30 days to a great 5K

Even if you’re on the couch potato end of the fitness continuum, a 5K could be a month away, says Jenni Peters, former competitive runner and owner of Varsity Sports. Peters is often spotted leading packs of runners around the LSU lakes, many of whom are novices surprised at their newfound ability to keep up. Her training clubs meet throughout the year to prepare for a handful of regional road races. For more information, visit www.varsityrunning.com.

Running shoes are like shock absorbers, and for a runner, there’s no more important piece of equipment. Good shoes cost about $90 or more because of the quality and amount of filler. Buy your running shoes from a reputable vendor whose staff can match the right shoe to your foot type. Try on lots of shoes, preferably later in the day when your feet swell, as they do when running. And don’t forget the importance of good socks, which can prevent blistering.—Maggie Heyn Richardson

This training schedule is designed to build strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness. I’m big on variety. Jogging your same route a few times a week won’t help you improve. But by varying your workout you can build endurance and strengthen your heart.

Things to know

Stretch lightly before each run.

Wear good shoes and a running watch with a stopwatch function.

Start Day 1 on a Friday.

Training program

Note: Speak to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Day 1: Walk or jog for five minutes. Stop to stretch and rest for two minutes. Walk or jog for five minutes, with an emphasis on jogging over walking.

Day 2: Walk or jog for 10 minutes, with an emphasis on jogging over walking. At even a light jogging pace, you’ll probably cover about three-quarters of a mile. Great job for just Day 2!

Race for the Cure – March 7

Great Rover Road Run – March 21

LRCE Big Apple Run for Reading 5K – March 21

Fat Boy 5K – March 28

Tortoise and Hair Run – April 4

Providence Corporate Cup – April 18

Epilepsy 5K – April 25

See www.clubsouthrunners.org or www.active.com for more events and details.

Day 3: Walk or jog for two minutes. Run a measured half-mile (clock it beforehand on your vehicle odometer, or run two times around a high school track). Time it on a running watch. Rest for two minutes. Then jog the measured half-mile again, trying to complete it faster.

Day 4: Walk or jog for 12 minutes, pushing yourself to jog more than walk. You’re probably up to a mile. Great job, and it’s only Day 4.

Day 5: Jog easy for five minutes. On a street with light poles, pick up speed from one light pole to the next, then jog easy between that pole and the one that follows. Run a total of 10 fast-slow patterns. This is a great way to increase your heart rate and strengthen leg muscles.

Day 6: Run for 10 minutes without stopping.

Day 7: Jog easy for five minutes. Find a hill. Run up and walk or jog back down six times. I refer to these as “cardiac push-ups” because you increase your heart rate running uphill and let it drop back down between.

Training clubs give you an extra boost. They’re chock-full of like-minded types, and they host regularly scheduled work-outs—and social events—that can keep your momentum high. Here are two of Baton Rouge’s largest.

Club South Runners members meet for small group runs several times a week at designated locations. Outings include early morning romps around the LSU lakes, bike rides from Coffee Call on Saturdays and extended runs and rides on weekends. Members receive breaks on entry fees at Club South events. Dues are $20. For more information and an application, contact Ben Cherbonnier at [email protected].

Baton Rouge Tri provides opportunities for triathletes—or those interested in the sport—to train, race and socialize. While many members are longtime competitors, others are novices and look to the club for advice on how to begin. It’s also a great way to shed the pounds. The club reports that two members weighed more than 450 pounds each in 2005, and with the help of regular training and competition, weigh less than 250 pounds each today. Dues are $30. For more information and an application, see www.batonrougetri.com.—M.H.R.

Day 8: REST DAY. From now on, Fridays are rest days on this schedule. TGIF!

Day 9: Run two miles at whatever pace it takes to cover the distance. Saturdays will be the day to build your endurance by slowly increasing distance.

Day 10: Walk or jog 20 minutes at an easy pace or cross-train (bicycling, lifting weights or swimming) for 30 minutes.

Day 11: REST DAY. It’s as important as a training day. Your body has time to repair and prepare for the next workout.

Day 12: Jog easy for three minutes. Run a measured mile and time it on a running watch. (A mile is four times around a high school track.) Note your mile time. It will give you a sense of your current “pace-per-mile.” Jog three minutes to warm down.

Day 13: Jog really easy for 15 minutes.

Day 14: Jog for five minutes. Run three minutes at a moderately hard pace. Jog really easy for three minutes to recover. Run two minutes hard. Jog two minutes easy. Run one minute hard. Jog one minute easy. Walk or jog for five minutes. You probably covered two miles and you didn’t even notice.

Day 15: REST DAY.

Day 16: Jog easy for three minutes. Run a measured mile and time it on a running watch. Rest three minutes. Walk three minutes. Run the timed mile again trying to run at least 10 seconds faster than the first mile. Start conservatively, and pick up the pace as you build into the run.

Day 17: Easy 20-minute jog or cross-train for 30 minutes.

Day 18: Run three miles at whatever pace it takes for you to cover the distance.

Day 19: Hill work. Jog one mile. Run eight times uphill. Walk or jog back down. Jog one mile.

Day 20: Find a football field or grassy area at a park. Jog for three to five minutes. Run the length of the football field six times with a 30-second rest after each. Use a long, flowing stride. Jog for three to five minutes. Run another six times with 30-second rests between each. This stretches muscles and tendons and helps prevent injury.

“Last August, I could barely run a mile,” recalls Buckli Stanga, 41. But by December, she completed a half marathon. “I never dreamed I could do it,” says the State of Louisiana financial analyst. “I really surprised myself.”

Stanga, who has fought a lifelong weight battle, learned about the Varsity Sports running clubs through friends. With little experience, she was hesitant.

“But the first day out, everyone was so nice and helpful,” she says. “They made it fun.”

Stanga was at the back of the pack, but began to build confidence.

Prior to the Baton Rouge Beach Half Marathon, Stanga fretted about her ability to finish. But during the race, her fear dissipated. “At one point, I looked up and said, ‘Oh my God, I just did 10 miles.” Ten soon became 13.1, and Stanga crossed the finish line, exhausted and beaming.—M.H.R.

Day 21: Jog a half-mile to warm up. For one minute, run hard, followed by one minute of running easy. Do a total of eight sets. I call these Minute-Minutes. You’ll love me for them!

Day 22: REST DAY.

Day 23: Run a 3.1 mile course. It would help mentally if you can run the actual race course. Contact race organizers for maps.

Day 24: Jog easy for 20 minutes or cross-train for 30 minutes.

Day 25: REST DAY.

Day 26: Jog a mile to warm up. Using a track or measured 220 yards (halfway around the track), run briskly followed by an easy jog of the same distance. Do a total of six sets. Walk a few minutes after.

Day 27: REST DAY or 15 minutes easy jogging. Listen to your body to decide. There is really nothing more you can do to help, but a heckuva lot to hurt. Don’t go into an event overtrained.

Day 28: Run or jog two miles, striding for six 100-yard lengths within the run. This puts some snap and pep back into the legs without overtaxing them.

Day 29: REST DAY, but stretch well.

Day 30: It’s a great day for a 5K! Arrive early. Drink plenty of water way ahead of time. You know you’re fully hydrated if your urine is clear. Stretch and jog lightly in the last 15 minutes before the event. Most of all, have fun.