Training for a 5k to Marathon: How to Train Like a Pro as a Beginner
Being great at something takes not only skill, but practice. Whether it’s painting, cooking, shooting hoops, cartwheeling, or virtually anything else, you can expect there will be some work to do. If it’s a passion, though, people tend to find it easier—at least psychologically—to get started on the journey.
Most individuals who are planning to accomplish long-distance runs do it because they love it, need it to destress, strongly believe in the health benefits of running, or a combination of all three. Others need to have that competition itch scratched and participating in races is the perfect solution.
When you’re ready to begin working toward the honorable feat of completing a long-distance race, you need to know where to start. Even if you run daily on your own, if it’s your first time running a 5k, 10k, half, or full, your body will not be fully used to it the first go-around. So, of course, you’re not going to wait until the day of a race to find out whether you can work up the stamina.
Whether you’re thinking, “maybe this won’t be so challenging, I’ve already run a 5k” or “I did a 10K once,” keep in mind the two can feel quite different. And besides, a half-marathon will take much more training than a 10K, and a marathon much more than a half-marathon.
This is not to say you can’t do it. Never let yourself think you can’t run a certain distance, you just might have to use a different strategy the longer the distance is.
We’re giving you this guide so you’ll feel anxiety free and encouraged to keep going and hit your mark. We’re here for you, whether your goal is to run faster, further, or more efficiently than you’ve ever been able to do before.
With the right tips and guidance, you’ll be on your way to reaching new heights in your fitness endeavors. Utilize this guide, whether you consider yourself a casual runner or a serious runner, to improve at all levels—from 5k to marathon.
Steps to Take to Go From 5k to Marathon:
- Train for a 5k
- Train for a 10k
- Train for a half marathon
- Train for a marathon
How to Train for a 5k (3.1 Miles)
When considering the differences between all of the major distances and various races you can do, you may have some assumptions. This is not the time for educated guesses, though. This is the time to do a little research and start experimenting with your stamina so you’re prepared. Many casual runners think in terms of simply doubling, tripling, etc. the effort it takes to complete each distance, based off of a shorter distance they may have run. If you speak to people that have run a marathon, many will actually tell you it’s a whole different beast.
Working up to it by starting with a shorter distance like a 5k and continuing on to a 10k can be a good place to start. But there are some changes you’ll want to take note of in your strategy. Yes, like any sport, strategizing will be one of the key components of accomplishing what you want.
Training for a 5k
If you are absolutely new to running or haven’t run in a while—perhaps due to an injury, illness, or surgery—then taking on a beginner’s 5k training plan is the smartest option. Whether you haven’t run since you were forced to do the timed mile in high school or you’ve run several marathons but are one year post-surgery for your hip, you need to be very gentle with your body and ease into the training plan. We recommend training for six weeks leading up to your race and switching between running and walking, when necessary.
Many first-time runners can find it helpful to train for certain amounts of time, rather than specific distances. For example—running for eight minutes, then walking for two, and repeating three times can be a far less intimidating task than running two miles right away without stopping. Some plans also alternate between running and walking workouts throughout the week to ensure you’re building up your aerobic base over time and stretching out your legs in between running workouts with a gentle walk.
The key is to give your body lots of time to stretch out both before and after your run and rest in between workouts. Integrating strength workouts, especially core work, can make a world of difference in your training plan and prevent injury. Consider doing some sit-ups, planks, and crunches before or after each run and a leg workout once a week that includes squats and lunges. Building up your leg and core muscles will help you run further and stronger in no time!
5k Fueling and Race Plan
This 3.1-mile race is considered one of the shortest races, and as such, you won’t need to refuel during the race or drink as much water as some of the other distances. Note that this depends on the heat, of course—always have an idea of what the weather will be like in your area during training and actual race day, and be sure to hydrate at least once.
Keep in mind, short doesn’t necessarily mean easy. In fact, this may seem a bit backward, but this distance is actually considered to be in the red zone when it comes to effort level. On a scale of 1–10, people consider it to be a 9–10 (10 requiring the most effort). This is because most runners try to sprint a 5k and push themselves throughout the entire race. Try to get the concept of “race” out of your head to an extent. It’s not that you don’t want to have goals—you should try to beat your PR if that is a goal of yours—but you don’t want to burn out too fast.
