A Beginner’s Guide to Running Your First 5K

Megan Calcium and Bone Health Leave a Comment

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5K is the most popular race distance in the US, which means, lucky for you, you’ll never be at a shortage of races to sign up for. However, most people don’t really know where to start when it comes to preparing to run and training for their first 5K. That’s where this training guide comes in.

If you’re thinking of running your first 5K, first of all, congratulations! You’re embarking on a journey that’ll introduce you to the most amazing and supportive community of people you’ll meet: runners! Pursuing this distance may seem pretty daunting at first, but it’s attainable and absolutely possible for most people to complete all 3.1 miles. Plus, when you cross that finish line of your first race, you’ll feel an unmatched sense of pride, and have one of the most memorable experiences that’ll make it worth all the hard work.

Running is Amazing for Your Body

Becoming a runner has incredible health benefits; keep reminding yourself this when you’re training for your 5K. Running can improve your overall physical health, help you to lose weight, improve your heart and lung health, and may help increase bone density. (And an increase in bone density can help to protect against diseases such as osteoporosis!)

In addition, running has always been a wonderful way to reduce stress and improve overall mental health through the release of endorphins. My running time is used to destress after a long day and give myself the much needed “me” time.

Pre-Training Preparation

Before you hit the pavement, there are a few things you should do to help make sure you’re in the right place mentally and physically, not to mention, you’ve got the right equipment to help you perform your best. First:

  • Consult a doctor: Before starting any new fitness regimen, including running, be sure to talk to a doctor about whether you are healthy enough to participate in a 5K training program based on your individual medical status. Always make sure it’s okay for you to be pursuing any endurance, and what you need to keep in mind while you’re training.
  • Lace up: The most important part of a runner’s wardrobe are the shoes. You can have all the fancy gear you want but when it comes down to it, your shoes are crucial. I recommend going to a local running store, and talking to experts to decide what shoes are best for your feet based on your level of pronation. Many stores offer gait analysis to help you decide what shoes are best for you. You can use the Runners World running store locator to find a place that can help.
  • Invest in some gear: You don’t need to buy everything in the store, but there are a few pieces of gear that might be worth your investment. Moisture-wicking pieces of running clothes (tops, bottoms, bra, socks) are really great for helping you feel comfortable on your run. And know this: you’ll never want to run in anything cotton. (Trust me, you don’t want to experience the discomfort of chafing. Eek!)
  • Accountability: Keeping yourself accountable is the only way you’ll push yourself to keep going. Schedule your runs and workouts by putting them on your calendar. Set phone alerts, put post-its on your mirror—whatever you need to do to get outside! Don’t just say, “Oh I’ll run sometime today.” Instead, set an exact time you’ll go for your run, lay out your clothes beforehand, and make it happen. Another thing that will help you keep yourself accountable is planning out your routes the night before. You can use apps such as Map My Run, Runkeeper, Google Pedometer, or a GPS watch to create your route. If you have an exact plan, you’re more likely follow through.
  • Be safe: Be sure you plan ahead for being safe on your run. When running outdoors, run against traffic if you’re on streets with no sidewalk and consider wearing reflective gear to help cars better see you at night. While I love running with headphones, be careful when doing this—you really need to be able to hear and be aware of your surroundings, especially when running after the sun goes down.
  • Running with friends: You may want to consider joining a running group with your local running store, a regional running organization/club, or just getting a group of friends and coworkers together each week or each day. Running in groups can be a great way to keep you motivated and accountable to your plan.
  • Eat healthy: You get out of your body what you put in. Running performance is impacted by ensuring you have a well-rounded diet comprised of carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables. Eating the “right” carbohydrates––such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, or bananas––is essential for fueling your body for the run.

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Big smile after finishing my first 5K in 2012. Since then, I’ve become a marathoner!

Tips for a Good Training Program

Once you’ve got the prep work done, you’re ready to start training!

Slow and Steady, Cross the Finish Line

The first thing you should get in your head is to take it slow and steady in the beginning. So many runners quit because they start out too fast or run too far before they’re ready. It won’t do you any favors, and I’d hate for you to quit before you’ve truly experienced how wonderful running can be. So don’t worry about speed or distance yet.

In fact, one of the first rules of running is to never increase speed and distance at the same time. That’s how injuries happen! (Trust me on this one. I have experience.) For a first-time runner and someone training for their very first 5K, focusing on crossing the finish line should be your number one goal. While training, concern yourself with completing the distance––not the speed in which you get there. Once you’ve ran your first 5K, then you can think about adding speed work and other types of training to run faster.

Listen to Your Body

Since this is your first race, you’ll want to pay close attention to your body and see how it responds to training. Do this even on your non-running days, paying extra attention to any problems like knee or back issues, or asthma.

Fuel your body as well. Eat healthy, get good sleep, and be consistent with cross-training and strength training workouts to help prevent injury. You may also want to grab yourself a foam roll; many runners, including myself, swear by this. It helps sooth those tired muscles during your recovery sessions.

Sample 5K Training Schedule

To help get you started, I created a 7-week 5K training plan for beginners based on my own experience, and referencing the Hal Higdon Novice 5K plan and the Mayo Clinic/Jeff Galloway Training plans.

While I’m not a personal trainer or running coach, I am trained as an occupational therapist and am an experienced distance runner and marathoner. You can use this training program after you’ve gone through all the above steps to prepare for your first 5K training (especially the part that says to consult a doctor).

Week

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

1

Crosstrain 20 min

1m run +stretch

30 min walk + strength

1m run

Rest or walk 20-30 min

1.5m run

Rest or walk

2

Crosstrain 20 min

1.25m run +stretch

30 min walk + strength

1.5m run

Rest or walk 20-30 min

1.75m run

Rest or walk

3

Crosstrain 25 min

1.75 m run +stretch

40 min walk + strength

2m run

Rest or walk 20-30 min

2m run

Rest or walk

4

Crosstrain 30 min

2.25m run +stretch

45-55 min walk + strength

1.75m run

Rest or walk 20-30 min

2.25m run

Rest or walk

5

Crosstrain 30 min

2.5m run +stretch

45-55 min walk + strength

2.25m run

Rest or walk 20-30 min

2.75m run

Rest or walk

6

Crosstrain 30 min

3m run +stretch

50-60 min walk + strength

2m run

Rest or walk 20-30 min

3m run

Rest or walk

7

2m run

30 min walk

3m run +stretch

Light 30 min walk

Rest/stretch

RACE DAY!

Rest

Note: you can shift your days around based on when you can or prefer to run vs. rest. Everyone’s schedules are different! Also note that cross-training can be aerobic exercise such as swimming, cycling, elliptical, HIIT, etc.

Remember, It’s Worth It

Training for your first 5K won’t be easy, but I’m telling you it’s worth it. When you’re training, imagine yourself crossing the finish line with your arms in the air! This can help you get through the tough runs. Expect bad days because there will be some, but there’ll be good ones as well!

The time will come where you’ll wake up and not feel like running, or your run may not go as planned or you have to cut it short, or you are sick and have to skip a few days to get healthy again. This is normal. No runner has a perfect day every single time they lace up their shoes.But those bad days will help you to appreciate the good ones, so use those days to fuel yourself for the next workout.

Good luck! And let us know if you’re planning to use this sample schedule or have any questions!

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Disclosure: Cal-EZ has compensated me for this post, but all opinions are my own and always will be my own. I use Cal-EZ daily not because I was asked to or have to, but because I love it. I am happy to be able to share it with you!