The 8K is a less-popular distance than the 5K and 10K, but at 5 miles, it is a good intermediate distance race. Almost anyone can train to run an 8K, even couch potatoes. You should have been running, or at least walking, regularly for a month prior to starting your training. So, if you only have five weeks before the running pistol sounds, don’t expect to set any new personal records – just get out, stay safe and have fun.
You only need to run three times per week to successfully finish an 8K. On one day of the week, run between 2.5 and four miles. Start in week one with the shortest distance and each week add one-half of a mile until you reach the 4-mile total. On another day, stick to a 2-mile run, and on the weekend, plan to do a long run of 3.5 to 4.5 miles. Early in the training, start with the shorter distance and gradually add one-half mile each weekend until you get to the 4.5-mile distance. You can alternate running and walking in any of these training runs, but stick to this strategy when you get to the race so you don’t burn out in the first couple of miles. Try not to run two days in a row. Cross train with activity such as swimming or cycling on non-running days to build up cardiovascular endurance. Leave at least one day of total rest per week to provide recovery for your muscles and mind.
Intermediate runners who have a few races behind them and regularly cover 15 to 20 miles per week can increase training to at least five times per week. Make one of the runs a track workout in which you run between four and six fast intervals of 800 meters with a 400-meter jog between them. Instead of the track workout, you could also do a tempo run at a pace that is uncomfortable, but not unsustainable, in terms of difficulty. Start with just 20 minutes in week one of training and work your way up to 40 minutes by week four of your five-week plan. On the other days, include two days of a long run progressing from three miles up to six miles, a light jogging day consisting of three miles with stretching, a 40- to 60-minute cross training day and a long run progressively increasing from four miles in week one to seven miles by week four. Add no more than one mile per week to this long run so that your body becomes accustomed to the distance without injury. Your training tops out between 20 and 25 miles per week, remembering to always leave at least one day of total rest weekly.
Runners who have done numerous races and run regularly more than 25 miles per week can step up their training for the 8K to total 35 to 38 miles per week. Plan to run five to six days per week, including a track workout and a tempo run on nonconsecutive days. The track workouts consist of six to 10 repetitions of 400- or 800-meter all-out runs with 400 meters of light jogging between. The tempo run progresses from 40 to 60 minutes. Your other days include two 5- to 6-mile runs – one with the last two miles at near race pace – and a long run ranging from six to eight miles. You can also include a light running day of three to four miles. A full day of rest is still recommended. During week three, you might back off your mileage on the long run and skip one of the five-mile runs to give your body a break before the final two weeks of intense training.
Tapering and Injury
All runners, regardless of level, should back off training in the final week of the race. At the beginning of the week, run at the same intensity as in previous weeks – but shorten the time and distance. The two days before the race consist of complete rest or a day of very light jogging for two to three miles and one day of complete rest. Tapering allows you to feel fresh come race day. Listen to your body throughout your training program. If you feel overly sluggish or twinges of pain, insert an extra day of rest. If your pain is serious, seek medical attention -- don't try to train through it.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.