Beginner running on short notice

I had the pleasure of taking over a couch to 5k program for a corporate client recently. There was 4 weeks until race day and unfortunately the previous coach hadn’t delivered them to where they needed to be. It’s important when you don’t have an ideal amount of time until race race to just work with where you are and focus some conditioning to complete the target course. This was a brand new group of runners which are always nice to work with because every session completed is one they thought they couldn’t and its great to see confidence grow as the group nears their first. The group had only 1 day per week running previously, below you’ll see how I aim to get upto 3 runs completed in the pre-race week, I used  weeks 5-6 (weeks 1-2 with me)to assess my runners fitness and  to predict the rough 5k pace they could hold. I gave them confidence busting exercises such as power posing which they found both very funny and helpful.I also introduced pre- performance routines into the warmup including visualisation, verbal confirmations and writing cue words on armbands for during workouts.

I have only included weeks 7-8 of the program where 2-3 runs per week had been reached. Guidelines for beginner runners are 3 runs per week put common sense needs to be used. In this case the aim was to build confidence and get them through the first race injury. Weight loss was also a big aim as most were quit overweight. It was realistic for each to loose 6-8 pounds during the 4 weeks at least.I’m a coach who doesn’t blindly follow print outs, ever session is based on the individual and group and interacting with clients is very important. I instructed them how to train with HR and RPE scales, I prefer HR to paces as the HR generally shows how hard your working each workout. Based on their training i gave them a realistic target to finish in, all of them finished faster than this estimate which was great! To give context to weeks 7-8  week 5 was 1 run with 2 strength/mobility sessions and drills, Week six was a test week with 2 runs and 2 strength/mobility sessions and drills. Enjoy and remember 1 workout a week is still better than none! Lastly I’ve included products and other blogs in the guidelines as they are helpful , I’m not working with these people in anyway just my honest opinion


Photo Annette Shaff/Shutterstock


The warm-up should begin approx 40 minutes before the race. Start with a 2-10 minute jog. Commence this run slowly and gradually increase the pace. One method of slowing the starting pace down is to begin the run by only breathing in and out of the nose. i.e (Mouth closed). This ensures the early pace of the run is easy. You’ll be surprised how fast you can eventually end up running after a few minutes of nasal breathing.

Don’t undertake static stretching prior to a race. It is proven to reduce power and strength within the muscles. Reserve static stretching for the cool down. Instead do a series of dynamic stretches and drills. Dynamic stretching will maintain the elastic properties of the muscle, while also limbering up the muscle for a more intense effort. These can include

March on toes – While walking grab and pull your knee to your chest while raising onto your toes.

Butt kicks on toes – While walking kick your heel towards your butt. If you’re able grab and pull your foot or ankle.

Soldier March – While walking kick one leg up keeping it straight, reach for the toes with the opposite hand. Alternate with each step.

High knee with external rotation – Grab your ankle and knee rotating your hip, pull towards your chest.

Walking lunge with twist – Take a slightly longer than normal stride and go down into a lunge, rotate your upper body in the direction of the forward leg reaching your arms up and away, alternate with each step. This will stretch the torso and opposite hip flexor.

Forward/Backward hip rotation – While walking raise one leg up and to your side with your knee bent and rotate it forward.

Quick Skips – Quickly bring your knee to hip height and back down to the floor. Move forward in a skipping motion and be conscious of your

Strides/%Runs – Slowly build up your speed reaching 90% or 100% and slowly decelerate. Think of perfect form.

Here is a link to a good demonstration of dynamic stretching and drills


 Running Zones

Basic formula for max HR is 220- your age( a good guide for beginners)

For example mine would be 220-28=192 if I want to know 60% or 90% or my MHR the I would multiply this number as follows 192* 0.6= 115 or 192*0.9=173

This formula only gives an idea of what your MHR would be

A more accurate formula uses your resting HR aswell,

Using this example – the 90% level (ie use 0.90) is: 0.90 x (HRmax – HRmin) + HRmin

ie 0.9 x (192-49)+49 = 173 bpm

The max Hr is measured using 220-age(this is safer than trying to reach max HR in training)

HR is slow to respond to effort so build it up gradually, if you feel you’re working 100% in the first few minutes of a run put your HR is showing 80% of max it most likely is that the HR has not risen fully yet so don’t mind this. Use RPE for effort and check your HR to make sure you haven’t gone over your zone.


