8 Tips for Training for Your First 5K

It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 60—running your first 5K can be a daunting task. The thought of running three miles is a pretty overwhelming concept for someone who’s never done it. If you’ve been wanting to check this one off your bucket list but haven’t yet found the nerve to commit, maybe now’s the time. With a little work, sweat, ambition and a few simple tips, you can be on your way to crossing the finish line of your first 5K.

1. Take it slow

Just because you’re planning on running your first 5K doesn’t mean you should start your training with running. It’s smart, to begin with walking for 20 minutes before gradually replacing some of the walkings with running until you’re running the entire time. For example, after you can comfortably walk briskly for at least 20 minutes, add one minute of running every four minutes, so that you’re running for a total of five minutes and walking for 15. Slowly add on to that one minute of running. Once you can run for 20 minutes straight, begin increasing your running time.

2. Know that walking is OK

Much of the intimidation that comes with running a 5K comes from the belief that you have to run the entire time. Nowhere is it written that you must run the whole race— anytime you feel like you’re done and can’t run another step, just drop back to a walk until you feel like you can run for a few more minutes. If the thought of running three miles seems impossible, just remember you can take a walk break anytime you need to.

3. Choose an appropriate training program

There are tons of training programs available online, many of which are designed by knowledgeable coaches and trainers. If you have no idea where, to begin with, your training, these types of programs are a great resource and will get you started in the right direction. Make sure, however, that you choose a program suitable to your current fitness level. As a beginner, if you see fartleks, tempo runs, hill repeats or interval training on a program, keep looking. Your main goal is to create a cardiovascular base and physically prepare your body to run for 30+ minutes straight. Once you’ve been running for a while, then you can start thinking about more intense and complex training that will make you a faster and more efficient runner.

4. Focus on finishing

Seasoned runners often concentrate on setting a new PR (personal record), but since you’ve never run a 5K before, you’ll set a new PR as soon as you pass the finish line. As a beginner, time and speed shouldn’t be your primary goal; instead, focus on finishing the race.

5. Don’t worry about the other racers

Aside from the distance of the race, many novice runners are worried about what others and/or spectators will think of them. Don’t. The other runners are more concerned with their own performance than what kind of shorts you’re wearing or what your running stride looks like. Road races are a safe place for runners to not only compete but also support and encourage each other, rather than judge. As for the spectators, just remember who’s standing on the sideline and who’s running the race—enough said.

6. Protect the tootsies

Before you get too crazy with your training, head down to your local sporting goods store and get fitted for running shoes. Running puts a ton of stress on your feet and joints; proper fitting shoes will reduce the wear and tear on your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Some people require specific shoes to correct imperfections in foot strike, which can lead to pain and injury later on.

7. Don’t run every day

Many people believe it’s necessary to run every day in order to get in shape for a race, but this tactic may actually work against you. Running every day is hard on your body and prevents adequate recovery between workouts. Sure, many professional runners log several miles daily but they’re accustomed to that kind of workload. As a beginner, running three days per week is sufficient, and will lower your risk of injury and burnout. If you feel the need to exercise more frequently, try cross-training with cycling, rowing, swimming, yoga, and strength training.

8. Get motivated

How many times have you said you were going to run a 5K and how many times have you backed out? A great way to hold yourself accountable is to register early for the race. Once you’ve paid the fees and have a specific date circled on the calendar, you’ll be more likely to stick to your training and finally run that race. If the thought of wasted race fees isn’t enough to drive you, run for a cause. Raising money for a charity through your running is a very effective motivator—it’s a lot harder to flake out when you’re dealing with other people’s money, emotions and well-being.