Remember, a big part of your plan will be about your pacing. Break things down into manageable chunks by selecting a goal time and figuring out your average minute per mile pace.
In the beginning of the race, aim to stay within 5–10 seconds slower than your chosen goal pace, per mile. Then, try getting up to and maintaining the goal pace for mile number two. Your plan for the final mile—and only the final mile—should be to run faster than you have until now, or at least stay at the same speed. Now bear with us, because these numbers will change as we go from a 5k to a marathon.
How to Train for a 10k (6.2 Miles)
Your strategy will be essentially the same for a 10k as it was for a 5k—but with different calculations. When training, you’ll want to keep a log of what you did to see what worked for you and what didn’t work for you, keeping the goal you want to achieve in mind. Adequate practice and superior planning is likely to get you the optimal results.
This run is 6.2 miles long and considered to require less effort than the 5k—even though it’s double the distance, you’re not running all out like you are during a 5k. A 10k lands in the borderline orange range between an eight and nine on the exertion scale. However, it is longer and will still be a challenge, so don’t skimp on training.
Training for a 10k
As you graduate from the 5k distance and begin training for a 10k, the structure of your training plan will become a little bit more involved. We recommend you train for this distance for eight weeks to allow yourself time to rest and recover when necessary. Life gets in the way of training sometimes, so you want to account for days where you’re too busy, sick, or burnt out and need to add an extra day of rest—and for the record, this buffer applies to each race distance moving forward.
Once you’re training for a 10k, you should be incorporating shorter running workouts during the week, one longer run on the weekend, two rest days, two or more strength workouts, and one or two cross-training workouts each week. Cross-training workouts are any aerobic exercise other than running, such as swimming, biking, walking, or yoga. Active athletes who cross train improve their performance and are less likely to get injured. You should not be exhausting yourself during these workouts, so consider them a fun break from pounding the pavement and an opportunity to strengthen smaller muscles that aren’t necessarily targeted when you run.
10k Fueling and Race Plan
Your water consumption for this race should be every mile or every other mile. Despite the effort scale we discussed, you will need to drink more during this race than during a 5k to help avoid injury. Since you will be running for longer, your body will need to be hydrated to prevent muscle tears, tiring out prematurely, heatstroke, and more. Although this distance is double a 5k and hydration is key, the water stations located along the race course should provide plenty of H2O—no hydration belt necessary.
Similar to a 5k, the strategy for your pacing here is to refrain from starting too fast. Remember to always start in a thoughtful, calculated way. Part of the reason you are training beforehand is to measure yourself. Take the same general plan you had for your 5k and figure out your average minute per mile. Use this pace as a goal for each mile and keep things fairly even for the majority of the race.
You should start out a little slower in the beginning. Again, that’s about 5–10 seconds slower per mile than the goal pace you picked. Then, gradually increase through the middle. That means at mile three and four you want to be running a bit faster than you did when you began the run. In the last mile or so, pick up the pace. Next in your 5k to marathon endeavors, we tackle the half-marathon, so keep your pencil sharp if you’re taking notes!
How to Train for a Half-Marathon (13.1 Miles)
Now that we’re getting closer to the category considered by some to be “long, long-distance,” this is where you will want to start thinking even more about fueling, hydration, and closely staying with your regimen. While it’s true that if you can do a 5k or 10k you have what it takes to go further, don’t forget these distances each come with their own unique quirks.
Training for a Half-Marathon
So, you’re training for a half-marathon. Congratulations! While training to run 13.1 miles, many people truly fall in love with the sport and discover that they can accomplish any distance with the right training and preparation. Long runs will be your hardest workouts that require the most preparation. Each weekend, you will go for a long run and slowly increase the distance by about 10% each week. If this is your first half-marathon, we highly recommend you give yourself 16 weeks to build up to 12 miles (your furthest long run). Make sure you properly fuel the night before, morning of, and during your long runs—this is a great time to test out different energy gels for race day! Much like the 10k training, you will incorporate shorter runs (and speed workouts, if you’re aiming for a faster time), cross-training workouts, strength workouts, and rest days.
