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How To Prepare For Your First 5k (Expert Tips)

We spoke to a range of fitness and running experts to discover their top tips to help you prepare for your first 5k race

How To Prepare For Your First 5k
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

So, you’re preparing for your first 5k race.

The 5k distance is one of the most popular races in running and it is much-loved amongst amateur and professional athletes alike.

If you’ve never competed in a 5k race before, there are some things to bear in mind that can help you prepare for the big day.

We asked a select group of fitness and running experts for their top tips and advice when it comes to preparing for your first 5k race.

Here is what they said.

Stick To Your Routine In The Lead-Up To The Race

Peter Keane, Physiotherapist at Physio Motion 3D

In the week leading up to your race, don’t change your routine.

This isn’t the time to be experimenting with new food, shoes, drinks or anything else.

Also, it’s only a 5k! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to load up on carbohydrates, you’re very unlikely to burn off that much fuel.

It’s important to eat well-balanced meals that you’ve been enjoying all along.

On Race Day: Again, don’t make the easy mistake of gulping down lots of water in order to stay hydrated during the race. It’s all about sipping. Sip if it’s hot or your mouth is dry – you’ll often see athletes take a mouthful and then rinse and spit. This is because they’ve stayed hydrated in the days before the race and are ready to go.

In terms of food, make sure you’re not eating anything within two hours of the race. A good pre-race meal that’s loaded with carbs, protein and some fats would be some oatmeal and berries or a bagel with peanut butter.

When it comes to the race itself, remember to keep yourself calm. Oftentimes, due to the excitement and adrenaline that comes with your first race, you’ll take off far quicker than usual and run the risk of burning out far too early.

Begin and take the first kilometre about 10 to20 per cent slower than you usually would (chances are, this will actually be your normal pace) and this will allow you to finish strong.

Keep your pace slow, steady and even – so you can blast home on that final stretch.

Post-Race: Remember to walk around for at least 10 minutes afterwards. This will your body adequate time to wind down and get your heart rate back to a normal resting state. Do your stretches and refuel.

Running Man Sun

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Give Yourself Enough Time To Prepare For The Race

Amie Dworecki, Running Coach at Running With Life

One thing I would suggest is that people interested in running a 5k give themselves ample time to prepare. This is usually eight to 12 weeks beforehand for someone who has never run before.

The body takes time to adapt, and running is a high-impact sport, so given enough time, the process can go much more smoothly, and with less soreness and reduced chance of injury.

I also suggest that people start out with walking, if they are not regularly doing so. Even five minutes of walking building up a few minutes each time, until they are regularly walking 30+ minutes, three to four times a week.

Then, they can start adding in run intervals. There are many couch to 5k apps and programs available online, with the advantages that they are free and widely available.

However, in many cases it can be a you get what you pay for, and those can be written by anyone, and some have jumps in intensity or frequency that are not appropriate for beginners.

Couple Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

I find it is best to work with a program led by a certified coach if it is available. The advantages are that the program is designed by someone who knows what they are doing, you have someone to ask advice if things are not going well, and you have a group to help support you.

Beginning a running program to the 5k level is as much a mental and lifestyle change, as it is a physical habit. Meeting with a group helps greatly with accountability and that can be key when getting your workouts done. Even an online or virtual group will give this and can be better than trying to go it alone.

I also have 5k training programs on trails. Often the surface of a trail (depending on the area) is much softer than concrete, and for beginners who are not used to the hard pounding on their joints, and/or who may have weight to lose, trails can offer a gentler surface on which to train.

This is also a popular choice for older participants who may not want the jostling of concrete.

If a group is not available, make sure the program is gradual, without sudden sharp increases in running time. And, don’t be afraid to repeat a week if that is what you need to do. This is about reaching the end goal in a way that is successful, versus trying to follow a rigid program that may not be right for the runner.

For an absolute beginner, I have found that starting with run intervals of 30 seconds to one minute is best.

Make sure to include a proper warm-up and cool-down before and after. It doesn’t have to be anything complex. It can be five to 10 minutes of walking with simple stretches that address any areas of personal tightness a person may be experiencing.

On the day of the race, perform the same warm-up and cool-down routine that was done before workouts. Show up with plenty of time to park your car, become oriented with the starting line, and take a bathroom break if needed (the lines are often long!).

I usually suggest running the first race at a manageable pace with the goal being to complete the distance feeling good.

The first race is always a PR (personal record). There will be other races in which speed can be added in as an extra.

Woman Running in Park

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Find A Good Place For Your Training And Get The Right Equipment

Ryan Hill, Physical Therapist and Co-founder of The Stride

Running your first 5k is a great goal. It is a race that you can push yourself in, but it’s also a distance for everyone if you put in the effort.

Some of the first things to consider are your goals, how often you can run to train, your fitness level to start, where you plan to train, and if you have the necessary equipment.

When it comes to goals, have one! Maybe the goal is to lose weight, get more fit, or push yourself physically.

Regardless, having the 5k in the calendar gives you a concrete reason to get up and go for that run. It will keep you motivated and engaged in the process.

If your goal is losing weight, then being consistent with running OR walking is the key.

Try to create a habit where it feels like physical activity is a natural part of the day. It can take a few weeks to develop a habit, so having it worked into a 5k training plan is a great way to stay on task.

If your goal is to get more fit or challenge yourself physically, then being prepared to throw in a couple of days of speed work for some variety can be beneficial. Finishing those hard runs can give a great sense of achievement.

Have a good understanding of the time commitment. Initial training for a 5K can range from an eight to 10 week program and generally consists of building up to over 10 to 15 miles a week.

Plan to set aside three to four days of jogging per week week and expect to spend thirty minutes to an hour being active on those days.

Typically, we suggest doing your running early in the morning. Morning races are the norm, so it helps to train during the time of day you will perform. The other advantage of starting early is that it gets the work out of the way before all the other life factors arise. It also helps kickstart your metabolism and can help you feel more energized throughout the day.

In terms of fitness level, we recommend that you be able to jog for 10 consecutive minutes before starting a 5k training program.

If you aren’t able to jog for 10 minutes, that’s perfectly fine! Sign up for the race anyways but spend a couple of extra weeks ahead of time doing a jog/walk interval program.

Start with a two-minute jog and three-minute walk x 4. This will be 20 minutes of activity. As it gets easier, increase the amount of time you’re jogging and decrease the time walking.

Man Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

The next thing to consider is where you are going to train. Try to find a place that is safe and away from traffic. Parks, groomed trails, tracks, etc., are all good possibilities.

Find a couple of routes of different distances so that you can have some variety of scenery. You can also train on a treadmill. The benefit is that it’s indoors and you don’t have to worry about the weather. The downside is that it is very repetitive and can be harder on the ankles.

Finally, have the right equipment. There is no perfect shoe. Your foot is unique to you, so don’t expect the shoe someone else ran in to be what you need.

Go to a good running shoe store and try out multiple pairs of running shoes. Pull out the insole and put your foot on it. Make sure your foot isn’t wider than the insole. If it is, then that shoe is too narrow for your foot.

When you lace up the shoe, you should be able to splay out your toes, and your heel should feel secure in the back of the shoe.

Ideally, the shoe store will allow you to run in the shoe to determine any “hot spots” that you didn’t recognize in the store. While not necessary, having a GPS watch to track your mileage and heart rate can be beneficial.

Finally, reach out to a physical therapist or trainer and get a simple screen performed. They will let you know what muscle groups and motions you should work on to help avoid an injury. One of the best ways to get out of the running is to get hurt on your first race.

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