Your First 5K – A Running Guide for Beginners

By | March 15, 2017

Running is one of the best and most efficient ways to lose weight, for several reasons. One thing you may not know, however, is that it can also be quite enjoyable to get started in running, make new friends and sign-up for some fun, easy 5K races. The beginning of Spring is the perfect time to get started!

Do you see people jogging down the road or through the neighborhood and feel exhausted just looking at them? Don’t worry, with the right approach and a few tips you can do it, too!

Note: Before starting any kind of exercise program you should consult with you doctor. They will probably encourage this type of exercise, but it is important to make sure.

First, Walk It Out

To be properly mentally and physically ready to really get into your training program, you’ll want to begin conditioning your body with walking – don’t just buy running shoes and bolt out the door! The key is slow improvement and hitting progressive milestones, all while getting healthier and adapting your body.

You can simply begin by working up to a 45-60 minute walk 3 days a week. Make your walk days a schedule that can eventually become running training days to help make it a routine. Be sure to schedule your workouts by putting them into your phone (or computer, daily planner, the fridge, etc.) to make sure you stay on track.

By starting out walking, you’re giving yourself a much better chance of avoiding injuries and avoiding getting discouraged. You’re not trying to break any world records, but by sticking to it you’ll soon get to something you’re proud to tell people about..and most importantly, proud of yourself.

Walk/Run Your Way Into Becoming a Runner

woman and mother jogging with baby

After you’ve started getting active by taking regular, long walks for a few weeks, you’ll not only be ready to start your running training, but possibly even ready to do your first 5k.

Couch to 5K: If you’re not feeling ready for an actual race just yet, you can start slowly by getting into an easy running training program. Once you feel good walking for an hour, one great option is to try the popular Couch to 5k program.

This is a time-tested, slow and steady way for new runners to train for a 5K in just 8 weeks, with 3 sessions per week. The program mixes running and walking, progressively increasing the amount of time walking each week until eventually you are running the complete 3 miles at a reasonable pace!

Here is a great resource to take a look at the Couch to 5k training program here. There are also plenty of smart device apps that can help. You can read about several popular ones here. An even better way to stay motivated is to join a beginner running group that follows the program. You can find one by looking online at websites for all of your local running stores, or try a group website like Meetup.com, here.

Use Race Walking Breaks: If your doctor feels you are in good enough shape and you don’t want to follow an extended program before trying your first 5K, you can still get a good time in the race by incorporating walking. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone in doing this!

To use walk/run intervals, you still try to pace yourself with the crowd to begin, but will slow to a walk when you feel you need to. You should still do some training using this method, so try different walk/run splits that work best to be able to complete the full 5K. A good place to start is to try walking one minute out of every four or five minutes. Read more on this method here at Runner’s World.

Tips for Your First 5k

So, you’re ready to run! Here are some things to keep in mind before planning your big day.

Register for a Race: Having an event to look forward to that you’ve reserved your spot and paid for will give you plenty of incentive to train. You’ll probably be surprised just how many races they are to choose from. Plus, these days there are fun events like Color Runs, Zombie Runs and more to make the event even more enjoyable (possibly taking your mind off the running part, even). It doesn’t matter which one you do, just flip the calendar forward and commit! Active.com is a good resource to begin looking at various beginner races near you.

Cross-training is Important: Most beginner training programs are scheduled with 3 runs/walks each week. It’s also important to keep moving in between training day to strengthen your joints and continue to build endurance. Almost anything (aside from running) is good. Try the machines at the gym, take a bike ride, life weights, or swim. Even if you just do short walks on your non-training days, that will help too!

Warm Up and Stretch It Out: Most doctors recommend stretching before and after exercise, which is especially important for new runners to help avoid injury. A 5-10 minute warmup before a run will help loosen everything up. Quads, hamstrings and calf stretches are just a few of the important ones, however. There are many great resources online to find detailed instructions to ensure safe, effective stretching. Read more Essential Stretches for Runners at healthline.com.

Eat a Smaller Meal 2-3 Hours Before the Race: To avoid side stitches and fully digest your food, try a small meal with plenty of time before the race. Don’t skimp too much. If you still feel hungry, try a healthy snack like nuts, raisins or half a banana if racetime is getting close.

woman drinking and hydrating from water bottle

Watch the Water: While it’s important to hydrate before a race, you’ll want to not be guzzling water within 45 minutes of the race start time. If your race offers water during the race, be sure not to chug it and only drink as much as your thirst level dictates. In fact, if you hydrate well enough the night and morning before, studies have shown that drinking water during shorter 5K or 10K races (under 1 hour) does no enhance performance, but may slow you down.

Pace Yourself: During training, you can play around with a pace that works best for you, but generally, the best idea is to walk/run the first few minutes while the crowd is still probably thick, and then settle into your sustainable pace until you hit the 2-mile marker. In the last mile, gradually push yourself harder and then finish the last 100-200 yards as fast as you can. Don’t worry if it takes you 35 or 45 minutes to finish…you’ll have plenty of people who have the same pace more than likely!

Have Fun: For your first 5K, go in with no expectations on how fast to finish. Run at a pace that’s comfortable for you and that you feel confident you can finish the race. Don’t worry if you end up walking some or even a lot of the race. It’s (hopefully) the first of many and a huge milestone on your way towards a healthier lifestyle!

 

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