Never underestimate the importance of sticking to your training plan (as much as possible) and getting all the right practice in—especially with your long runs. Incremental training will prepare your body, both mentally and physically, for the feat you’re about to pull off. As we discussed earlier, it’s important to incorporate a buffer zone of 1–3 weeks to account for injury, illnesses, and any other event that might get in the way of your training. On that note, if you are suffering from an injury or recovering from a cold or other illness, do not push yourself. Your immune system is already working hard to heal and adding the stress of workouts will not help you get back to your training any sooner. If you are able, consider taking easy walks or doing a restorative yoga session instead. Above all, listen to your body and give it the time it needs to recover.
Half-Marathon Fueling and Race Plan
Plan to have an intake of 150–250 calories each hour of your run to give your muscles and the rest of your system what it needs to keep going. By testing out different energy gels and chews and taking note of how you feel throughout your long runs, you can figure out the number of calories that’s right for you when you’re training. You can get these much-needed calories and hydration through gels, bars, sports drinks, and water. A lot of this is about trial and error, but once you find what works during training, stay with it for the race.
The half-marathon is considered to be a yellow-zone race and is at about a 7 on that 1–10 scale. You will run approximately 15–30 seconds slower per mile than you did during your 10k. As with the other races, it’s crucial that you don’t start out too fast. Take your average mile-per-minute goal pace but this time, begin the race running at about 10–15 seconds slower than that number for the first 1–3 miles.
For the next seven miles or so, pick up the pace gradually until you’re at your goal pace. If you have a goal time that you’re trying to beat, you can use a running base calculator to figure out what your goal race pace should be. Slowly and carefully—but always with determination, of course—increase your speed from mile ten through the last mile so you can safely crush your goals. Remember that the adrenaline and excitement of race day will likely push you to run faster than you have throughout your training, so learn how to channel that energy and properly pace yourself throughout the course! Finally, the monster race that you’ve been waiting for. If you’ve been dedicated to your training thus far, keep going, we know you can do it!
How to Train for a Marathon (26.2 Miles)
Runners, on your mark. Here it is, what you’ve really been working up to all along, right? Or perhaps your goal was to reach just the 5k, 10k, or half—or you’ve run them each before finding this article but wanted to improve your time, efficiency, and ultimate experience. Each of these events is an impressive achievement. So bask in your feel-good vibes and your pride and stop here if this is where you choose to stop. Or, by all means, keep going.
You’re running more than the average person and, hopefully, having fun while doing it too. You have a passion for running better than you ever have. For those of you who indeed have always wondered how to go from 5k to marathon, here’s what you need to know.
Training for a Marathon
This is it—the bucket list race of long-distance running! If you’ve done shorter races and stuck to a running plan, chances are you’ve considered a marathon. The good news is that finishing a marathon is absolutely possible! For a beginner marathon runner, we recommend you start an 18-week training plan after significantly building up your aerobic base and getting quite a few long runs under your belt. If you’ve just completed training for a half-marathon and are looking for your next challenge, you may be the perfect candidate.
At this distance, many runners find it beneficial to work with a running coach or group to get support throughout their training. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, consider purchasing a training plan online that incorporates long runs, slow runs, speed work, cross training, targeted strength workouts, rest days, and shorter races that will prepare you for 26.2 miles.
Marathon Fueling and Race Plan
If this is your first marathon, your main goal needs to be completing the marathon without any injury. You have a lifetime of running marathons, if that’s what you love to do! Don’t stress too much about your time, even walking 26.2 miles is a huge accomplishment! You should be proud of yourself for sticking to your training plan and crossing the finish line.
Another critical component of your strategy will be hydration and calorie intake, similarly to the half-marathon. Keep the same numbers in mind that you used for the other long races when it comes to a range that fits your individual needs, based on factors like weight and sweat.
Drink a bit each mile, or determine a more specific amount by doing a quick calculation based on your findings before and after a run. You can check your sweat rate based on your weight and doing some simple math. Weigh yourself beforehand and then again afterward and when you see what the difference is, that is how much water you lost—and about how many ounces you want to replace.
This one is seen as being in the green zone and raced in a 5–6 range on the scale, as you should plan to run a whopping 30–60 seconds slower than the half marathon. For at least 20 miles—that’s right, more than half the race—you want to be taking it somewhat easy if you want a better chance at finishing strong. Many runners run out of energy by the time they reach even just the second half of the marathon because they weren’t mindful enough of keeping things relatively slow at the start.
