You did it! You’ve taken the plunge and signed up for your first 5K race—now what? It’s natural to be nervous or anxious, but there are plenty of things you can do to prepare for your first 5K so that you are successful and have a good experience.
First, before registering for any race, make sure you choose one that is a few months away. You will want plenty of time to train and build up your endurance before race day even if you’re already super fit or are a beginning runner. Next, invest in a good pair of running shoes. Visit a store that specializes in running shoes, where employees (usually runners themselves) are trained in how to find the right fit for your feet and stride. You’ll also want the right running gear such as socks, moisture-wicking shirts, shorts or tights, and (for women) a good sports bra.
Once you’ve got the proper running gear, you’ll need a training plan. There are numerous 5K training plans available online, with the most popular plan being the Couch to 5K, a 9-week running program for beginners. Couch to 5K also offers an app that you can download to your Smartphone that will help you train by timing intervals and giving you signals for walking/running.
Most 5K training programs suggest a variation of the number of running days per week and alternating between running and walking to build up your endurance. For example, one plan may suggest running three days per week doing a run-walk combo.
During training, you should focus on building endurance rather than speed. Speed is something that will come with more time and experience. Using a stopwatch or a timer function on your phone to mark your intervals during the training period can also be helpful. On days you aren’t running, you may want to add in some strength training or cross-training, but be sure to always have two full days of rest per week while you’re training for your 5K.
Race day tips
Congratulations! You have completed your training, and race day is here! You’re probably feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves as you get ready to head to the race.
• Don’t run too hard or far the day before the race. Some runners like to rest the day before a race, while others claim a short 20-minute run loosens them up and gets them ready. Whatever you do, just keep it short and easy.
• Don’t carb-load the night before. You really only need those extra carbs and calories when running longer distances or marathons, not a 5K.
• Pick up your race packet early if possible. Many races offer a time the day before to pick up your race packet, which will contain your race number and often a t-shirt and other goodies.
• Get your race outfit and shoes ready the night before. Check the weather so you’ll know how to dress, and lay everything out the night before so you aren’t rushed the morning of the race. You probably don’t want to wear the new race t-shirt yet as they’re usually cotton and can cause chafing and don’t wick away sweat.
• Get a good night’s sleep.
• Eat a healthy breakfast. Eat a snack or light meal at least one hour before the race. Choose foods high in carbs and lower in fat, fiber, and protein.
• Get to the race early. Give yourself plenty of time to find a parking spot, use the restroom, and check your bag if needed.
• Warm up. Be sure to stretch and then about 15 minutes before the start, slow jog for 5-10 minutes, then walk briskly to the starting line.
• Don’t start too fast. Start at a good pace so you don’t tire yourself out too quickly.
• Use the water stops to rehydrate as you run the course.
Congratulate yourself once you’ve crossed the finish line no matter what your time is! Running a 5K is a huge accomplishment. Now you’re ready to sign up for your next race!