Tell Me Tuesday: How to Get Started Running + 5K Finish It Plan!

A tweet came across the Twitterverse today: Hi Dimity, love the FB page & the podcasts are on over dinner prep! I'm a complete newbie, any chance of a post with hints?

So happy to help: the more mother runners there are in the world, the better the world will be. Here are a few of my thoughts:

My biggest priority for beginning runners--yes, I get to have a priority for you--is to embrace the running lifestyle. I want you to be a lifelong runner, to want and need to run. So you have to make it a habit. For the first few weeks, make your priority simply to get out the door. Whether you go 1/2 a mile or 3; walk most of it or none of it; come home feeling elated or dejected, just go. Just like anything else worth doing, you have to practice moving when you'd rather stay prone in bed or on the couch. Eventually, it'll just become part of your routine and your body will expect it.

A perfect plan to get you across your finish line (complete plan in .pdf below).

Not sure what you should do for the first few weeks? Oh, I have just the answer for you. Here's the 5K Finish It plan from Train Like a Mother. (It will open to a .pdf.) Along with the Half-Marathon Finish It plan, we're shelving this at the top of the site under Training Plans + Workouts, so you can access it whenever you need it.

Since we're talking about races, I'm a big believer in starting with a 5K, then progressing to a 10K or 5 miler, then jumping up to half-marathon, followed by marathon, if you're so inclined. By slowly bumping up your mileage and race distances, you'll help your body get used to the mileage and hopefully stay injury free. Crossing a marathon off a bucket list is certainly a worthy goal--and one I'll never discourage--but the marathon finish line will be that much sweeter if your body and mind are ready for it.

Join a group. We've got a plethora of women's clubs listed here. Reach out and tell them you're a beginning runner, and you'd love to find some newbies to run with too. I promise, you'll be so glad you did; running is so much easier--and more fun--with a buddy. If you don't have a club in your area, call a local running specialty store and see if they have a beginner class.

When you take on any race distance for the first time, the only goal should be to cross the finish line injury-free--and ideally, with a smile on your face. There is so much to learn and just experience by racing 3.1, 6.2, 13.1 and 26.2 for the first time; once you have a certain race distance under your soles, then you can get all crazy ambitious with your time goals.

Once you get rolling, there is no shame in walking. Yes, I know we're all runners, but sometimes a short break brings back your mojo. Limit the walk--one minute, to the top of the tough hill, to that mailbox, whatever--and then get your booty moving again.

Get out of the sprint mentality. Whatever notions you have of running being a empty-your-lungs-and-legs experience need to go out the window. You want to be able to talk when you run. If you're alone, try to recite the Star Spangled Banner or some Shakespeare or your grocery list. If you can only croak out one or two words, slow down.

One day, it'll feel easier. For some, that might be six weeks; for others, it could be six months. One day, your breathing will regulate itself into a nice little rhythm, and you'll look down at your watch and think, "Wow, I've already been running for 30 minutes! I feel so good!" Trust that it will come, and that it's worth every mile you put in until that point.

Even when it feels easier, not every run will be great. Or even good. But, as the cliche goes, you'll never regret a run you did--and the tough, blech runs just make the good runs feel amazing.

Those tips just scrape the tip of the iceberg: what are your best beginner tips?


46 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: How to Get Started Running + 5K Finish It Plan!

  1. I love this site. I ran 3- 5k’s last fall at 52..this year I already ran 3 and have at least 4 more in Oct. and Nov. AM ADDICTED. I run a 9:55 mile on a good day….my goal is a 28 minute 5k by Nov. LOVE running even though sometimes, it hurts..

  2. I am so glad I found this pdf download of the 5K finish it plan. I have the digital copy of both books and it is impossible to read the plans. Love all the podcasts, I’ve become addicted to them and listen throughout the day at work.

  3. I just finish my first ever 5K. Yes I briskly walked it & I wasn’t the fastest, but hey I’m just starting out & I’m 50, so not too shabby! I met some of the most awesome women at the expo & bought both books. Can’t wait to start reading & working towards my next race.

  4. I just want to say thanks.

    I started running (on my new treadmill, at a slight incline) 4 weeks ago tomorrow. I decided that I want my 5 year old and almost 2 year old to know a healthy mom. I just ran my first 5km. Actually, I ran 5.25km but who’s counting, right?

    I remembered stumbling on this site a while back and looked at it again last week. I came to this page and the very first thing I saw did me in (for real- tears and all). “I am a runner because I run….” I might be slow but I can do it. You ladies have given me the confidence. And, know what? Today I found my rhythm and it was almost EASY.

