The 5K, or 3.1-mile, road race is the most popular race in the United States, with nearly 5.3 million finishers in 2012 events. Because it's the shortest of the commonly held races, it's accessible to both walkers and runners and doesn't require the same level of preparation as a half-marathon or marathon. Best of all, you can prepare for a 5K in just a couple of weeks if you're reasonably fit to begin with.
The first five to seven days of your training should consist of easy- to moderate- distance runs -- efforts done at about 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. Aim to cover two to three miles, and include walk breaks if you need to. If you have previous running experience, you'll probably have a general idea of the pace you're capable of, but the idea is to simply get time on your feet without being overly focused on time. (Ref. 3)
With about a week remaining until your 5K, you should do a speed workout to reap the benefits of higher-intensity work. For example, you could do a set of 400-meter, or one-lap, repeats on an outdoor track or a treadmill. Shoot for a pace that you think you could hold for two to three miles in a competition, and take about the same amount of walking or jogging rest in between repetitions as it takes you to run the reps themselves. This is also useful in choosing a time goal for the race if you're so inclined, as it gives you a solid idea of your capabilities.
When you have three to five days to go until the race, do a time trial of 1 1/2 to 2 miles to get a solid estimate of your fitness. This will help you pace yourself properly in the 5K as well as mentally prepare you for the rigors of all-out running. If possible, do this on a track so you can more closely monitor your pace, since a track lets you check your time at frequent intervals.
General Tips and Strategies
You may want to hook up with a training partner to add inspiration and motivation, given how little time you have to get ready for the big day. Since you're presumably starting more or less from scratch, you can expect to be sore for at least the first week; you can minimize this bane by sticking to soft surfaces such as grass, dirt or a treadmill. Finally, don't forget to boost your fluid intake, and always remember that covering the distance of your training runs is far more important than the pace at which you do them -- most newer runners tend to push themselves too hard in training runs.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.