12-week run program - 5km or 10km - Anna Pearce

While many run programs for 5km or 10km last for 8 – 10 weeks, these programs don’t allow for periodised training with rest weeks. Shorter programs are based on high-volume running training. A 12-week run program is safer for people who are participating in other sports and training styles at the same time. As opposed to high-volume running programs that don’t allow the body to recover and heal, 12-week run programs allow for periodised training — resulting in reduced risk of over-training and injury.

To prepare several clients for the 2019 Bridge to Brisbane 5km or 10km charity run, I put together this 12-week run program.

Some of us are doing this program together as a group. However, you can do it on your own.

Woman running on the beach, 12-week 5km or 10km run program

The 12-week run program is divided into three blocks of four weeks each.

Each block includes three weeks where the intensity and volume slowly increase. The fourth week consisting of lighter intensity for recovery.

Ideally, run this 12-week run program in conjunction with a resistance training program of between 2 and 5 sessions per week that follows the same block pattern.

The first block starts slow and only includes steady-state running or walking sessions. It gives both distance and time recommendations for each session. If you complete the distance in less time than specified, you can stop. If you haven’t completed the distance in the time, you can stop at the end of the specified time.

Block one is about easing into the habit without causing severe enough delayed-onset-muscle-soreness (DOMS) to discourage getting out for the next session. In other words, if you haven’t run in a while- don’t over-do it and push too hard.

Block two and three include interval training sessions. While there are specific calculations to work out times and distances for these for a competitive runner- a social runner or beginner doesn’t need to be entirely accurate to make measurable progress.

What should you do if your total number of sessions per week required you to do two in one day?

To maximise gains in both resistance training and running, split any training sessions up by at least six hours. This will allow the body to sufficiently refuel and rehydrate.

What do I need to complete the 12-week run program?

A smartphone with headphones that you can download some apps on. Additionally, you’ll need good running shoes. Mizuno is my favourite as I need the extra cushioning. Although, we are all different so get fitted correctly for your run style.

The two apps that I use are Interval Timer and Freeletics Running. I use the free version of both of these, and use them in conjunction with each other.

Interval Timer gives me the flexibility to build custom intervals and to choose how many times they repeat. Therefore, it’s perfect for all kinds of interval training. Also, you can add your warm-up and cool-down along with rest periods in between for longer sessions.

I use Freeletics Running to map my distance and average pace. I almost always use it on the FreeRun setting as it gives an update each km. Additionally, it prompts you to take a cute (or not-so-cute tomato-face) selfie at the end with your run details and share it straight to your Social Media.

Warming up & cooling down

As with any exercise, proper preparation of the body is linked with a reduction in the incidence and severity of injuries.

Warming up for running

If you’re running in cold weather, first thing in the morning or if you’re an asthmatic then warming up is crucial. Jogging, star jumps, high knees, mountain climbers and supine bicycle crunches are all beneficial.

Additionally, dynamic stretches are fantastic for improving the range of movement in joints and warming up and activating muscles. Hold on to something steady and swing each leg backwards and forwards 20 or so times. Next, swing them across your body. Do some side lunges and travelling lunges. Finally, a few jump squats, going low at the bottom and springing from the calves at the top.

Your warmup should last anywhere from 3-6 minutes.

Cooling down for running

Cooling down can include light jogging or walking- particularly if you’ve finished with intense intervals. This helps to bring the heart rate and breathing down far more quickly than stopping which is extremely important for asthmatics.

Despite running being a leg-dominant exercise, some running styles hold the torso in a rigid position. Also, many of us are tight are rolled forward through the shoulders from other activities. Therefore, for maximum functionality perform full-body stretching after running, paying particular attention to the calves, hamstrings hip-flexors and adductors.

Block One – 12-week run program 5km & 10km

Many of the run session includes a recommended time and distance. In these, run at an appropriate pace for you and stop when you have either completed the distance OR the time- whichever happens first. For example; someone who hasn’t run in quite some time might be doing a combination of walking and jogging and may not complete the full distance in the allocated time. However, the TIME spent stimulating the cardiovascular system is still beneficial.

SS = Steady state

Ideally, the specified time or distance would be completed at a steady pace that can be sustained for the entire duration. This would be in the Moderate Activity, with a range of 4-6 on the RPE scale.

EG = Eurofit grids

A style of interval training that alternates between Light and Vigorous Activity at a set timer. This style of interval training is less shocking to the cardiovascular system than sprint intervals so is more tolerable for asthmatics and individuals with lower exercise tolerance.

For a competitive athlete, a rectangle would be set up on a field with the distance of the sizes measured in accordance with the run-rate that they want to improve.

For example, Jan is currently running 5km at 25min. To improve this time, we need to calculate the m/s she is presently running; which is, 3.33m/s. Jan has a soccer field available to set up her grid. Typically, a soccer field should be between 90-120m long and 45-60m wide. Considering this, we will stick with a 15-second interval timer; however, anywhere between 15 to 30 seconds is appropriate. Jan will need to run at 60% of her run rate on the short side and 120% on the long side.

To calculate the short side:

15(sec) X 3.33 X 60% = 29.97m

To calculate the long side:

15(sec) X 3.33 X 120% = 59.94m

However, even without doing the calculations, it’s possible to improve your run rate. You can do this by jogging for 15-seconds (at an RPE of 3-4) and running for 15-seconds (at an RPE of 6-7), then repeating. Running in a rectangle on a field will give you an idea if you’re running the same pace each time.