    I’m only a few chapters into the first book but I have a feeling I’ll be on to the second before too long. :):)

  5. Ok. I fell off the running wagon for Feb. but I’m back on the ‘mill. I am starting over with the 5K finish it but I plan to use the half marathon finish it by Sept. for my 2nd half marathon in honor of my daughter who is fighting cancer. She has called dibs on my medal 🙂

    I have my Oiselle poster and my AMR running plans next to my ‘mill to motivate me and a new pair of Saucony’s in the mail! Thanks for your entertainment on podcasts and encouragement! Hope to meet you someday at a princess race!

  6. Bail = you don’t need to do this workout if you aren’t feeling it. 5x walk 4 minutes = run for 4 minutes, 5 different times during the workout.

  7. Looking forward to starting this on Monday… Good Luck everyone and can’t wait to see the results in 10 weeks. May God give us all Strength to finish this program.

  8. Hi, Sorry but I don’t understand the plan. On the first day, is it 5 minutes walking and ? minutes running? Alternating or straight through ? Sorry, not making sense to me. How length of time for x-training? And how many days of strength per week? etc? Thanks.

  9. I have moderate to severe asthma, as well as allergies (which sets off my asthma sometimes even before I start running!), which makes running outdoors (non-controlled environment) difficult at times. I take my inhaler before starting, and sometimes during if I need it. Even running really slowly sometimes doesn’t help. Other times I can run with some speed, no problem. It truly depends on the day. This past spring I ran my first 5k race, and finished in 40 minutes. That was amazing for me! I had thought that one should NEVER walk if one is supposed to be running (my PE teacher in high school failed people who ever slowed down to a walk during any portion of running a mile. I was so traumatized by that . . . and then I got taken out of PE altogether because my asthma was totally out of control, too. No medication was available at the time that really helped me – not until about 5 years later.) Anyway, I learned that I could slow down to a fast walk, and let my lungs recover. I still can’t run a single mile without slowing down to a walk at some point, but now I feel fine (and not bad) about doing it.

  10. Thanks for sharing this-I am forwarding to my BFF who recently has begun running. I think this plan will give her a little encouragement!

  11. I love this post. Once again, I fell off my running wagon, which was always sort of unstable anyway, but I am just up to running one mile now. Yup, just one mile! But today I ran it in 11:15 seconds which is faster than I did the other day and farther than I went two weeks ago, so I felt good. Baby steps!

  12. Maybe I’m just a Debbie-Downer, but in the three years since I first attempted to become a runner, I’ve had many many runs that I regretted and thought to myself, “That’s 30 minutes [or an hour] of my life I’ll never get back.” The habit never took with me – even with 3x/week regular running for close to a year, even completing 3 sprint triathlons. I can count on one hand the number of runs I thought were worth it and that felt good in some way – they absolutely do not outweigh all the bad ones I’ve had.

    I think it’s great to encourage those who want to do this – who have the drive to become runners, but I can’t help but be a little miffed when I read all the motivational quotes on FB and Pinterest that assume that everyone can achieve this if they just stick with it. My last run was 46 days ago – I haven’t missed it for a second. 🙁

    1. Find some other form of movement that brings you joy and go for it! There are so many other ways to use your body that can be rewarding that it doesn’t make sense to persist with something that you so clearly have a negative relationship with. You definitely have persistence going for you so apply it to something else, yoga, kickboxing, karate, volleyball, tennis, pilates, cycling, anything that may allow you some positive benefits that you appreciate rather than regret.

  13. This is so me!! I’ve been running for about a year, after years of inactivity and two kids — and the pounds to show it! I signed up for a 5K training program and it was the best thing I could have done … the regularly scheduled workouts made it easier for me (and my husband) to keep the time blocked off, and the fact that people would actually notice if I didn’t show up was a good motivator. Plus, I liked the other folks in the group, and it was fun. I liked it enough that as a New Year’s resolution I decided to a) finish a 10K, and b) run a whole 5K before I turn 40 in December. I’ve stayed in the training programs, and did my 10K in August and am in the same 5K program as last year, but this time with the goal of running instead of run/walking.

