Couch to 5K: Where to Start

If you're looking to run a 5K, here are some tips to help you get started.


By Zoe


Making the decision to get up off the couch and exercise is a huge achievement, and deciding that you want to run is worthy of a big pat on the back. Starting to run can feel hard at the beginning, and the first run is usually the worst, but once you get used to running, it’s a great all round exercise.

It’s really good to set goals to motivate yourself to continue running. Getting your distance to 5K (3.1 miles) is the perfect challenge to start with, and whether it is running a 5K race, or just working up to the distance in your training, here are some tips to help get you there.

Get checked out

If you haven’t been exercising regularly prior to starting to run, it is always advisable to first see your doctor or a health professional to check if running is suitable for you, especially if you have a history of illness or have had injuries. If you plan to run and are pregnant, it is advisable to wait until after your baby is born and then have a chat to your doctor before starting.

One step at a time

If you’ve never run before or are just getting back into exercising, go easy on yourself. It may take some time to build up to your 5K distance. The great thing about running is that while the first run is usually the worst, before you know it, you are improving both in the time it takes to run a certain distance and the distance you are able to run.

Build up to your training slowly by walking in the beginning. Slowly introduce small amounts of running along the way. If you feel unwell at any time, stop. You want to make sure that you feel comfortable when training. A heart rate monitor might be a good investment if you start to get serious about your running and will help to ensure you aren’t overdoing things.

Are you comfortable running alone or do you need company?

If you are totally motivated and comfortable with getting on with your own training then that’s great – decide on running inside at a gym on a treadmill or outside, and away you go.

Many people, however, find that they need company especially when starting something new. If you really aren’t keen on running alone, then here are a few ideas of how to run with company:

  • Run with a friend. If you have a friend who is looking to improve their fitness too, then ask them to run with you. You’ll be able to motivate each other to train and you’ll find that it is enjoyable for the exercise as well as the company.
  • Join a Gym. Jump on the treadmill at the gym and run alongside other people. Even though you aren’t technically running with them per se, being around other people running in the same room may be what makes you want to keep going.
  • Join a running group. There are lots of running groups around now and they usually feature runners of all abilities. Many organize socials and enter local races together, so this might be something that appeals to you.

Track your progress

If you are the kind of person that is goal driven and likes to see progress then there are lots of apps out in the marketplace for your phone such as Argus, which enables you to log your runs and help you to see how far you have come.

Make sure you have something to wear

Starting off running with the right training kit is important as wearing the wrong clothes/shoes could lead to all sorts of issues. See my previous post on the essential kit for the first time runner.

To race or not to race?

You may be content with setting yourself the goal of working up to running 5K in your training, but a 5K race might be the ultimate challenge for you to consider. There are hundreds of races to choose from and entering is a great way to challenge yourself, keep yourself motivated to train and work towards a goal.

If you don’t feel comfortable entering a race in person yet, there are many virtual races available where people from all over the world can enter and compete online. Another option is to set up your own personal race on the treadmill and see how far you can run.

Follow a plan

Working towards your goal of 5K requires some planning. There are many couch to 5K plans available online by running companies such as Runner’s World. Most Couch to 5K training plans are for at least 6-10 weeks and include some walking and running and they get you to a point where you should be able to run nonstop for 5K.

If you find you need a bit more motivation than an online program, then consider hiring a personal trainer or running coach to create a personalized plan for you and to do some sessions with you as you get stronger involving hills and speed. Having someone to hold you accountable is a great motivator to achieve your goal.

Don’t be tempted to overtrain

It’s very easy when you feel good to push harder and not give your body the rest it deserves – don’t. Your body and it could result in you getting an injury if you go too hard too soon.

Reaching your first 5K is a great achievement. There may be times when it doesn’t feel easy, but don’t give up. Whether it is a race you are training for or you’re just trying to achieve the distance, think about how great it will feel once you do it!

Happy Running!

UK born and based currently in Australia, Zoe has a passion for running as evident by her participation in excess of 30 running events, including five marathons, over the past 14 years. Wanting to share her enthusiasm for running, five years ago Zoe started a blog for the everyday runner “The Girl That Runs“. This blog has quickly built up a strong following amongst runners of all ages and experience levels looking for advice with easily relatable content.

Main Photo Credit: Antonio Guillem/; Second Photo Credit: avemario/; Third Photo Credit: YanLev/; Fourth Photo Credit: ffongbeer69/; Fifth Photo Credit: AstroStar/; Sixth Photo Credit: PRImageFactory/