5K For Every Body: Learn to Run or Walk Program

Book Excerpt

From Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have by Louise Green
March 2017, Greystone Books

Photo: Vairdy Photography

Learning to run a 5K distance is where it all started for me, and it changed my life. Maybe it can change yours too?
I have created a 5K program that has been used for hundreds of plus-size 5K participants. Some 5K programs start off too aggressively with participants running for a full minute. My program is based on the assumption that exercise might be a brand-new undertaking and that walking or running plus-size may require extra safety precautions.

Whether you are interested in walking or running, this is a great place start. What I love about training people to complete a 5K distance is the incredible progress that is so apparent as you move along. This program is easy to follow, it’s free, and you can do the workouts when it’s convenient for you.

Take the time to review the program, and consider creating a tribe to join you. Accountability and support will be key.

Following is some of the terminology used throughout this program. Familiarize yourself with the program and then set a date to start training:
  • Warm up:The “warmup” in this program is simply a five-minute moderately-paced walk. Whether you plan to use this program as a walking plan or a running plan, every participant should start with a gradual warm-up. 
  • Cool down:Like the warmup, the “cool down” is a five-minute moderately paced walk. This allows for your heart rate and breathing to gradually return to their resting rate and gives your muscles time to return to their optimal length and tension. 
  • Slow interval:Throughout this program the term “slow interval” is used to refer to the recovery interval. During this interval you walk slowly or moderately to recover from the fast interval. 
  • Fast interval:Throughout this program you will also see the term “fast interval.” This term means something different for those who wish to run 5K and for those who wish to walk it. If you are learning to walk a 5K, the fast interval is a faster-paced walk than the slow interval. This increases your stamina and endurance by pushing the cardiovascular system to build strength to finish the race. If you plan to use this program to learn how to run a 5K distance, then the fast interval means you will run during this time. 
  • Low and slow:“Low and slow” means to run with little impact at a slow pace, almost like a shuffle. When you shuffle the run, it leaves little room for impact and protects your joints. Running slowly preserves energy, and when you are starting out, this is really important. The goal is to get you through each interval successfully. Start off running low and slow and then increase your pace when you feel you can. 
  • Total time:“Total time” refers to the total time out per training session. This time includes the five-minute warm-up and the five-minute cool-down. As time goes on in the program, you will notice that your “time out” increases and your fast intervals get longer too. This allows for a gradual build. 
  • Long run or walk:Within most running programs there is what’s called a “long run.” Throughout the week you will have two or three shorter runs, called tempo runs, and one long run. The long run builds endurance so that you have the gas to complete the distance. The long run is typically the run that is done in with your clinic group, although some groups do all their runs together. 
  • Tempo run or walk:A “tempo run” is usually a shorter run that is performed at a faster pace. When I started running, I only had one pace. Don’t worry too much about these paces in the beginning. I just want you out there comfortably completing each session. 
  • Homework:“Homework” refers to the runs that will be done on your own, usually mid-week tempo runs. This structure is usually what is found in a true running clinic but I strongly urge you to find a group that you can be accountable to for all of your runs (or walks). 
  • Conditioning phase:“Conditioning phase” usually refers to the beginning of a program or a pre-program phase. Some people who haven’t run before might find their bodies rebel against this new activity. You may become very sore or fatigued if you don’t follow an appropriate program. The conditioning phase allows you to ease in very gradually phase to “condition” your body for the program ahead. It’s a very important phase. 
  • Recovery week:The “recovery week” in the program is one where you will see no increases in your run or walk schedule. This gives your body a chance to recover and catch up and reaffirm the demands placed on it. The following week you will begin increasing again, so use this recovery week to go slow and easy to prepare for what is next. 
  • Race day:I always recommend that people seek out an event or race that hosts a 5K fun run or walk before they start the program. Once you have signed up it seals the deal on your commitment. A “race day” event is a fantastic way to celebrate your amazing accomplishment. 
As you review my program, you may wonder why certain sessions are longer than others, why we taper in the end, and why we recover mid-program. There is a method to the madness, and this program is designed from my experiences out in the field. You may be tempted to jump ahead because running for thirty seconds feels too easy. I urge you to follow the program because each session is there for a reason: to slowly develop your ability to run 5K without injury. Here are some basic tips for reaching the finish line: 
  • Keep your pace slow for low impact and try to use as little energy as possible. 
  • Pump your arms when you hit any inclines, whether walking or running; this helps build momentum in your legs. 
  • Follow the program, even if it seems boring in the beginning. 
  • Don’t get discouraged by looking ahead at the plan. Every person I’ve trained is in total disbelief that they can finish the plan, but they do! 
  • Hydrate before, during, and after your run/walk sessions. 
  • Fuel with healthy food. 
  • Try to push negative thinking out of your mind. When things get tough, come up with a mantra that cheers you on, like: “I am a strong and capable athlete!” 
  • Stretch after each session. You can find basic stretch routines on YouTube. Your routine should include your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, gluteus, and gluteus medius. 
  • Make sure that you have good, properly fitted shoes. 
  • Have fun! Find a group of friends and unleash your inner athlete.

Here we go: 
Week Fast Interval
Run or Fast Walk
Slow Interval Moderate Walk Quantity
How many times this combo is repeated
Check List
Stay on track and check when complete
Total Time
Includes 5 minute warm-up/ cool-down
Conditioning PhaseRepeat for one week, three times 30 seconds 2 minutes 8 times   
Week One
Long Run
45 seconds 2 minutes 10 times   
Homework 45 seconds 2 minutes 8 times   
Homework 45 seconds 2 minutes 7 times    
Week Two 1 minute 90 seconds 9 times    
Homework 1 minute 90 seconds 8 times    
Homework 1 minute 90 seconds 7 times    
Week Three 90 seconds 1 minute 7 times    
Homework 90 seconds 1 minute 6 times    
Homework 90 seconds 1 minute 5 times    
Week Four 2 minutes 1 minute 6 times    
Homework 2 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Homework 2 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Week Five 3 minutes 1 minute 6 times    
Homework 3 minutes 1 minute 5 times    
Homework 3 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Week Six 4 minutes 1 minute 5 times    
Homework 4 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Homework 4 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Week Seven 5 minutes 1 minute 5 times    
Homework 5 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Homework 5 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Week Eight
(Recovery week, no increase)
5 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Homework 5 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Homework 5 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Week Nine 6 minutes 1 minute 5 times    
Homework 6 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Homework 6 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Week Ten 7 minutes 1 minute 5 times    
Homework 7 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Homework 7 minutes 1 minute 4 times    
Week Eleven 8 minutes 1 minute 6 times    
Homework 8 minutes 1 minute 5 times    
Homework 8 minutes 1 minute 5 times    
Week Twelve
(Taper Week)
6 minutes 1 minutes 5 times    
5 minutes 8–10 min intervals 1 minute 5 times for the 5K duration    
Finish this week with Race Day!          
Congratulations; embarking on a 5K program takes courage! Once I completed my first 5K, I built on that experience and went on to do more. I started to increase my distances over time, making sure that I used trusted training programs that were very gradual and injury-prevention focused. Keep traveling your road to limitless and showing up for the game. By doing so you are sending the world a clear message that everyone can be an athlete.
Excerpted from Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have by Louise Green. Published by Greystone Books, March 2017. Condensed and reproduced with permission of the publisher.


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