Have you seen those hilarious “0.0” stickers on the backs of cars that poke fun at people who run? There are good reasons they exist.

Countless beginners get discouraged by running and throw it out as so miserable they will never try it again.

Here’s a typical scenario: you go out for a run, feel like you’re dying about 10 minutes in as you gasp for air, curse yourself and claim “running’s just not for me.” You slowly mope all the way back home in your sweaty, self-defeat promising you’ll never run again. Sound familiar?  

But, in many of our failures, there’s usually a forgotten algorithm; something we don’t know or understand about what we need to do differently to achieve success. Many times, the reasons we get discouraged, is because we don’t have a training plan in place, we’re not starting out at our current fitness level, or we’re just doing too much too fast. Thus, the misery that is running becomes our dogma and we give up.

To remedy this oft scenario, here are top tips to get you well on your way to preparing to train for your first 5k.

Have a plan

Have you ever started your workday out by just winging it, only to feel by the end of the day like you’ve worked so hard yet accomplished nothing? The nature of running is the same. Without a plan, you may feel like you’re going in circles, like you aren’t sure what you’re doing, and get frustrated and ultimately give up. The biggest tip here is to get out a pen and paper (or computer and printer) and make a plan.

  • Begin with the goal in mind: It is helpful to set a goal for yourself. For novice beginners, the goal is usually to finish a 5k run distance which is 3.1 miles. If this is your first 5k, do not worry about a time goal. Instead, focus on completing your workouts successfully, aimed at race day. As you complete more races and get stronger, you can begin to work on improving your times. Sign up for a race about 8-12 weeks out to give yourself plenty of time to train. If you only have time to run a 5k in 4 weeks, start at training week eight but with serious caution.
  • Start at your level and build a base: The term beginner can range from someone who runs 2-3 miles a few times a week to not running at all. Determine what level you are first and then focus on the amount of time you run per week. Beginner levels range from: novice, intermediate, and advanced. This is in reference to your aerobic base, meaning your fitness level and your body’s capacity to convert oxygen to use for athletic performance. To build your “base”, determine your level below and follow that workout recommendation:
    • Novice beginners (do not run at all): Novice beginners usually train by doing walk/run intervals of 2:1 (two minutes of running, one minute walking breaks) focusing on completing their workout by the total amount of time, e.g. “30 minutes”.
    • Intermediate beginners (run 1-3 times per week): Intermediates usually begin by training by doing walk/run intervals  of 4:1 (four minutes running, 1 minute walking) focusing on completing their workout by the total amount of time, e.g. “30 minutes”.
    • Advanced beginners (run 3+ times per week, may have already trained for 5K previously): Advanced beginners usually do an optional walk/run of 4:1 and a time-based schedule, a mileage-based schedule, or a combination of both.

As you consistently begin to run 3-5 times per week, you will have built a strong (aerobic) base for your running and it will begin to feel easier. At this point you can congratulate yourself- you’re a runner!

  • Train by time, not distance: You may wonder, what is the average time to run a 5K? It can vary anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for beginners but again, don’t preoccupy yourself with a goal time the first time around. Instead, focus on finishing. For that reason, It is recommended to start training by total time and not by distance or pace. This would mean you would run “30 minutes on Tuesdays” instead of “3 miles on Tuesdays”.
  • Pacing: This is where that “gasping for air” comes from-not knowing the right pace. When you first start running, pacing is difficult to intuit.  Here’s the rule of thumb: if you cannot speak in full sentences on your runs, you are running too fast and you should slow down. Your training runs should feel steady and comfortable, like you can speak without huffing and puffing.
  • Training Schedules: Two of the most followed and recommended training schedules by professionals are the Hal Higdon training plan and the Jeff Galloway training plan. However, it is argued here that strength days are paramount for injury prevention in the beginning stage of running for beginners, so the schedule below incorporates mixed philosophies from both plans and include a day for building strength.

