9 Tips to Prepare for Your First 5K Race

9 Tips to Prepare for Your First 5K Race

If you’re new to walking or jogging, doing your first 5K race can seem daunting. Keep in mind that a 5K is only 3.1 miles. Most can complete it in under an hour. With a little preparation and a positive mindset, it is something that can be both doable and even fun.

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Making a decision

So, I’ve decided to do something. Something I never thought in a million years I would ever do.

It all started with an ad on Facebook for The Great Pumpkin Run. Due to a standstill in my weight loss efforts, I clicked on the ad to see that it was for a 5K, and one of the runs was being hosted in my city. Could this be the thing to kick my ass into gear and up my workout routine? I had four months to train, figuring it would be plenty of time to go from walking to running.

Now, I have always been an avid walker. In fact, my first 5K race, I walked the entire thing. Most days, I get between 10,000 and 15,000 steps. My body is used to walking, though. On the flip side, I have always disliked running. Like, really disliked running. Usually, after a few minutes, I think, this sucks, and start to walk again. If I was going to do this, I was going to have to break out of my comfort zone. I was determined to train to a point where I could jog the entire thing with a goal of 35 minutes in mind.

The training begins

I once heard somebody say that without any health impairments when working out, your mind will give out much faster than your body will.

The first day I trained, I kept this going through my mind the entire time. I pushed myself to jog the length of one song, then walk the length of one song. I did this walk-jog pattern until I finished 3.1 miles. My total time was 38:38. Exhausted and sweaty, I was pleased and proud of this time. It also proved the saying to be very true. It made me realize that in the past, I never pushed harder because I simply didn’t want to, not because I couldn’t. Now that I proved I could, I wanted to see how much more I could do.

Ever since that first jog, I have been training twice a week to start, and every time I have pushed myself harder. The next time, I jogged 20 minutes before stopping to walk, then 24 minutes the next, then 26 the next. Then, at the start of the third week, I surprised even myself by jogging the entire 3.1 miles without any walking breaks.

With some training, almost anybody can prepare themselves to partake in their first 5K race. Here are some tips to get ready for the big day and make it an enjoyable experience:

1. Go at a pace that is comfortable for you

Only you know what this feels like. Start off by training 2-3 days per week to avoid burnout and to give your body time to recover in between training days. If you already have a decent level of cardio fitness, you will likely be able to get there quicker. The important thing is that you are able to do a little bit more every week. No matter what your fitness level, there is something so empowering about seeing the changes week after week and knowing and seeing what you are capable of.

If you are brand new jogging, you may want to start with jogging 30 seconds and walking 2 minutes, alternating between the two. Every week, increase your jogging intervals and decrease the walking intervals. Before you know it, you will be jogging more than walking. For someone new to jogging or longer walks, a good rule of thumb is to give it 8-12 weeks to work up to jogging the entire 3.1 miles straight. If it takes you less time, great. If it takes you longer, that’s okay too. Everybody is different. If you are new to fitness, maybe you want to work up to walking the entire thing. Just getting out there, doing it, and crossing the finish line will feel great!

2. Don’t wear new shoes for your first 5K (or any 5K)

New running shoes for 5K

Seriously, just don’t! Unless you want blisters rubbed onto your heels, ankles, and toes, wear a pair of shoes that have been broken in. I am the first one to admit that getting a new pair of walking/jogging shoes is exciting. I get it. You want to show off and put to good use your new (cute) kicks. After all, they come in so many colors and styles. Don’t make the rookie mistake, though, of wearing them fresh from the box then expecting to walk or run comfortably. They need time to breathe, and the material needs to stretch and conform to your foot. Wear and use those new shoes for at least a week or two before the 5K. Your feet will thank you!

If you are in the market for new shoes, two of my favorite brands for walking/running shoes are New Balance and Sketchers. You can’t go wrong with either. They are extremely comfortable and are available in a variety of price points. I usually try to not spend more than about $50-$60 on a pair of new shoes and have never been disappointed.

