How to Train for Your First 5K the Philly Way

You're just nine weeks away from tackling your first 5K!
Schuylkill Trail along Kelly Drive // Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Schuylkill Trail along Kelly Drive // Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Training for your first 5K can be a daunting task if the only kind of running you’re used to doing includes going for a mid-afternoon coffee run. But you can do it (we promise!), and to help you out, we got running coach Cory Smith of Run Your Personal Best to put together a nine-week Couch to 5K training plan for beginners, complete with tons of Philly flavor. Think: runs along Forbidden Drive, tackling hills behind the Art Museum and, of course, running the Art Museum Steps.

Over the course of nine weeks, you’ll work your way up from doing a mix of running and jogging to running a full 3.1 miles, easy. Check out the training plan below.

Your Philly-Style Couch to 5K Training Plan

Week 1

Workout #1
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk. Then, alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Workout #2
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk. Then, alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Workout #3
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk. Then, alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Make it Philly-Style: Do City-Block Fartleks. Start anywhere in the city (we’re thinking 9th and Christian by the Italian Market would be a great city spot) by taking a brisk five-minute walk. Then, alternate running one city block with walking one city block. Repeat 10 times.

Increase Difficulty: If you find these aren’t challenging enough, try adding more repetitions. For example, start with 10 reps, then increase to 12, then 14 repetitions of running/walking.

Tip: The number one mistake most new runners make is starting off too fast. For most runs, you should be able to hold a conversation. If you cannot hold a conversation, you’re running too fast. Force yourself to start off slower than you want to for the first four repetitions. If you feel okay after the first four, feel free to pick up the pace.

Week 2

Workout #1
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk. Then, alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Workout #2
Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then, alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Workout #3
Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then, alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

Make it Philly-Style: Do City-Block Fartleks. Start on any city block by taking a brisk five-minute walk. Then alternate running two city blocks with walking one city block. Repeat 10 times. A great spot for this workout would be Fitler Square, where you can run small, beautiful city blocks lined with Philly’s quintessential brownstone homes.

Strength and Mobility: Twice this week, perform one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each of these exercises for hip strength and mobility.

Increase Difficulty: If you find these aren’t challenging, try adding more repetitions. For example start with 10, then increase to 12, then 14 repetitions of the run/walk.

Tip: Check your shoes. How old are they? Did you get fitted for them properly? Shoes have a limited lifespan. Generally speaking, you should get new shoes every four to six months or every 200 to 300 miles. If you’re in the market for a new pair, go to a local specialty running store and get fitted properly. Philly has some of the best running stores such as Philadelphia Runner, Bryn Mawr Running Company, North Wales Running Company, Haddonfield Running Company and Chester County Running Store.

Week 3

Workout #1
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then do two repetitions of the following:

  • Jog 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Walk 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 400 yards (or three minutes)
  • Walk 400 yards (or three minutes)

Workout #2
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then do two repetitions of the following:

  • Jog 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Walk 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 400 yards (or three minutes)
  • Walk 400 yards (or three minutes)

Make it Philly-Style: Running on track is perfect for this workout. Go to Temple’s Track at 16th and Montgomery Streets. One loop around a track is roughly 400 yards,  and half a lap is 200 yards.

Increase Difficulty: If you find these aren’t challenging, try adding more than two repetitions of the set.

Workout #3
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then do one-mile run followed by five-minute walk to cool down.

Make it Philly-Style: Run Woodlands Cemetery. This beautiful Cemetery is a great place to get away from the crowded Kelly Drive Path and, conveniently, there’s a one-mile dirt trail that runs around the perimeter.

Strength and Mobility: Twice this week, perform two sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each of these exercises for hip strength and mobility.

Tip: The best way to complete runs is to have your last mile be your fastest, rather than your first mile. This takes some getting used to but pays off big come race day. By doing this, you build both strength and confidence so that you can finish strong. To make it happen on your training runs, start much slower than you think you need to. Remember, you should be able to talk.

Week 4

Workout #1
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 1/4 mile (or three minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or four minutes)
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or three minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)

Workout #2
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 1/4 mile (or three minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or four minutes)
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or three minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)

Make it Philly-Style: The Kelly Drive path has 1/4-mile markers spray-painted all the way around the loop, making it perfect for these workouts. Mile 0 starts at the first light pole after Waterworks Drive on your left.

