Get in shape this fall with a simple 6-week walk-to-run plan

Running is more than exercise, it's also a way to get outside and have a separate headspace from the rest of your daily routine. For many people, it's a great way to spend time alone while working out and, for other people, it can be a way to get involved with a running group or partner up. Whatever your motivation, if you want to start running or haven't done it in a while, you're not alone!

This expert advice can get you running regularly in no time and, for those who want to enter an event like a 5K, which is 3.1 miles, you can start celebrating at the finish line in just six weeks.

Many road races across the country have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn't mean you can't participate in a 5K. Many apps and running clubs offer virtual 5K races — you can even find virtual running partners.

How to prepare and train for a 5K

1. Find a running partner.

First, if you haven’t exercised in a while or you have any health problems, get your doctor’s go-ahead to lace up your running shoes. Then phone a friend.

“Training for and competing in an event like a 5K is more fun when you have a run partner,” said Randy Accetta, director of coaching education for the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). Plus, you’re more likely to stick with your training if you have someone else to work out with.

If you can’t convince a buddy to join you, search online for running clubs in your area (the RRCA maintains a list) or check with the local specialty running store to see if they know of anyone just starting out who needs a running partner.

Related: Running is a great way to scorch calories — but there's more to it if you want to lose weight.

2. Invest in the right running shoes and gear.

Before you pound the pavement, invest in a good pair of running shoes. “Visit a store that specializes in running shoes, not a sporting goods store,” said Accetta. “The experts there know how to find the best fit for your foot and stride.”

Expect to spend upwards of $80 for this critical piece of gear. But once your feet are taken care of, the rest of your shopping list — socks, moisture-wicking shirts and shorts, a well-fitted sports bra — will be relatively inexpensive.

Related: Training for a 5K? We asked experts for their top women's running shoes.

3. Start slow and steady.

Make “walk, don’t run” your mantra when first starting out, said former long-distance track Olympian Jeff Galloway, author of "Running: Getting Started." Do a combination of running and walking when you begin training.

Depending on your fitness level, you can start running for just 10 seconds and then walk for the remainder of a minute, until you complete your daily training assignment. If you’re up to it, you can alternate running for two minutes and walking for one. As you grow stronger, walk less and run more. You may work up to running for your full workout; you may still do some combination of walking and running, even on race day. However you get there, the goal is to make it across the finish line.

Related: Want to stay pain-free? Avoid these running missteps.

4. Use a training schedule.

This condensed training program is designed to have you 5K-ready in six weeks. During the hectic work week, the focus is on getting in some running time every other day, in minutes, not miles. On Saturday, concentrate on covering more ground, regardless of how long it takes. Take a rest day on Sunday. (If you change your schedule, just rest the day after the longest training session.)

On non-running days, Galloway recommends doing exercises that won’t fatigue your calf muscles, such as walking, swimming, cycling, rowing or upper-body strength training.

Related: Step by step, you can get there from here.

6-week 5K training plan

Week 1: Tuesday (10 minutes); Thursday (13 minutes); Saturday (1 mile, however long it takes to finish)

Week 2: Tuesday (16 minutes); Thursday (19 minutes); Saturday (2 miles)

Week 3: Tuesday (19 minutes); Thursday (22 minutes); Saturday (2.5 miles)

Week 4: Tuesday (22 minutes); Thursday (25 minutes); Saturday (3 miles)

Week 5: Tuesday (25 minutes); Thursday (28 minutes); Saturday (3. 5 miles)

Week 6: Tuesday (20 minutes); Thursday (30 minutes); Race day!

Download the training plan to your phone for easy reference:

TODAY illustration
TODAY illustration

Related: Strava and Zwift are two workout and running apps that keep people connected by sharing routes, routines and more.

5. Prepare for the big day!

On the day of the event, finish eating at least 30 minutes before the start time.

“You want some carbohydrates, but not too much fat or protein,” said Accetta. Try half of a whole-wheat bagel, oatmeal or a banana. Your diet leading up to the 5K shouldn’t change much, and there’s no reason to load up on carbs the night before.

Depending on your preference and the day’s weather, you can carry a water bottle with you or rehydrate after you reach the finish line. As you’re trekking along, take in the views and soak up the energy from other runners and walkers nearby. Give yourself a pat on the back as you cross the finish line — you deserve to celebrate!

Check Google Play or Apple App Store for running and training apps that can help you break down the journey and track your progress.

A version of this article originally appeared on iVillage.