Depending on your fitness level, you can repeat the jogging and running intervals for 4 to 20 minutes. Take a rest and repeat two or more times.

Block Two – 12-week run program 5km & 10km

SPRINT: Sprint intervals

Block two introduces Sprint Intervals. These should be done after the steady-state run to prepare the body for a fast finish in the event while increasing cardiovascular output. Additionally, they may induce a better fat-burn response at the end (if that’s one of your goals).

Again, these are specified as either a distance or time interval depending on what works best for you. With Sprint intervals; ideally, you will stop entirely between intervals.

This style of training is problematic for asthmatics so proceed with caution. It may be more appropriate to do an interval that alternates between a sprint and a walk to allow the body to slow more quickly.

If you were to set up a specific distance or to cover in your sprint it would be between 140% and 170% of the run rate that you wanted to improve. Using Jan as an example-

For a 60m sprint:

60 / (3.33 x 170%) = 10.598 seconds (round to 11sec)

For an 80m sprint:

80 / (3.33 x 170%) = 14.132 seconds (round to 14sec)

For a 15sec sprint:

15 x 3.33 x 170% = 84.915 metres (round to 85m)

For a 20sec sprint:

20 x 3.33 x 170% = 113.22 metres (round to 113m)

For Jan, a 20sec sprint at 170% seems unlikely, so a lower percentage would be more practical over the distance.

For a social runner, simply setting up an interval timer of equal times (15work:15rest) that can increase as your fitness improves (20work:20rest, or even 30work:15rest). In the work periods, you can use an RPE of 8-10.


When muscles are working they require fuel. The body’s high-octane fuel is glucose an a byproduct of using glucose is lactate. The muscles can re-use the lactate. However, there comes a point in training where the intensity of the training increases the production of lactate beyond what the muscle can produce. At this point, the lactic-threshold, lactate enters the blood.

In the past, this was considered a negative process; however, the bloodstream shuffles the lactate to other muscles that can use the lactate, and to the liver than can convert fats into glucose, and shuffles glucose back to the high-demand muscles.

Tempo training increases lactic-threshold.

Although the benefits of tempo training for distances less than 10km are limited, the type of tempo training in the 12-week run program has the added benefit of race-pace conditioning. Starting slow and finishing faster promotes the mentality of keeping something in the tank for the later stages of the run.

Finding the lactic-threshold for an individual is near impossible without a laboratory. Despite this, some trainers have created a rule- that your lactic-threshold is at a pace 15-20 seconds faster than your comfortable run rate.

For a tempo-run in this 12-week program, the intention is that you run for half of the run at a pace that you can hold a conversation, then run the second half 15-20 seconds faster per km.

Back to our example, Jan would run her first half around 5:20min/km, then run at 4:40-4:45min/km for the second half of the run.

For the final block of the 12-week run program, the tempo methodology isn’t as important for a new runner that is doing the 5km run. I have provided a time-based run that they can complete instead.

Block Three – 12-week run program 5km & 10km

The final block includes a taper week. Please do the last steady state run at a comfortable recovery pace.

Nutrition for running

Pre-race nutrition

While the 5km and 10km running distances aren’t sufficient for a carb load, it’s still advisable to have a low fibre diet from about 24hrs out and to have a high-carb and low-fat meal the night before. Something containing bread or pasta is ideal. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water the day before- it’s easier to go to the bathroom an extra time than it is to try and hydrate during an event.

On race day, low-fibre simple carbohydrates are easier on the stomach and will deliver into the bloodstream faster. Don’t slow these down by adding protein or fats if you can avoid it. Surprisingly, something like Cocoapops is a better choice than oats! Fruits, especially bananas are great, too.

Electrolyte drinks are excellent, particularly if your scheduled run time is later in the day than you’re used to running. Additionally, you can pick up a couple of electrolyte gels at the supermarket. They’re in little pouches that are easy to have in a pocket or stuffed in your bra for emergencies.

Nutrition during running training

Leading up to the event, it’s advisable to include almonds in your daily diet. Runners often experience calf cramps which can be due to magnesium deficiency. The body has trouble absorbing supplement based magnesium- so almonds are the best natural choice.

If you’re concerned about iron absorption, then speak to your doctor. Iron plays a crucial role in transporting oxygen around the body and is needed in the energy exchange in muscles. If your iron is low, then you may feel prematurely fatigued.

If you’re doing the 12-week run program in conjunction with resistance training, the 5km or 10km distance isn’t long enough to put you into a catabolic state. However, if you’re concerned about muscular wasting you can include BCAAs in your recovery drink.

Otherwise, eat as you normally would. Plenty of good quality vegetables, unprocessed sources of protein, sources of good fats, quality grains, fruits and water.

Ready to run?

Now that all of the basics are covered, and you’ve got the 12-week run program, nothing can stop you now! Get your shoes on and hit the pavement. You won’t regret it! If you’re in need of some extra motivation you’ll find it here.

Comment below if you have any questions or if you’d like me to cover anything else in more depth.

Happy running!


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by Anna Pearce

Surrounded by her treasured indoor plants and beloved little dog, Anna shares her insights into copywriting, SEO, productivity, and maximising health and life as a remote worker. Between blogs and landing page copy, you'll find her motivating and spreading positivity through health and fitness coaching.

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