This story is part of an ongoing series aimed at new runners.
Picking up the sport of running can seem overwhelming when you’re a newbie—everyone is boasting about LSD (long, slow distance) runs and speedy track workouts, using lingo that’s lost on a non-runner. Every person who posts miles online started where you are right now: not knowing where to start. And every person who has entered double-digit runs with ease never thought they would get there, doubting themselves like you may be doing as you read.
Start with the basics: have a goal, and a perfect beginner goal is a 5K race. But not just any race—one that fits perfectly in your calendar, has just the right amount of pizzaz and checks all the necessary boxes to make for a near-perfect race-day experience. According to our readers, nearly 30 percent of runners consider location over anything else, while 22 percent go for the swag and medal. The rest—distance, registration fee, weather, terrain—trails not too far behind. Here’s our breakdown of the top things to debate before hitting “register.”
If you plan to travel for your first race, don't forget to consider hotel/travel costs, as well as last-minute fueling purchases when you forget your favorite chews at home. Also, in this writer's opinion, a first race is best to do close to home. Nerves will already be high without the added travel stresses—plus, a hometown race is the best way to discover new parts of your backyard! Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Most every event dishes out medals and T-shirts to its participants. If bragging rights are a must, check out past year's photos and make sure the T you're dreaming about matches the one on the website. And of course, make sure the medal is worth the preparation!
Training for a 5K looks much different from a half marathon training plan. While some people are able to pound out 13.1 miles on a day's notice, this is not ideal for any runner, beginner or pro. Evaluate your own fitness goals and choose a distance that works with your body and desires—and remember that a strategically placed 10K can serve as a training run for a marathon end goal. If you've never laced up a pair of running shoes before, this writer suggests a 5K to kick start your running career! Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Prices fluctuate based on a multitude of factors, including the three listed above. While running can be a recreational sport, the price tag on most long-distance races can creep into the triple digits quickly. Key moves for the best bang for your buck are to register early to avoid price increases and take advantage of all the event offers: expo, discount codes, training tips and final information. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Weather and time of year
The elements are hardly predictable, but if you don't want cold, don't do a winter race. If you want to avoid the stifling heat, avoid summer events in notoriously steamy regions. Be extra conscientious of weather cycles for longer distances; if a marathon is your finish line, research some races happening in the cooler fall months. For shorter distances like the 5K, there's dozens of these babies year-round in major cities everywhere. Start with that and shelve the big 26.2-miler for a later time. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
This means anything from road versus trail, hills versus flat, straight versus twist and turns. Every runner is different—some thrive on hilly courses, while others prefer pancake flat jaunts. Go for a few runs before registering and see what strikes your fancy. This writer also recommends getting a few road races under your fuel belt before tackling a rigorous trail run; while they are great for many reasons, trails dish out several things that roads do not. A flat 5K on the roads is your best bet for a first race. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
You may be a running newbie, but you still have may have that competitive edge. Don't be afraid to check out last year's results on the event website and see what's attainable for you on the age-group level; many races dish out awards to the top-3 in each group. A mentor or coach (discussed further in this series) can work with you to set realistic goals without overextending yourself and your legs. Photo: www.shutterstock.com