If you’ve got zero running experience, the thought of tackling a 5K or 10K can be pretty nerve-wracking. But even if you haven’t logged a mile since middle school, you can still cross the finish line happy and injury-free. Just try adopting a run-walk training strategy, says Denise Sauriol, owner and founder of Run for Change in Chicago.
Run-walk plans are just what you’d expect: They break down the miles into intervals of walking, followed by running.“[A run-walk plan] is not as intimidating and is more maintainable in the long run,” says Sauriol, who’s run 59 marathons and specializes in coaching newbie runners to their first race. “If you train this way you won’t hurt as much near the end of training or as much after the race.”
Plus, by choosing a plan that isn’t too intense, you might make running a habit that actually sticks. “My goal for runners is not just to help them do a 5K but make running part of their lifestyle,” says Sauriol.
How to Run-Walk Your First 5K or 10K
If you’re a newbie, it’s all about easing into your training runs. That’s why you’ll start both your 5K and 10K training plans with nine minutes of walking and one minute of running per interval. Sounds crazy easy, right? That’s the whole point. Someone who doesn’t have a running base can follow this plan comfortably. And building up slowly while increasing the total number of minutes you’re training will boost your confidence, while reducing risk of injury, says Sauriol.
If you’re slightly more experienced or find the 60-second run interval too easy, you can start out with seven minutes of walking and three minutes of running, or five and five. “Runners usually get a sense of excitement that they can run more. That’s your cue that you’re ready to run longer intervals and cut down on walking,” Sauriol says.
You’ll focus on 10-minute intervals because Sauriol finds that longer stretches allow you to get into a nice groove without having to constantly switch back and forth between running and walking. (Besides, they’re easier mathematically and you don’t have to plot out mile markers or wear a GPS watch.)
To make your training as effective as possible, make sure you’re walking with a purpose. Think: Hustling to a sale at Best Buy, but not quite booking it at a Black Friday speed. When you’re running, remember: Sprinting will only wear you down. Maintain a pace at which you can easily hold a conversation. Lace up your sneakers and prepare to hit the roads with two totally doable training plans from Sauriol.
Your Run-Walk 5K Training Plan
After you’ve conquered your first 5K, you might be ready to tackle something more challenging! If that’s the case, check out the 10K plan below (don’t worry, walking is still totally encouraged).
Your Run-Walk 10K Training Plan
3 Race Day Survival Strategies
You’ve made it through weeks of training — congrats! These simple tips will help you run-walk your way through any race.
First mile: “It’s easy to get pulled into the excitement of your first race and sprint out of the gate. Hold that energy back and run at the pace you’ve been training at,” says Sauriol. “Consciously let people pass you and run your own race,” she says.
RELATED: 13 Race Day Tips for Newbie Runners
Middle miles: Remember to stick to your run-walk plan because that’s what you’ve been training at this whole time. To avoid frustration (your legs are tired, so-and-so is passing you) remember why you came here: to enjoy the experience. “Thank a volunteer, high-five a kid. We’re not getting paid to do this, it’s all for fun!” says Sauriol.
Last mile: The last quarter of the race is the most mentally challenging, says Sauriol. “Think about how far you’ve come, and remember that everyone else is hurting, too!” Just as you think the race won’t end, the finish line appears, giving you a sudden burst of jet fuel energy. If you want to leave everyone else in the dust and run through the finish line, do it!
Originally posted August 2015. Updated June 2016.