is the powerful effect it can have on your mental health (including easing depression), so if it takes a long time to build up to being super speedy – or hey, even if you never become super speedy – enjoy the process! Don't beat yourself up for not immediately becoming Usain Bolt.

Via Cosmopolitan UK