A Newbie Runners Guide to a 5K

Newbie runners guide

Yesterday, I came a little closer to reaching my goal of running 14 races in 2014. I completed my 10th 5k of the year. Before now, I've run a couple of races here and there, but this is the first year that I've set a goal to be more consistent in both my training and racing.


I’d like to share with you a few things I've learned so far about setting goals to run a 5K. There are some rules I've set for myself that can help newbie runners.

About the 5K
Just in case you don’t yet know, a 5K is 3.1 miles. It is the most popular road racing distance in the US because it is achievable by anyone! I see every age and every shape and size. And I see every ability level – those who run the entire distance, those who walk the distance and some who do a little of both.

Finding YOUR 5K
It is probably not hard to find a 5K near you. I live near Charlotte NC, and yesterday alone there were at least 4 going on near me. To pick your first, find a date 2- 3 months in the future (to give yourself time to train) and go to a site such as Active.com. For your first race, pick those that say clearly Run/Walk. You want to be sure they will hold the run open long enough for you to complete it (most 5K’s are, but I’ve found one or two that specifically say that you must be faster than a 15-minute mile).

My personal favorites are the straight-forward 5K’s, especially if they are for a good cause. However, you may enjoy a “funner” theme race such as the Color Run – it is untimed, so that takes the pressure off of many running their first race, plus it is just a bunch of fun getting splashed with colored dye.
Beware, though, of smaller themed races, as there have been many reported to be scams. They take your money and then do not hold the race.

If you have never walked or run for fitness (meaning faster than a stroll), you should most definitely set your goal as walking the first 5K. No matter what your speed, you can use an app such as Couch to 5K that will gradually increase your distance each day toward to final goal of 3.1 miles. Use the intervals that normally say “run now” and just powerwalk at your ability through those times. Then walk normally during the “walk” breaks.

If you walk regularly, but haven’t run, run the Couch to 5K intervals at more of a jogging pace. Sprinting through them could lead to an injury that will stop you before you even get to the start line.


Before the Race
I recommend picking up your race packet (bib, t-shirt, chip) prior to race morning if you can. I have several times been rushed and they have run out of safety pins. Or I get an XL t-shirt when I need a medium (once, I didn't get a shirt at all because I was late). And if I’m at a race by myself, I have to carry my shirt in my hand during the run which is distracting to me.

Set out the clothes you will wear the night before the race. Attach the number to the FRONT of your shirt. Attach your timing chip to your shoe. Drink plenty of fluids the night before. Eat a lighter dinner (it’s 3 miles, not a marathon – you do not need to “carb up” with a heavy pasta meal). And then, try to get a good night’s sleep.

The Day of Your First 5K

Hopefully you have found the right water/fuel combination you need to get through the race. I have found that I cannot drink too much water the morning of and I cannot eat anything for fear of an upset stomach. I can’t drink coffee. My beverage of choice is usually a half of a Gatorade, which gives me a little carbohydrate and a little fluid.

Do try to get to the race early. Sometimes parking can be a challenge. You also want time to warm up a little and perhaps to meet a few new running friends.

When it is time to line up, do not line up near the front. Head toward the back of the pack so that the faster runners do not have to dodge you. I personally like to line up near the right side, since it is customary to pass on the left. Keep in mind that this may put you about 30 seconds behind in “gun” time, however your true time will be measured by the chip on your shoe.

During the race, just enjoy the experience. I have one rule – DON’T LOOK BACK, you aren't going that way. Don’t worry about who is in front of you or who is behind you. Just enjoy your own race. It doesn't matter if you are fast or slow. Be proud of yourself and what you are about to achieve. And smile when you cross the finish line – you’ve earned it.

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