Here is an example beginner 12 week time-based running schedule for a 5k:

week

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

1

off

15 minutes

strength or XT

15 minutes

off

30 minutes

20 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

2

off

15 minutes

strength or XT

15 minutes

off

30 minutes

20 minute walk minute walk + stretch and foam roll

3

off

20 minutes

strength or XT

20 minutes

off

35 minutes

25 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

4

off

25 minutes

strength or XT

25 minutes

off

40 minutes

30 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

5

off

30 minutes

strength or XT

30 minutes

off

40 minutes

30 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

6

off

30 minutes

strength or XT

30 minutes

off

45 minutes

35 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

7

off

35 minutes

strength or XT

35 minutes

off

50 minutes

40 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

8

off

35 minutes

strength or XT

35 minutes

off

50 minutes

40 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

9

off

30 minutes

strength or XT

30 minutes

off

45 minutes

35 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

10

off

25 minutes

strength or XT

25 minutes

off

40 minutes

30 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

11

off

20 minutes

strength or XT

20 minutes

off

35 minutes

25 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

12

off

20 minutes

off

20 minutes

off

RACE DAY

20 minute walk + stretch and foam roll

Notes: Base your Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday runs off of your recommended beginner level. If you are a novice beginner, you will do intervals of 2:1 on those days. If you are intermediate, 4:1. If you are advanced, optional 4:1 or running with no walking intervals

XT= Cross-Train: Cross training is choosing another sport to compliment your running such as biking, swimming, or elliptical; try to choose something with little to no impact

Strength= Strength training means incorporating weights and exercises like lunges, squats, heel raises, and core exercises like planks and bridges

Fantastic! You’ve made a plan, you have a schedule, you’re ready to get started but what do you need?

Get the Right Gear

Running is a sport. Just like in tennis, where you would want a solid tennis racket and tennis balls that function, you want running shoes that will do the same. Shoes are the most important piece of gear in running, so be sure to go and get fit at your local running store.

After you have found the perfect running shoe, you can accessorize by adding on technology that will not only make your runs easier, but downright fun. Items such as hats, headbands, technical shirts and shorts, watches, compression gear, belts, hydration packs, handheld bottles and socks can be your Toyota Corolla or your Ferrari. Keep it simple or fancy-pants it up.

  • Hats, headbands and sunglasses: All designed to keep the sun, or your hair, out of your face while you run. Check out The North Face Better Than Naked Hat or LuLu Lemon Lightspeed Run Hat.
  • Sunscreen: …We all know what sunscreen is and its purpose. Take a look at Kiss My Face or Supergoop sunscreen.
  • Technical shirts and shorts: Technical running clothes are specifically made to “wick” moisture away from your body and to prevent chafing. They are built to have an ergonomic fit particular to the running gait. Check out Nike singlets and the Brooks Chaser 5” running short.
  • Sports bras: Ladies, don’t wear your yoga bra to go running. You will need to invest in a high-impact sports bra such as the Moving Comfort Juno bra.
  • Watches: You can use your phone to keep time and track your workouts using apps like Strava or Runkeeper, or you can look into purchasing a watch such as the Garmin Forerunner.
  • Belts: Running belts are designed to hold your stuff like the SPI belt or the FlipBelt.
  • Hydration accessories: If you feel like you need to bring water on your runs or if it’s a particularly hot day, you can look into purchasing a handheld bottle or even a backpack. For shorter distances such as the 5k, they aren’t necessary but can still be used if preferred. Check out the Nathan QuickShot Plus.
  • Compression: Ahhhh, compression. So comfy. Compression works like ice does on your muscles. It constricts an area to increase blood flow and promotes healing which is why some opt to use it during or after their runs. See Zensah or CEP.
  • Socks: Don’t forget about the importance of socks. Do not use cotton, as they can cause blisters. Choose technical fabrics that wick away sweat like those in Feetures or Bolega.

Now you have both a plan and your gear lined up, how will you keep going when the going gets tough?

Continually Seek Motivation

What do you do when you just aren’t “feeling like it?”

One thing not everyone talks about is the all-elusive factor in training successfully-motivation.

