Training for a 5k – a complete beginner’s guide

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If you’re looking to run a marathon, half marathon or even a 10k, a quick online search will throw up an astonishing range of plans and training advice. But for 5ks, not so much. And yet many new runners set themselves the goal of running a 5k – otherwise known as 3.1 miles – before moving onto longer distances.

That’s why we decided to come up with the ultimate beginner’s guide to 5k training so you can feel reassured you’re acting on good advice and forming good habits for the journey ahead.

Ready to find out the best way of smashing your 5k goal, including the preparation, essential kit and running hacks you’ll need for success. Let’s go!


First up, do your research.

Over the last 25 years, the Couch to 5k programme has dominated the beginners’ running scene – and there are plenty of reasons for its popularity.

For the uninitiated, the Couch to 5k is a 9-week course taking non-runners to running confidence. It starts with alternating walking with just one minute of running and steadily builds up to a 5k race or event.

Endorsed by the NHS and available to download for free, more than 6 million UK runs were completed using the Couch to 5k app in 2022. As founder Josh Clark says, it’s a programme with a “gentle and kind” approach rather than ‘no pain, no gain’ at its core.

But when it comes to running, remember that it’s not a case of one size fits all. Some runners find that Couch to 5k progresses too quickly for them. Others complain that the focus on distance rather than time can feel a bit demoralising.

If you feel the same, don’t despair. There are other options like None to Run, which has a 12 week programme building up to 25 minutes of continuous running. Alternatively, you could try intuitive running, which is exactly what it sounds like: running for as long as you feel like you can, then walking until you feel comfortable again, then repeat, building up slowly over time.

Or perhaps a running club with a beginner’s programme could give you the motivation and confidence you need.


The good news is that you don’t need much to begin with.

Yes, there are all kinds of fancy running shorts, tops, jackets, socks and accessories out there, but don’t worry about any of that when you’re starting out. Comfortable clothing that you don’t mind sweating in will do just fine!

However, there’s one bit of kit you shouldn’t compromise on: trainers. You’ll need to make sure you have a comfortable, well-fitting pair to avoid common annoying newbie problems like blisters or more serious issues like plantar fasciitis. Once you’ve completed your 5k, you can think about treating yourself to a proper pair of running shoes!

5k training hacks

What 5k training hacks would seasoned runners give to their less experienced selves? We asked the Great Run team, and this is what they said:

“Always, always, always warm up. It’s tempting to skip it – especially when you think ‘I’m not running far’ – but that’s a fastlane to injury, and the easiest way of putting an end to your fledgling running career.” Have a look at our warm up routines here.

“If you’re following a training plan like couch to 5k, don’t be worried about repeating a week. If you don’t feel ready to move on or you’ve missed a couple of runs, start the week again. You’re in charge of the programme – the programme isn’t in charge of you!” Here’s some more advice on keeping your motivation up.

“Strength training – even simple exercises which use your body’s own weight as resistance – can really help, even in the early days when you’re building a running habit. And stretching and yoga exercises can feel like a real treat for tired muscles.” Check out these five easy strength training exercises. 

So there you have it – solid advice on reaching your first 5k as a runner. Take a look at Great Run’s version of the Couch to 5k training plan here.

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