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There is no cramming for a 5K or 10K, especially if you’re a new runner or someone who doesn’t exercise often.

You should start training weeks (not days) ahead of the event, and your preparation shouldn’t only entail walking or running long distances to build your endurance. Including core workouts and strength and cross-training in your routine is essential, says Grace “Annie” Neurohr, DPT, CMTPT, a physical therapist and the running specialist in the running program at the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics at Sinai Hospital.

“The biggest thing people neglect when ramping up for a race is accessory work, primarily core work. Every movement you make and the coinciding impact requires a stable base. That base comes from the core,” Neurohr says. “So many injuries in new runners are the result of ‘floppy’ running. This happens when people ask more from their body than the core can tolerate and the mechanics breakdown, leading to injury.”

Strength and cross-training also help prevent injuries. “The most common types of injuries in runners are overuse. This occurs because the runner is simply running too much. Cross-training and strength training allow the body to be stressed in different ways, building a more dynamic muscular system that won’t break down during repetitive stress,” Neurohr says. “Cross-training allows continued stress on the cardiovascular system, but by challenging the body in different ways. Strength training has been proven to decrease the injury rate by building tissue resilience and improving running economy. Both work together to keep you running more, even if it feels like you’re running less.”

Neurohr says she typically encourages new runners to start with a 5K, which is about 3.1 miles long, rather than a 10K. Here’s what an ideal six-week training plan for a 5K event (like the upcoming 15th annual Race for Our Kids) should look like, according to Neurohr:

Week 1

On Monday, you should strive to run half a mile and get in a 15- or 20-minute core workout focusing on stability exercises such as planks, side planks, and bird-dog sets. On Tuesday, focus on lower-body strength training including exercises like squats, lunges, calf raises, and deadlifts. On Wednesday, aim for another half-mile run and core workout. Thursday can be a rest day or cross-training day (swimming, elliptical work, a spin class, etc.). Do more strength training on Friday.

The duration of your cross and strength training sessions will depend on your fitness level, Neurohr says. “If you are new to exercising in general, I recommend cross-training sessions be about 30 minutes and gradually progressing as you build your fitness. I recommend doing something quite different than running such as swimming or cycling to decrease impact and stress the muscles in a different way,” she says. “The strength training component may require seeking out a personal trainer or physical therapist to ensure they are safely performing the exercises if the individual has never done any weightlifting.”

Neurohr adds: “Strength training depends on the time it takes to complete your sets. My general recommendation for a runner is to perform a list of multi-movement exercises including squats, lunges, calf raises and deadlifts. Each exercise comes with a plethora of variations and modifications that can be sorted through with a personal trainer or training partner with more experience. I typically recommend completing 8 to 12 reps of each for 3 to 4 sets with rest breaks in between.”

On Saturday, strive to run another half-mile (or go for a full mile) and do another core workout. Take a rest on Sunday. In fact, plan to rest at least each Sunday leading up to your 5K event. “Lack of proper rest is the most common contributor to a running injury that can sideline you long term. Rest is essential for building muscle, increasing speed and progressing your training while keeping overuse injuries at bay,” Neurohr says.

Week 2

Start your week with a one-mile run and core workout. Focus on strength training as usual on Tuesday, and on Wednesday aim to run 1.5 miles along with another core workout. Like in week 1, use Thursday for a rest day or cross training and Friday for strength training. On Saturday, run 1 to 2 miles and do a core workout. Remember: rest on Sunday.

Week 3

Start the week with a two-mile run and core workout on Monday, followed by strength-training Tuesday. Wednesday, shoot for a 2.5-mile run and core workout. Either rest or cross train on Thursday and do strength training on Friday. Run 2.5 to 3 miles and do a core workout on Saturday (rest on Sunday).

Week 4

Start out with a 2.5-mile run and core workout on Monday followed by strength training on Tuesday. Wednesday, run 2.5 to 3 miles and do another core workout, and either rest or cross train on Thursday. Do strength training on Friday like you’ve been doing, and run 2 to 3 miles and do another core workout on Saturday. (Give yourself a break on Sunday.)

Week 5

Run 2.5 miles and do a core workout on Monday, and do more strength training on Tuesday. Do another 2.5-mile run and core workout on Wednesday, and either rest or cross train on Thursday. Do more strength training on Friday and close out the week with a 2-mile run and core workout on Saturday. Sunday is a rest day.

Week 6

Here we go, the last round of workouts before the big event. Start with a two-mile run and core workout on Monday and stick to your normal strength training routine on Tuesday. Get in a two-mile run and core workout on Wednesday. Thursday, as usual, is your choice: rest or cross train. Conclude your six-week training period with strength training on Friday. You should be in great shape for race day.

Be sure to register for the 15th annual Race for Our Kids event taking place Sunday, Oct. 6 at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. There will be timed 5K and 10K races as well as the 1-Mile Family Fun Walk. Proceeds benefit the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai, Baltimore Child Abuse Center and the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics Save-A-Limb Fund.

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