5k training: a plan for beginning trail runners

Conquer your first 5k race with a beginner-friendly 5k training plan and tips from trail runner and trainer Ashley Walsh.

Have you ever thought about running a race? How about one that takes you off the pavement, and into the world of dirt, scenic trails, and adventure?

The most attainable distance for beginner runners to try off road is the 5k, and you don’t have to be a super athlete to do it. You just need a goal, a plan, and some patience to get started! Check out our tips and 8 week 5k training plan to help you transition from trail walker to trail runner in no time!

New to trail running? Check out our trail running beginner’s guide for tips on finding a great training trail, tips on trail safety and recommendations on trail running shoes and gear.

Beginner's guide to running a 5k: training plan and training tips

GOAL

First things first, make it real and sign up for a race! Choose an event that is roughly 2-3 months out to give your body time to adjust to the training. Try to find something in your area, so you will be familiar with the type of terrain you will encounter. Look for events with minimal elevation gain, and ample course markings.
To help you learn more about your specific course, most race directors will place their course maps and route details (such as elevation gain and terrain info) on their websites for you to study. If they do not have that information readily available, don’t hesitate to ask for it. You can also use our list of Atlanta’s best running trails and our Georgia trail map search to scout out fun scenic routes in your area. It’s good to add diversity to your trail routine and keep things fresh.

Run a 5k: a beginner's guide to training and trail running your first 5k

OUR BEGINNER 5k TRAINING PLAN

The best training you can do to prepare for your trail race is simply this: run on trails! Nothing will help you get better faster than specificity training. It is best to train on trails that mimic your goal race terrain, or if you can, train on the race course itself. Knowing what to expect on race day will help build your confidence, and also help prepare your body to fully handle race day demands. In the training plan, you will see a weekend long run, and 3 runs during the week. Try to get the long runs in on trails, and aim to make at least 1-2 of the weekday workouts off road as well.

5k training guide for beginning runners

The training plan also features a day for cross training. Cross training in this case is any exercise other than running. This will give your running muscles a break, and also give you an opportunity to explore other exciting modes of outdoor fitness. You can take a hike, hop in a kayak, go for a mountain bike ride, or maybe even try climbing. Find something to keep your heart pumping and your body moving.

Rest, though often underrated, is a crucial part of the training plan. It is imperative to give your body time to repair and recover—so go ahead, kick back and relax! While resting, focus on rehydrating your body, and eating healthy foods high in protein to help your muscles rebuild.

PATIENCE

The idea of running 3 miles straight might be a little intimidating at first. One way to conquer this fear is to break the goal up into pieces. Focus solely on completing one workout of the training plan at a time. Celebrate a completion of one week, and then move on to the next one. And through it all, strive for progress, not perfection! This means it is okay to skip a couple workouts here and there, or to stop and walk when you need to. The goal is a happier and healthier you, not a perfect you. Perfection will ruin your goals quicker than anything else will, so always cut yourself some slack.

Run your first 5k: a beginner-friendly training guide

AND REMEMBER TO…

KEEP IT CLEAN. Always [ALWAYS!] make sure to throw your trash into specified containers while training and racing. Keeping the trails clean and beautiful –for not only ourselves, but future generations—should be a top priority for every trail runner! If you bring it into the woods, make sure you bring it back out.

KEEP IT FUN! No matter what, you absolutely must have fun! Trail running is your hobby, and your main focus should be to enjoy it. Especially when you’re first getting started, try not to get too caught up in times and competition, or take yourself too seriously. Just relax, and keep moving forward!

SIGN UP! Don’t procrastinate. When you get that itch to set a goal, you’ve got to scratch it while it’s there! Dirty Spokes has several events to try for your first trail race. In fact, you can snag $5 off their Olde Rope Mill Park 3.1 and 6.5 mile race on April 2. Just write “Atlanta Trails Blog” on your registration.

SPREAD THE LOVE! It doesn’t matter if you’ve been running for 50 years or 5 days—all are welcome to participate in trail racing. The most experienced runners and newbies alike are seeking the same things: camaraderie, great fun, a good workout, and some fresh air. If you liked this training plan, pass it on, and invite your pals to join you in the woods. The more the merrier!

*(As always, seek professional medical advice before starting or accelerating any fitness program.)

 
Ashley Walsh is a fun-loving ultramarathon runner addicted to playing in the dirt. She was born and raised in Georgia, and is married to her high school sweetheart, who is a total stud. Together with their two kids they have crazy fun making memories outdoors.

Ashley blogs about her ultrarunning adventures at AshRuns100s.com, and loves to post about her training on Instagram @AshRuns100s.