That’s exactly why you should start with a 5K. At 3.1 miles, this distance is totally doable, even if you’ve been sticking to the elliptical since the mile-run test in high school. We asked Dorothy Beal, certified running coach, 31-time marathoner (!!), and creator of I Run This Body to put together a four-week training plan that will get you to the finish line feeling like a total badass. Here’s what you need to know to pound the pavement with the best of ’em. Sure, running might seem easy—just lace up your sneakers and go. But the thought of actually training for a race can be intimidating AF.
1. Get Your Gear
Your very first move should involve a visit to a specialty running store, Beal says. That’s where a running shoe specialist will analyze your gait and fit you in the best shoes for your stride and sport (because shoes that are biomechanically designed for tennis are not going to be structured the same as those made for running). “So many people give up on running because their shins hurt after a mile, or because they get a case of runner’s knee,” says Beal. “But most of the time, these problems can be prevented by wearing the right shoes, or they can heal faster if you’ve already incurred the injury.”
2. Make Moves
Don’t worry about how much distance you cover each day. Beal says it’s more important for beginners to get used to spending time on their feet, which is why her plan is outlined in minutes, rather than miles. “When you tell someone to run one mile, they tend to run fast for that mile because they want it to be over,” she says. “But if someone has to run for 10 minutes, it’s easier to slow down to a pace they can sustain because they know that even if they run faster, the workout isn’t going to end any sooner.”
You’ll also see plenty of walking built into your training plan. That’s on purpose, says Beal. Jumping from zero to nothing-but-running is a recipe for injury. Not to mention that adding in those breaks makes the workout feel less intimidating. “Knowing that you get a one-minute walk break soon can be the push you need to power through when you would have otherwise given up,” she says. “But it’s not going to affect your training as your heart rate won’t lower that much in a minute.”
Oh, and don’t forget to stretch it out before you hit the streets. “Dynamic stretching warms up the muscles you’re about to use, and leg swings prepare your hips for running,” says Beal. She suggests a warmup of five minutes of walking, plus 20 leg swings per side. (Want to get in shape, fast? Check out Women’s Health’s Ignite routine created by Next Fitness Star Nikki Metzger.)
3. Kill It At Cross-Training
No matter what distance you’re running, cross-training is an important component of any plan, says Beal. “The goal is to keep your body moving while using different muscles than the one you primarily call on for running, as you don’t want to be sore heading into your next run,” she says. “Plus, if you really enjoy bicycling or swimming, you shouldn’t feel bad about working that into your training routine.” Each of Beal’s cross-training workouts below can be done while swimming, cycling, or on the elliptical—all low-impact workouts that allow your body to actively recover—so choose your favorite and get moving.
Image by Dorothy Beal/Alyssa Zolna
Come race day, remember the golden rule: Never try anything new. Test drive your race-day outfit throughout training, especially on the longer runs. Beal says you might not realize a shirt rubs you the wrong way until you’ve been moving in it for 10 minutes or more. Plus, you want to look (and feel) awesome in that finish line photo—not pulling out a wedgie or tugging your tank top back into place. #Priorities.