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How to Prepare for Your First 5K

RunningSpring and summer tend to be 5K season. In some metropolitan areas, it seems there’s a 5K every weekend. The distance, which is equal to 3.1 miles, is probably the most popular for running races because it’s friendly to most individuals and can even be walked in a reasonable amount of time. As such, it can be a reasonable goal for your first running race—or your first running race in a while.

Whether you’re in it to compete, want to help raise money and awareness for a cause, or just think of it as a fun run, participating in a 5K requires training and preparation.

Make sure you’re healthy
Revving up your exercise regimen is always a good reason to visit your primary care physician for a physical. It’s also a great way to take advantage of your health insurance plan’s benefits. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance that qualifies as minimum essential coverage includes certain preventive health care services at no additional cost to you (e.g., blood pressure and cholesterol screenings). During your visit, your doctor will determine which preventive tests and screenings you need.

Getting a clean bill of health and addressing any potential issues early on can help make for a smooth, uninterrupted training cycle.

Check out your shoes
Aches and injuries can sideline you from training and even reaching your goal. One way to avoid this is by running in proper footwear. If you already have shoes, make sure they are running shoes—not cross-trainers, basketball or soccer shoes, or anything else designed for another sport—that fit your feet properly. Running-specific shoes are designed to provide support over distances and absorb repeated impact on your feet and joints.

Also be sure your shoes do not need to be replaced. Experts say you should replace running shoes between 300 and 500 miles.1 Look for signs of wear such thinning soles and be aware of any new stiffness and soreness following a workout.

If you don’t have shoes or need a new pair, visit a store that specializes in running shoes. The staff of such stores tend to be runners themselves. To help match you with shoes right for your personal goals and physical support needs, they will likely ask you questions about the kind of mileage you plan to put on and what kinds of surfaces you’ll be running on (e.g., grass, dirt trails, concrete) and will often measure and analyze your feet to see if you have issues such as high arches.

Choose a race
You can train for a 5K in just about two months.2 Look at your schedule to see what works for you, then see what’s coming up. Do an Internet search for 5Ks near your city, check websites for local running associations or event-registration organizations such as, ask your running friends what they know of, or stop by your local running store and ask if they are sponsoring any 5Ks or have the scoop on upcoming races—a good running store can be a tremendous wealth of information. You may also want to consult this online race finder from Runner’s World and Running Times magazines.

You’re likely to have a few options. Entry fees vary, depending on where you live, who is promoting the event, and whether or not a T-shirt (or other goodies) is included. Courses may be an out and back, loop, or laps. The setting could be almost anywhere—around a lake, through the woods, through the city. The race may be in support of disease-related research or awareness, to raise funds for a community organization, or simply a recreational event. Running a 5K involves both a time and financial commitment, so pick a race that sounds fun and has a a course you’ll enjoy.

Pick a training plan
There are a lot of options when it comes to 5K training plans. Which is right for you depends factors such as your level of fitness, whether or not you are new to running, and personal preference. Don’t just pick the shortest one. Pick the one that will work. Here are links to three popular 5K training schedules developed by trusted running experts:

These are just a few of the classic go-to sources. Your friends and family may have recommendations. You may just come up with your own. Whatever you choose, make sure it gradually builds. Taking on too much too soon can increase your risk of injury.

Take care of yourself
It’s important to practice self-care when you’re preparing for an athletic event, at any level. You may have to adjust your lifestyle all-around. Make sure to hydrate and nourish properly before, during and after training. Get enough rest, and listen to your body. Train during times of day and in places and conditions that are safe. Running with a buddy or club can be a great way to have company, support and safety in numbers. If you have pain or something feels “off,” see a doctor.

It is often helpful to keep a running log. Recording mileage and making notes about how you feel, nutrition and other details can help you track your progress and also determine when and if changes need to be made. The log can also inform when it’s time to get new shoes or, if you have an injury or other concern, the notes you keep may be helpful to your doctor. You can find running log templates online as well as in books and magazines. Otherwise, just keep a notebook or computer file to tracks your mileage and make notes about how you felt, nutrition and other details.

When race day arrives, know you’re ready. Take some deep breaths at the line. Shake off the nerves. When the gun fires, start running and have a good time.

1Fraioli, Mario. “Ask Mario: How Often Should I Replace My Running Shoes?” Sept. 25, 2014. Updated Sept. 29, 2014.
2Mayo Clinic Staff. “5K Run: 7-Week Training Schedule for Beginners.” April 27, 2014.

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Posted in: Fitness, Running

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