Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

How to run 5K after just 10 weeks of training

Never run before? A NAIT instructor will get you moving

With the gyms closed, there has never been a better time to try running. What better place to work out, after all, than in the sunshine and fresh air of the great outdoors?

Location is just one of the benefits of running. Working up to a manageable distance of five kilometres is also a good step toward more summer fun, says Personal Fitness Trainer instructor Dr. Tim Just.

“Knowing that you can run a 5K is a huge thing to check off for a lot of people to build confidence with other fitness goals.”

Like hiking, for example.

How do you get started? Here, Just – a specialist in cardiovascular physiology and training – lays out his take on a standard 10-week program to go from the couch to a nonstop 5K jog. With minor requirements for gear, no membership dues, and plenty of opportunities to involve friends despite the pandemic, “this is a pretty accessible way to do it.”

The gear

good quality running shoe

After decent shoes – something sturdy but cushioned, and nothing with a hard, flat sole – your most important piece of equipment is your smartphone.

Instead of a fancy running watch, Just uses the Nike Run Club app. It’s free. There are others, such as Strava, Training Peaks and Map my Run. You just need one that uses your phone’s GPS to track your distance and, if you’re interested, shows your pace.

Other than that, wear whatever’s comfortable, light and breathable. “For longer workouts, some people might want to bring along a water bottle or run in a loop where they know they can get water,” says Just.

The warm up

runners warming up

“It shouldn’t take very long. I don’t believe in adding 10 minutes to a workout just to warm up. Most people just skip it if I make it longer than that.” Here are Just’s recommendation:

The caveat

woman power walking

Before you start, know that not everyone will immediately hit their stride.

“If you can go for a five-minute run and it’s pain free, then this is probably the program for you,” says Just.

Those turning to the activity for slimming down may need to consider a modification.

“Running is not a great activity for your joints if losing a lot of weight is your main goal. It burns a lot of calories but we might be doing a lot of damage in other places.”

An alternative is power walking. “You do the same program, with the understanding that your workouts will take longer.”

The program

runner on a trail

At about 7.25 kilometres per hour, or 4.5 miles per hour, people on a treadmill tend to switch from a fast walk to a jog, says Just. That’s where he sets his beginner pace. In other common running units, that’s about 8:17 minutes per kilometre, or 13:18 per mile.

Alternate between stints of running and walking as directed below. Keep your arms close to your body, focus on inhaling over two strides and exhaling over the next two. Rest at least a day before heading out again. Do not try to cram in all in your training on the weekend. 

“You have to listen to your body going through it,” says Just.

Most weeks increase by roughly 10%. “We’re trying to build up that reserve, that physiological change, to try and hold on longer next week.” Weeks nine and 10, which each surpass 5K, are essentially the real thing with walking segments to make it a little easier.

“I'm pretty sure anyone who can make it to week eight will be able to run the whole 5K [uninterrupted], if you really wanted to.”

Each week, run the same routine of jog-walk repetitions three times, every other day (all distances in metres unless otherwise indicated):NAIT Personal Fitness Trainer program instructor Dr. Tim Just's couch-to-5K running program

The cooldown

young woman stretching after a run

Walk until your heart rate lowers and your breathing slows. Stretch your shoulders, hips, thighs and calves.

“The cooldown isn’t necessarily just for stretching,” says Just. Take the time also to think about the quality of your run in relation to how you slept, ate, hydrated, and even your stress levels over the last 24 to 48 hours. Consider making notes in a journal so you can make adjustments to improve every run.

The fun of it all

friends running together

Getting fit should be fun. If this plan isn’t, it’s OK to adjust it – and you can by downloading Just’s program spreadsheet. “Make the runs shorter, cut out a repetition. You’re still moving forward. You’re just not pushing it too hard.”

What’s more, “this is something you don’t have to do alone,” says Just. Get a friend or two involved and run different routes throughout the city wherever the sidewalks are wide enough or the roads aren’t too busy. “You can social distance pretty easily on a run.”


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