    The two things I think are most important when you’re beginning to run are:
    1) be kind to yourself, both physically and mentally. No matter how slow the progress is at first, it’s still progress. Even if you’re walking a 20 minute mile you’re still lapping everyone who’s at home sitting on the couch… and as long as you keep it up, it gets easier. And if you’re body is telling you to stop or take a break (beyond the normal huffing and puffing and muscle soreness), listen. Maybe try to take a shorter break the next time.
    2) don’t compare yourself to anyone else, even previous versions of yourself. After you hit 30 and have kids, your mile time in high school is irrelevant. If you have a time in mind, make it a long term goal, not something you have to live up to in order to be “successful”.
    Oh, and really own your own, personal definition of success. I’ve done several races now and my goal in each has been to cross the finish line, upright. I have other goals (like running the whole 5K) that I want to achieve, but if that doesn’t happen, as long as I finish the race (upright) I’ll consider it a success. And then try to run the whole thing the next time!

    1. “2) don’t compare yourself to anyone else, even previous versions of yourself. After you hit 30 and have kids, your mile time in high school is irrelevant. If you have a time in mind, make it a long term goal, not something you have to live up to in order to be “successful”.”

      This is what I struggle with the most! I have it stuck in my head that if I ran a certain time in HS or was injury free, I should be now.

  14. Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat as necessary. It will never get easier, but you will get better faster than you think and it will feel easier.

  15. Breath and relax. As long as you are breathing and not feeling like you are in an asthma attack and your heart is going to burst, you are doing just fine. Pull back the speed if it gets more than you can handle. Run as slow as you have to. Strength will build in time. And if you have asthma like I do, talk to your doctor. I take a puff before each run and don’t use it as an excuse like so many others. I know some people have it more severe, but there are many runners with asthma.

  16. At 200+ lbs, I began (on a treadmill) by running for 1 minute, then walking for 9 minutes. I’d repeat that for 30 minutes, which meant I had run a whopping 3 minutes…but that was better than nothing for me. Then, I’d increase my running time by small increments each time until eventually I could run for 30 minutes without stopping. Now, 100 pounds down, I’ve run a half marathon and consistently run 4 – 6 miles at a time, no walking necessary.

  17. Oh, Oh, Oh, I forgot one more important piece of advice: Even if you don’t plan on going until later in the day, when you get up in the morning, put your running clothes on. It removes one less excuse, and if you are surprised by an opportunity to run, you’re ready to go!

  18. When I first started running (Feb 2010), I was overweight and ashamed of myself. I thought I was going to die every. single .time. I went out. I was frustrated but determined at the same time. After a good month or so I was finally able to run a full mile without feeling like I was going to drop dead. That alone was all the fuel I needed to keep going. To this day I have completed 5k’s, 10k’s, 10 milers, 3 half marathons, 1 full marathon and have many more I want to do! Happy Running! Cheers!

  19. I started running with the Couch to 5k program, and I had a set mentality of what needed to happen for me to run, ie, partner, time of day, weather, etc. In the beginning I hated running. I really did. Every run was a struggle. I was running for me, though. I was 36, overweight, and hated what I saw in the mirror. Running has empowered me. I don’t feel like a slug anymore. And I have morphed over time along with my runs. I struggled for a long time to feel legitimate. But those days are behind me. If I get out there, if I am doing it, then I’m a runner. I’ve realized now that I went from hating it, to not hating it, to liking it, to loving it. And I used to HAVE to have someone to run with. No more. And I could only run in the early am. Now I go whenever I can.
    That doesn’t mean I don’t still have hard days. This morning was one of them. I could barely make myself do 3.4, but I was weighed down emotionally, and it affected me. But I am glad I went. And every run is a victory for me. So my advice would be, do it for you, don’t give up on yourself, and it does indeed, get easier.

    1. i can so relate with you right now! i’m 35, overweight and have a 5 month old (she’s really high maintenance). and i just started couch to 5k to! and i’m having a love and hate relationship with it!
      so my question is, when you started the program, did you started from 0? like really from the couch? or you had some experience already?

      1. Michelle, I literally started from 0. I started with c25k and then moved to TLAM 5k finish it plan. I felt that TLAM gradually increased the distance whereas the c25k plan went from 8 minutes of running to 20 minutes of running. You should do what you like most, but you can literally go from no exercise to running a 5k. It’s not easy, but if you stick with it, it gets a little easier and almost enjoyable.

  20. Two things worked for me: 1)I signed up for a race 2)We are a one car family so I began to run/walk my commute and errands. They involve fairly short distances but really add up at the end of the week. Also, I recommend aerobic heart rate training. Yes, you’ll likely go slowly, but you’ll be amazed at how painless and enjoyable running can be!