Be sure to begin your race at up to 20 seconds slower per mile than your goal pace because even though you want to be conservative in the early miles, if you go too slow you will have to make it up later. If this happens and you haven’t timed it right, don’t panic, as that will make things worse. Just hang in there and try to make up the time and distance left by as evenly as possible spacing out the remainder. Once again, this is not a sprint—going from 5k to marathon is a well-planned and prepared masterpiece.
More Information to Help You Go from 5k to Marathon
The sections contained earlier in this guide should help get you where you want to go during your 5k to marathon adventure, but there are a few more things to note. Things like professional equipment, proper nutrition, and the rest you give yourself in between training sessions leading up to the various races will also help determine how well you do.
A Note on Recovery and Nutrition
Marathon training should take place over the course of 16–20 weeks. Note that most training plans are created with the assumption that you, as a beginner marathoner, have already built a steady base and trained for races of shorter distances. You can jump right into marathon training after running no more than a mile or so for the past year, but don’t be surprised if it’s not an enjoyable experience.
Look into which races you want to do, as each location may offer a slightly different terrain and may or may not have the home field advantage of having loved ones able to cheer you on for moral support. Regardless of the place, each long-distance race is a commitment, so schedule it way ahead of time so you give yourself plenty of advance notice. You have to build yourself up over time to get where you want to be. As we’ve mentioned throughout this article, accounting for recovery time—including adding a few buffer weeks in case you become sick or sustain an injury.
Try doing 3–4 runs per week, and don’t leave weekends out. You can run more than that but make sure you’re spreading things out. Try not to have too many sessions in a row. Rest in between workouts is important to give your body recovery time. You’re breaking yourself down to a degree in order to build yourself back up, stronger—especially if you don’t want to experience real breakage. People have gotten stress fractures from overdoing things or having the wrong form because they’re too focused on the end goal.
In reality, if you’re the right combination of patient yet diligent, that’s where the wins will come in.
In terms of nutrition, the body likes to use glycogen as its main energy source when running, so don’t deny it this fuel. Training is necessary not just for your leg muscles to get used to things but for the rest of your system—and your mind—to get used to it, too. This goes more for marathons but, in this way, you will be teaching your body how to utilize what is has during a race. You don’t need to look to fat metabolism for a 5k or 10k like you should for the “long, long” runs.
You will also be burning more calories than you normally do, so prepare to eat more than you’re typically used to. You need nutrition that is high-quality though, not just the first sugary morsels you can get your hands on, as you want to avoid feeling bloated or fatigued. Keep in mind, we go by strategies here, not impulses. Act with purpose during race prep just like you would during the real race. Snacks like fruit, cheese, and peanuts—and whole rather than processed foods, for meals—will help repair your body and keep you moving.
A Note on Running Gear
The most important piece of gear you need when training for any race is a good pair of sneakers. Each runner’s arch, gait, and training goals are a little bit different, so there’s not a specific brand or model that works for everyone. The best way to discover which shoe is best for you is to go to your local running store and talk to an employee. They will look at your arch, ask you questions about your training routine, and watch you walk so they can recommend a sneaker model that will work best for you.
Lastly, and this cannot be stressed enough in your 5k to marathon efforts: no pro when it comes to any subject can beat their goals without the right tools. Just as the chef needs their cookware and ingredients, so do you—and your “ingredients” should not overlook the immense benefits of a good running belt. We encourage you to get online and find the right running belt for you so you can keep your essentials with you without feeling bogged down.
When your equipment is bulky, chafing, or causing extra movement or weight, it can distract you during both training and racing. And that is the last thing you need since, as you know by now, being thrown off early on in a run can mess with your mental state for the remainder of the race. Plus, you can’t focus on your strategy if you’re worrying about where your wallet is, whether your phone or keys are safe, and how you’re going to get the food and water you need during the experience.
We caution you not to go into any sport, especially running, without the proper gear. We want to make sure you have every chance of turning your fitness dreams into realities without tiring early, getting an injury, or being slowed down in any way. The 5k to marathon feat really boils down to the difference between waste and waist: you won’t waste an opportunity when you have everything all in one place sitting conveniently around your waist.