Using RPE( how you feel you’re working from1 to 10 is a good start)

Training Zone               Duration    RPE       % MHR        Purpose

Zone 0                                   < 60’         1           94                 Increase maximum power output

Short intervals                 3sec-30sec            N/A              Increase sprint power

To be properly accurate with your fitness and training zones its best to use a HR monitor watch

A basic one should as from Polar can be bought for €90ish

This is the most accurate way to track time in zones and to know if you’re training too hard!

I would recommend any garmin watch with HR you can upload your data to Garmin connect and pair your training with

A basic Garmin is 147-166 euro

Calorie counting

Too loss fat we need a slight calorie deficit of 500-1000Kcal per day which causes a loss of 1-2 pounds per week. Start with 500Kcal deficit per day and increase the deficit once your weight loss stops. Your metabolism is the rate you burn kcal at both resting and during activity. Your body will adapt to restricting kcal  and your metabolism will slow causing you to stop losing weight. For example,If we were to start at 1000kcal deficit per day at the start we would loss more weight initially for the first few weeks but once our metabolism adapts we would have no where to go as far as dropping kcal goes so its best to start small and build up, consistency is key.

I like garmin connect and myfitnesspal as the kcal you burn while training is automatically brought to your myfitnesspal account making it easier to track kcal in(eating) and kcal out(exercise/activity).

To keep track of progress weigh yourself once per week at the same time of day while fasted(before drinking or eating).

I weigh myself Monday morning when I get up

Another site that is helpful for weightloss calorie guides for men and women is below

General guidelines for dieting

  1. Eat 5 – 8 meals spaced 2 – 3 hours apart.
  2. Eat 1 protein, 1 fat and 1 carbohydrate (either complex or fibrous) at every meal.
  3. Drink 3 – 4 litres (1 gallon) water daily.
  4. Eliminate or severely limit alcohol.
  5. Eliminate or severely limit junk food.
  6. Limit simple sugars, except from fruit.
  7. Pan cook foods in flavoured cooking spray instead of oil or butter.
  8. Enjoy at least one cheat meal, but no more than one cheat day (or three meals per week)

How to build up gradually.

Ideally 3 runs should be completed per week,

We can build up to this, Roughly no more than a 10% increase should be done in each session each week,

For example last week we ran for a total of 20mins(2x10min) put this week we completed 5% more ,21mins(3x7mins) ideally next week we will add 10% from this week 23-24mins (3x8mins 2mins rest).

Its all about building tolerance, the rest increases again next week to help with the increase in work. I mention that I would like you all to complete a second run of 12-14mins easy RPE 1-2 or 60-70%MHR and see how you get on (go on feel it should feel easy!), always leave 1 day between runs. I hope you all can complete this 2nd run to see if you can tolerate it. If no issues are noted we can complete 2 runs again next week. Hopefully if this goes okay we can add 3 runs in the 8th week.

The plan will be as follows:


Run 1: 3x8mins 2mins rest RPE 7-8  or 80-90% MHR

Run 2: easy run of 14-18mins RPE 1-2 ( Go on feel! HR is not important for easy runs as long as it feels easy, i.e you’re not breathing hard and your legs aren’t hurting)

Week 8:

Hopefully everything has gone well, we can now add a 3rd run

Run 1: ideally Monday Easy 18-20mins RPE 1-3

Run 2: Wednesday with me! 3x9mins 2min rest RPE 7 80%MHR

Run3: Fartlek tempo (mix of easy and moderate efforts) 3min easy (RPE 3) 2mins Moderate (RPE 5-6/ 65-75% MHR)

Always stretch while you’re warm after a run. Hold stretch for 8-10seconds , repeat 2-3 times depending on how tight your muscles are. Try and get up and walk around for 2mins every hour to keep yourself loose while at work.

In week 8 the first run is super easy .This run loosens your legs up and lets your body start to prepare for Wednesdays harder session. Make sure you run this one super easy. The 3x9mins will bring you close to 5km pace helping you get used to harder running. The last run is all about change of pace which happens in racing .It’s not too fast pace wise, this session is all about changing pace in a relaxed manner. Hopefully this will set you all up for your 5k race!




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