  21. Echoing the “just get out the door” – my version of it was to commit to x number per week. That no matter what, I would run 2 days a week (that’s where I started). Or I will do SOMETHING 2 days a week. As far as breathing – I know I’m pushing it too hard if I am doing less than 3 steps per breath in or out. That works better for me that trying to recite something 🙂 The commitment to yourself is the key, if you ask me. Sometimes I would rationalize about not wanting to get sweaty and the clothes-changing drama for a mere 20 minutes – but after a while it becomes a part of you and it’s not a big deal. The mental health benefits are tremendous, also. Good luck!!!

  22. Thanks for posting this! I’m just coming back to running after a very long bout of knee problems and my competitive nature has me going out way too fast on my PT-approved thrice-weekly 20 min. runs. I think this is just what I need to learn to build back up slowly.

  23. I love the books and am doing the 5k plan for the second time (didn’t finish the first time due to sprained ankle). And I am getting stronger and faster. I have been a beginner runner for 2.5 years lol and am finally feeling like a real runner. Thanks for these tips. They help no matter where we are at.

  24. Great post. Just get out the door. Even after you’ve been running for a while, sometimes you’re doing good to just get out the door!

  25. I just started (back to) running this Spring, after many, many years away. Advice I have would be to reward yourself. At ten runs completed, buy that piece of equipment you have been looking at (Fuel Belt, MP3 player etc) and then use it on your runs. Every so often, set a goal (I want to run 3 times per week for this month, I want to break an 8 minute per kilometre pace) and then buy a new Tech-T, or that awesome sports bra you’ve had your eye on.

    Rewarding yourself with running “stuff” will keep you motivated, and you’ll want to go out and use it! It seems superficial, but it works for me! I feel like more of a runner when I have some cool running clothes and equipment that makes it easier/fun to run!

  26. I have found that the same mantra that got me through being a mama to 4 works for getting my butt out the door (or, in my case, on the treadmill) – “Other people do it, so can I!” Seriously, what makes someone more capable than me? Answer: Nothing but determination.

  27. Don’t compare yourself to other runners. Some may be able to run an 8 minute mile right off the bat. Great. Good for them. Or they might be stuck at the 15 minute mile mark. Who cares!!?? Some people just have prettier form and others look like they are drunk when they run, again WHO CARES!! You are out and doing something wonderful for your mind and body. Embrace the “me” time. BTW, I’ve been running for at least 6 or so years now, (besides HS) and I still have a hard time breaking the 10 minute mile mark. But I embrace that I will never be a top finisher and just go out for me!!!! Good luck rookie ladies!! It is all worth it in the end!!!

    1. I’m so glad to hear you say that! I have been running for about 9 months and if I run faster than about a 10:30 pace I get shin splints. Maybe I will just never be fast, but I am starting to think that is ok. At least I am moving!!

  28. Get fitted for running shoes by a runner. Don’t get fitted by a teenage guy at Sports Authority. Go to a running store. The shoes don’t have to be expensive; I find mine for about $50-60 on sale every once and a while, and when I do, I buy them because you’re going to want to replace them every 300-500 miles.

    Get a pair of good socks while you’re at it.

    Know that what you eat and drink during the week affects how you feel during a run. Running is easier when you’re putting good fuel in your body during the week and when you’re hydrated.

    Make incremental steps/goals in distance and speed.

  29. This won’t help you get out the door, but you will experience it and it will motivate you after you get in the groove… On your solo runs every thought will be bloody BRILLIANT and you will solve so many vexing problems. That being said, the moment you get home you’ll forget 90% of your genius. Sure feels good to know you’re wicked smaht while you’re out there, though!

    Good luck, new running Mamas. You can do it!

  30. I’m doing your half-marathon training program but started with your 5k plan! This time last year I couldn’t run a mile! Four weeks of training to go until the super-fun Wineglass Half-Marathon in New York! Thank you sooooo much for an easy to follow but thorough plan! Going to try the “half-marathon Own-It” plan next! Thank you, Sarah and Dimity!

  31. One thing I learned as a beginner, and still go back to time and again after an injury or time off: start slow, and then go slower.

  32. We learn something new from every run…good, bad or blah run. There is something to be learn that will make you a better, stronger runner. One step at a time. Forward is a pace.

  33. Thank you so much for posting this! I’m halfway through Run like a Mother but couldnt help skip over to Train like a Mother – I’m going to start the 5k plan this week. I’ve found the podcasts invaluable (especially as i said while getting dinner ready, they drown out the fighting children!) and I’ve been telling my running friends about you. Wish you were in Australia! Thanks again. ps. my breathing is the thing that is letting me down on my runs – concentrating too much on it I think.

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