Workout #3
This one is nice and simple: Run 1.75 miles.

Make it Philly-Style: Starting at the Art Museum Steps, run down the Ben Franklin Parkway toward city hall. Once you get to Logan Circle, loop around and head back towards the Art Museum steps. Feeling good? Try running up the steps at the end of the run, Rocky style!

Strength and Mobility: Three times this week, perform two sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each of these exercises for hip strength and mobility.

Tip: Don’t get discouraged if you have a bad run. Every runner experiences bad runs. Do your best to complete the run and then move on. One, two or even three bad days won’t hurt your training.

Week 5

Workout #1
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or three minutes)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or four minutes)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)

Workout #2
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 3/4 mile (or eight minutes)
  • Walk 1/2 mile (or five minutes)
  • Jog 3/4 mile (or eight minutes)

Make it Philly-Style: Get outside the city and enjoy the Chester Valley Trail. There are green posts every 1/4 mile. Use these markers to indicate when you should run or walk.

Workout #3
Brisk walk for five minutes followed by a two-mile run. Cool down by walking for five minutes.

Make it Philly-Style: Go to John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. This refuge, named one of the best runs in the country in Runner’s World just last month, is flat, pretty and close to the city — definitely worth the short trip!

Strength and Mobility: Three times this week, perform two sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each of these exercises for hip strength and mobility.

Week 6

Workout #1
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or three minutes)
  • Jog 3/4 mile (or eight minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or three minutes)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or five minutes)

Workout #2
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or three minutes)
  • Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes)

Workout #3
Brisk walk for five minutes then run 2.25 miles.

Make it Philly-Style: Run the Haverford College Loop. Conveniently, one loop of the trail (named best suburban trail by Philly Mag!) is exactly 2.25 miles.

Strength and Mobility: Three times this week, perform two sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each of these exercises for hip strength and mobility.

Week 7

Workout #1
Hill Repeats: Do a brisk five-minute warm-up walk followed by a five-minute jog. Then, run a hill that takes approximately 30 to 60 seconds to get up. Walk back down and repeat 5 times

Make it Philly-Style: Do Waterworks Hill Repeats. Starting at Lloyd Hall, run east on Kelly Drive. Just after Waterworks and before going under Spring Garden Street, turn left on the pathway leading up to the art museum. Run up the hill and walk down the other side. Begin to jog again once you hit the Kelly Drive Path. Repeat five times before heading back to Lloyd Hall.

Workout #2
Brisk walk for five minutes, then run two miles. You’ll finish with another five-minute walk.

Workout #3
Nice and simple again: Run 2.5 miles

Make it Philly-Style: Do Square-to-Square Run. Start at either Rittenhouse or Washington Square and run down Walnut Street to the opposite square. Then, run back down Locust, making a loop back to your starting point.

Strength and Mobility: Three times this week, perform three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each of these exercises for hip strength and mobility.

Week 8

Workout #1
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 2.25 miles (or 25 minutes).

Workout #2
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 2.5 miles (or 25 minutes).

Workout #3
Run 2.75 miles.

Make it Philly-Style: One of the best places to run within city limits is Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon. This is a must for every runner. Park at the Valley Green Inn and run either way on the path for roughly 1.3 miles, then turn around. There are milestones on the creek side every half-mile. They’re small so look closely. After your run, treat yourself to brunch at the Valley Green Inn.

Strength and Mobility: Three times this week, perform three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each of these exercises for hip strength and mobility.

Week 9

Workout #1
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog three miles (or 25 minutes). Do this early in the week. Preferably Tuesday.

Workout #2
Brisk five-minute warm-up walk, then jog 2.5 miles (or 25 minutes).

Workout #3
5K RACE! Enjoy brunch (complete with a beermosa) afterward — you deserve it! Congrats!

……………

Cory Smith, a Philadelphia based running coach, shares his expert advice as an American Cancer Society DetermiNation running coach; founder of Run Your Personal Best, a private running-coaching business; and head cross country coach at Penn State Brandywine. He is a USA Track and Field-certified coach and a 4:03 miler. As a student athlete at Villanova, Cory was an NCAA Division One Regional and National Championship qualifier. Contact Cory at cory@runyourpersonalbest.com. Read all of Cory’s posts for Be Well Philly here.

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