Want to run a race but don’t know where to start? Need a kick in the butt to prop up your sagging workout motivation? Training for your first 5-K can give you a reason to get out the door. The good news? If you can run for 10 minutes, you can run a 5-K five weeks from now. Chances are, no matter where you live, there’s a 5-K nearby soon. It’s the most popular race distance around. In the following guide you’ll find everything you need to know to get to the starting and finish lines feeling fit, healthy, and ready to run your best.
TIPS FOR 5-K SUCCESS: Race one to reboot your routine, rev up your fitness, and have a little fun
SIGN UP SOON: To find a race near you, call your local running store, or check out the racefinder. You’ll likely pay a small fee to enter, but consider that extra incentive to keep you accountable to your training.
GET ORGANIZED: Find a solid training plan, and follow it. Scout out some safe, traffic-free routes to run. Parks, bike paths, and tracks are better than high-traffic streets, and soft surfaces like grass and dirt are better than paved ones. To map out some routes near you, visit our route finder.
BUY THE RIGHT SHOES: Worn-out or ill-fitting shoes can lead to injury. If you’re not sure whether your running shoes are in shape for 5-K training, go to a specialty running store to get help finding the pair that offers the support and fit your feet need.
DON’T DO TOO MUCH TOO SOON: When you sign up for a race, it’s tempting to go out and run as much as you can, as fast as you can. But doing so can lead to injury. Follow the plan and listen to your body. If you’re sore or tired the day after a workout, rest or cut back.
REWARD YOURSELF ALONG THE WAY: When you hit milestones—like completing the training in the weeks leading up to your 5-K race, or running longer than you ever have before—give yourself a treat to stay motivated, such as a new pair of running socks or a 30-minute massage.
FIND A TRAINING PARTNER: Having a running date, with one person or a group, is a strong motivator when you’re training. Ask about groups at your local running store, or check with the Road Runners Club of America (rrca.org). An online community can also be effective. Relatedly, it’s also important to enlist the help and support of your family. A 5-K race goal is great, but it’s even better and more motivating when it’s shared.
STICK TO THE PLAN: Even if you have a good plan to follow, you still need to be diligent about following it. Resist the urge to pile miles on to the plan, even if you’re feeling great. Doing too much before your body is ready puts you at risk for getting hurt, and often you don’t know that you’re overdoing it until it’s too late. After you make it to the starting line, then you can add on mileage and intensity
SCHEDULE YOUR WORKOUTS: You won’t ever find time for your runs unless you make some time for them in your schedule. Plug your workouts into your phone, computer, daily appointment planner, on the front of your refrigerator, or treat them as unbreakable appointments that you can’t miss. Tell family and friends about your 5-K goal so that they can help keep you accountable during training.
DON’T GO OUT TOO FAST: The greatest challenge of getting through training and the race is finding the right pace that you can sustain and go the distance. Start out too fast and you’ll likely struggle to finish, and dread the next run. Start each run at a pace that feels very comfortable with the idea that you want to finish the distance feeling strong.
The Big Day: What to do in the days and hours before your 5-K to ensure a successful race
HOW MUCH SHOULD I RUN THE WEEK BEFORE THE RACE?
Do two or three easy runs of 20 to 30 minutes. Take one or two days off before race day.
SHOULD I EAT A BIG BOWL OF PASTA THE NIGHT BEFORE?
No, loading up on carbs or anything else isn’t necessary and can lead to “unloading” during the race. Eat regular portions of a healthy dinner.
SHOULD I WEAR THE RACE T-SHIRT TO THE RACE?
Unfortunately, most race shirts are made of cotton and become heavy as they absorb sweat, so save it for bragging rights after you cross the finish line.
ANY OTHER CLOTHING OR GEAR TIPS?
Just go with comfortable, well-fitting, technical running clothes that you’ve been training in.
SHOULD I WARM UP BEFORE THE RACE?
A proper warm-up will improve your performance. Do a five- to 10-minute very slow jog about 20 minutes before the start.
WHERE SHOULD I LINE UP?
Near the back of the crowd, where the atmosphere is relaxed. Start on a side so you can move over to take walk breaks if needed.
OKAY TO TALK TO OTHER RUNNERS?
Absolutely. At the starting line, tell others that this is your first race. Most will respond with stories of their first race and encourage you on yours.
SHOULD I RUN FAST AT THE START?
No. Even if the folks around you take off quickly—which they probably will—restrain yourself so you have energy to finish.
WHAT ABOUT FARTHER INTO THE RACE?
Do the first two miles at the speed of your long runs; if you use a run/walk method, use that in the race. Resist the temptation to run hard as soon as the starting gun goes off. Starting slow will help you finish strong, which increases the chance that you’ll race again.
WHAT IF IT RAINS?
The race will still go on. Wear a cap with a lid to keep the rain out of your face, and a garbage bag with holes cut for your head and arms that you can discard before the gun goes off.
ADVICE FOR THE END OF THE RACE?
Once the finish line is in sight, finish with spirit. Then pat yourself on the back. If there’s a post-race party, go ahead and partake. And stick around for the awards ceremony. Maybe you’ll win something!
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