3. Have your favorite and most upbeat music ready to go

phone with earphones for music during 5K

Nothing keeps you motivated and pumped like good music. Yes, music will most likely be playing along the 5K race course, but having your music can make all the difference. I know for me, listening to my favorite songs and bands can mean the difference between jogging the entire thing with (almost) ease, or feeling as if those 3.1 miles are never going to end. Invest in an inexpensive pair of earbuds or headphones and let the music keep you going.

I just purchased these awesome Tozo Earbuds for $49.99. The sound is great, they stay in your ear, and they were super easy to set up. It took me less than a minute to connect them to my phone. Plus, since they are wireless, you won’t have to worry about accidentally ripping them out of your ear with a cord.

4. Don’t be afraid to do your first 5K race alone

At first, I tried to recruit a friend or two to run the 5K with me. After a couple flat out said no, and one backed out because it was a larger race than she thought, I decided to do it anyway. And you know what? Once I got past the slight anxiety of doing it by myself, I actually started to look forward to it. If you have a group, that’s great! But doing the 5K alone means that you don’t have to keep up with or slow down for somebody else. You can go at your own pace, whether that means walking, jogging, or a mix of both. Sure, I can jog the entire thing on a treadmill, but once I am out on the unknown course, I may be taking a few walking breaks. Which brings me to my next tip…

5. Visit the course ahead of time

If it is feasible, visit the course you will be 5K-ing in advance. Casually stroll the route you will be taking and get a feel for the kinds of hills, dips, curves, and different ground you may be trekking on. Some of it may be sidewalk, pavement, or even pebbled path or grassy area. Being prepared and knowing what you will be conquering come race day can set your mind at ease. There will be no surprises coming around the corner.

6. Get a good night’s sleep and don’t eat a heavy meal on race morning

Alarm clock in middle of night

The day before, try to take it easy. Maybe go for a light walk or jog, but for the most part, save your energy. Go to bed earlier than normal. I know you will likely be having some nerves the night before, but try to get a good nights rest so that you wake up ready to give the 5K race your all.

To avoid the dreaded side cramps, don’t eat a heavy meal the morning of your race. Have something small and save the bigger meal for after you cross the finish line. It is also recommended not to guzzle down a bunch of water before the race. A little bit is fine and sips along the course is recommended. Drink enough to stay hydrated and to keep from passing out, but not so much that you feel ill and crampy.

7. Get to the 5K race early

Be prepared to get to the 5K race somewhere between 60-90 minutes ahead of time. There are several reasons for this. You want to be sure you know where to park, as parking can sometimes be a short walk from where the race will take place. The panic if trying to find parking, knowing the race will start in less than 10 minutes is one way to throw off your entire race.

Unless you pick up your race day packet in advance, this will also be your chance to get your packet, which will include your race day bib, t-shirt, and any other goodies that they may give out. Also, by getting there early, there will be adequate time for any race-day jitters to subside before that gunshot sounds.

8. Avoid being at the start of the pack

For many of the smaller 5K’s, everybody kind of just bunches together and waits for the start of the race. This is where staying towards the middle or back will come in handy. Faster runners gravitate towards the front so they can just take off and go. Walkers and joggers are then able to go at their own comfortable pace without worrying about getting knocked down.

For many of the larger 5K’s, there are waves. There are two ways I have seen this be done. The first is based on the time you think it will take you to finish. You choose this when you sign up, however, it can be changed at any time as you train, and your timing gets better. The second way goes by if you plan on walking, jogging, or running. This way, the fastest people are automatically first to go. For one of the 5K’s I signed up for, there are somewhere around 12-15 waves based on speed.

9. Just Have fun

No matter what your pace, just go and have fun! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. The energy is infectious, and if you smile, you will automatically have more fun by default. Go into it with the goal of finishing, and everything else will fall into place.

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