Q+A: Getting Started With Your Very First 5K

Someone I know is looking to get into her very first 5K. As a matter of fact, a number of people I know are looking to get into their very first 5K! (Something’s in the air for sure…) So, in an effort to help get them across the finish line, I wanted to put together a blog post to help them get started. I’m still in the process of getting my ACE Personal Trainer certification so I advise you to customize this plan for yourself. These are the things I found helpful for me.

Tips to get started

1. Congratulations on making the decision to do it! 5Ks are really fun because they are very manageable distances to train and race.

2. Get the garb. If you’re going to make this stick, you might as well spend (just a little bit of) money to keep you interested in your pursuit. A few things I recommend to get started:

  • A decent pair of running shoes. I recommend Rykas for women if you are starting out. They are super comfortable and very affordable.
  • Some technical tees or tank tops. Get something that suits your style. If you want something bright and flashy, I say go for it!
  • Invest in some running socks. Check out the selection at Target. They will keep your feet drier than cotton socks and will help protect against blisters.
  • Sunscreen is a great investment if you plan on running during the morning hours or during the daytime.
  • Get some protein powder (for pre/post run recovery). I love Muscle Milk’s dark chocolate! Very yummy.

3. Set aside the time. Depending on how fast you hustle, you may be able to complete each workout in half an hour or forty five minutes. No worries about speed at this point….but give yourself plenty of cushion in your schedule. I always find that it takes an hour to convince myself to go run, actually run a few miles, come back to shower and change. Make sure you slot this YOU time in your schedule and keep it non-negotiable. (Hey, your goals are non-negotiable!)

4. Push yourself, but don’t push too hard. Especially if you’ve been sedentary up until now, don’t overload your schedule with training. You’ll get tired, sore, or worse — injured or burned out. Training is about recovery as much as it is about exercising. It is in the recovery that your muscles repair themselves and get even stronger, as to prepare for the next time your body overloads itself. Give yourself enough time to recover before pushing too hard the next time.

5. Reward your accomplishments. Racing the 5K is a pretty sweet reward (and so is the finisher’s medal or beer, depending on your race), but make sure to give yourself little treats along the way. Did you just stick to your training plan this week? Treat yourself to a glass of wine or some new running accessories. Did you PR (short for ‘beat your personal record’) on your long run of the week? Get some froyo. Reward yourself and actually follow through. You deserve it.

Your Training Plan

As for recommending a training plan…they are usually very specific to the person and their fitness level. However, here is one that I’ve assembled for sedentary first timers — meaning, they’ve never actually put in any significant and/or regular miles. It’s a loose guideline but it’s meant to be customized to your fitness level and schedule. Also, these are things I’ve found that worked for me, so I’m hoping they will work for you too.

1. Set aside 3-4 days a week to train to start. Give yourself a day in between each run to give yourself time to recover.

Day One: Stretch + Run short + Stretch (5K goal = 2 miles)
Day Two: Stretch + Run long + Stretch. (5K goal = 4.5 miles)
Day Three: Stretch + Run fast + Stretch. (5K goal = pacing)
Day Four: Optional – Stretch + Run for 30 minutes + Stretch. (5K goal = pacing)

2. A word on pacing: running isn’t about being out of breath all of the time. It’s about knowing when to push harder and when to back off. A good method to start is walk one mile, run one mile. That gives you enough distance to mentally and physically prepare (warm up) before you start running. Running for one mile at your best effort (even if you can’t make it the full mile) will help you get your lungs and muscles adjusted to the effort. Walk to recover and then repeat. If the one/one mile strategy is too difficult, try one/one blocks (assuming you are running city streets). I did this when I first started because the distances are very predictable — I would one run block, cross the road safely, and then walk the next, and then repeat. The start/stop method can be annoying for people who like to keep the momentum going, but for a 5K race (which is a really fast race) this method will help you strengthen your fine twitch muscles (required for sprinting, dashing, quick turns, and the like).

3. Breathe! It’s important to breathe properly while running and this can be the hardest part for your body to learn. When I first started running it felt like my chest was stabbing me in the lungs…not very fun! The reason why you may also feel this way is because of the lack of oxygen exchange in your diaphragm due to improper breathing. As you run, keep a consistent rhythm — breathe in for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds. The longer the breath the easier it is to go the distance. The shorter the breath, the more energy you burn (for breathing, not for running!). You may want to exercise this skill during your short run or your optional 30-minute run before implementing it on a long run or fast run.

4. After each workout, drink 6-8oz of your protein shake. Do this within the first 30 minutes of finishing. It is during this time that your muscles need the additional protein to begin the repair process! (It will also keep you full until your next meal…an added bonus!)

5. Watch what you eat. Nutrition is key. You want to fuel your muscles with whole, healthy foods. Exercise helps accelerate waste removal (read: DETOX) so as you start shedding the pounds and crap you’ve been loading into your body, begin replenishing it with the great food you deserve. Your body is a temple so treat it that way: only offer it foods that would be fitting for a god (or goddess!).

6. Cross training is a good idea, but obviously can be taxing on your schedule. Fit it in if you can. I recommend yoga since it will help you stretch out any tension in your legs and back. Make sure to stretch to your comfort zone…don’t overdo it and try to mimic someone who has been training in yoga for years and may have flexibility that you lack.

7. Track your progress. Use an app like RunKeeper to log your runs. You can use the phone or web app to do this. The data will help you make decisions about routes and speeds that work best for you.

Good Stretching Technique

So there is tons of advice on how to stretch and when to stretch. From my personal experience, it is best to stretch both pre and post workout. When stretching before a workout, don’t overdo it or you will end up pulling something. The point of pre-run stretches is to prevent injury, increase your flexibility, and loosen up your muscles before taxing them on a run. It is best to hold these stretches for 10 seconds max to give you additional range of motion and to warm up the muscles.

Dedicate post-run stretches for deeper work. This is where you go beyond your initial 10 second hold. Do a series of two to three  10-20 second holds to help loosen the muscles and work out any tension. Again, your post-run stretches should be deeper than your pre-run stretches.

The video is a bit long but it’s pretty comprehensive. Feel free to skip to just the stretching portions of the video.

Final Words

And, for those beginners who feel intimidated by the distance, or perhaps reluctant because of the road they have ahead of them, here’s a nice autobiographical video to check out. It’s by fellow runner-blogger Ben Does Life.