For someone who’s never run before, tackling 3.1 miles in one shot may seem daunting. But with the right preparation and focus, getting from the start of your first 5K to the finish intact is definitely achievable. What follows are five suggestions to consider as you lace up your shoes and hit the roads and trails:
Create a simple routine and stay disciplined
The web is full of 5K training plans. Which one is the best? If this is your first 5K and all you want to do is finish it, then don’t concern yourself too much about finding that perfect plan. Instead, settle into a routine and stick with it. Olympian-turned-coach Alan Culpepper advises that you understand how many days a week you can fully commit to as well as the right time of day you can dedicate to running.
“In the end, consistency is going to be your biggest asset in terms of seeing a marked improvement,” he says.
If you’ve never run over 3 miles before, you need to give your body time to adapt accordingly. “You definitely don’t want to feel rushed,” says Culpepper, who advises runners to plan for 8-12 weeks of training before the race. “You want the race to be far enough way so you can prepare for it, but not too far away where you will lose interest.” Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Though it may seem counterintuitive, including walking as part of your training is something your body will need. Walking is a safe, low-impact way to strengthen the tendons and ligaments in your feet and legs. It also burns calories, which may help you shed some pounds.
Culpepper suggests the right way to approach walking is to include run/walks as part of your training. Do these sessions 2 to 3 days at the beginning and try to work up to five days a week. An example of one session is to warm up with 10 minutes of walking, then do 5 minutes of running with 1 minute of walking, then 4 minutes of running with 1 minute of walking then 3 minutes of walking and a 1-minute walk, ending with 2 minutes of running with a 10-minute walk for a cool down. You can also simply do a brisk walk for 25-30 minutes on days when you need to recovery from a harder effort. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Wear the right shoes
Someone who hasn’t run before should definitely invest the time to find the right footwear. Do you pronate? What is your arch shape? What type of stride do you have? Many running stores offer free consultations, in which an expert will look at your feet, and some even allow you to run on a treadmill to determine the best shoe for you.
“As you progress more and more, you have more flexibility on what you can get away with,” Culpepper says of footwear. “But if you are brand new to it, you have to be really careful and not pick the shoe that looks the best or is trendy, but what’s the best for you to stay healthy.”
Coach Brad Hudson of the Marathon Performance Training Group even goes as far as suggesting that aspiring runners get their feet and stride looked at before starting their training. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Inject some speed
All elite runners do workouts at or slightly faster than their goal race pace, and so should you. However, you don’t necessarily need to buy a fancy heartrate monitor or GPS watch to complete these. Coach Culpepper recommends 1-3-minute “pushes” at your goal race pace with 1 minute of walking for a break between these pushes.
“These stress the aerobic system,” he says. “You want to get your muscle adaptation where it can improve.” Hudson recommends doing Fartleks of 1-minute accelerations with one minute of rest. Trying to run some exact pace is not as important during the accelerations as simply increasing your heartbeat. A good rule of thumb for these is to run them so that you cannot carry on a conversation with a training partner. Photo: www.shutterstock.com
Work up to being able to run close to 3.1 miles before race day
If you haven’t covered the distance you hope to race in training, how can you expect to make it on race day? As you plan out your training, try to work up gradually to being able to do one long run of at least 5 miles without stopping.
“The 5K is not like the marathon,” Culpepper says. “The distance is reasonable and you should be able to run it before your race.” Coach Hudson suggests that runners aim to run the full distance in training, but if their goal is to just finish their first 5K, then it’s not imperative. “At least get 2 miles in 2-3 weeks out from the race,” he says. Photo: www.shutterstock.com