Ever heard of B.J. Fogg’s behavior model? It indicates motivation is like a wave. It ebbs and flows. When the tide is high, we have to ride the wave of motivation and do as much as possible when we are feeling good. When it’s low, we have stick to our commitments but continually seek out sources of motivation to keep us going.

Here are a few tips in continually seeking-and riding-waves of motivation to stick to your training plan:

  • Find a running buddy: Finding a running partner can be tremendously helpful because they not only keep you company on your run, but it can help to hold yourself accountable to showing up. You are much more likely to not sleep in if you’ve promised a running buddy you will meet at 6 AM for your training run.
  • Sign up for a running group: Likewise, finding a local running group will hold you accountable, allow you to socialize, and make new friends, and keep you committed to showing up. A simple google search for running groups in your area will suffice.
  • Log your runs: Putting pen to paper and seeing your progress over time can be a fun way to motivate yourself. Get some pretty pens and create a running journal. Log your time, pace, and distance as well as notes on how you felt in order to track your progress. Go back and see how much you have improved or do some troubleshooting if things aren’t going well.
  • Watch a running video or YouTube channel: You can glean through tons of tips from pro athletes to strengthen your own runs like Sage Canaday’s Vo2MaxProductions or learn about tons of product and race reviews and other ventures by TheGingerRunner.
  • Download a running podcast: Similar to videos and channels, podcasts can be fun to listen to on your runs like the RunSelfieRepeat podcast following the journey a former hater-of-running turned successful marathoner.

Your plan is solid. Your gear is lookin’ fly. And your motivation is in check. Now, what do you do before and after your runs?

Take Time to Warm Up and Time to Recover

Another tip worth mentioning is your pre-run and post-run routine, i.e. what you do before and after your training runs. There are some very vital pieces in helping you stay injury free and healthy which are as follows:

  • Do dynamic stretching before your runs: Dynamic stretching is stretching through movement. The opposite is static stretching which is like the stretching we did in P.E. class in elementary school of touching your toes while standing still which is actually No Bueno for gearing up for a run and can increase your likelihood of pulling something.
  • Do static stretching after: However, it is OK to do static stretching after because your muscles are already fired up. Make sure you stretch after every single run to help yourself recover.
  • Nutrition as fuel: Ok, there is a myth that runners can “eat whatever”. Not necessarily true. Nutrition needs to be thought of as fuel for your runs. You want to properly gas up the tank so you don’t “bonk” or “crash” which simply means you’ve depleted your glycogen stores (the sugar stored in your muscles which keeps you going on a run). Be sure you are eating one hour prior to your run, preferably foods like whole-wheat bread and peanut butter, crackers and hummus, or a fruit and nut bar. This will act as fuel for your run and prevent you from crashing. High-fat foods like chips, pizza, or donuts can upset your stomach on your runs. Fuel up smart for success.
  • Nutrition as recovery: Conversely, what do you eat afterward? Eating healthy after your runs is like cracking the code to the mystery of who built the Great Pyramid of Giza. This is one of the most important factors in bouncing back quickly, reducing inflammation, and speeding recovery. More protein-based foods like quinoa, eggs, almonds, beans, berries, whole grains and chocolate milk are perfect. Also be sure to drink around 24 ounces of water to rehydrate.

Incorporate Cross Training and Strength Training for Injury Prevention and Longevity

The last-but not the least-tip to run a 5k is to invest in your body by adding in cross training and strength training. We always hear things like “running is bad for your joints” or “running causes injury” but this is hardly true. Instead, it should be “running is bad for your joints if you’re not working to strengthen them”.

As mentioned in the included training schedule, it is paramount to incorporate at least one day a week to a cross training or strength training activity. This will be the investment you need to continue to run for years to come.  

  • Cross Training: Cross training is another, usually aerobic activity, that supports the main sport of running but is preferably low impact. This can be: biking, swimming, elliptical, skating, or skiing. The reason it’s important is because it promotes the use of other supporting muscles to aid in running with better form and increases your overall fitness level.
  • Strength Training: Add weights and resistance to your running routine to build up the foundation of your running form. Exercises like squats, lunges, speed skaters, bird-dogs, pistol-squats, deadlifts, heel-raises, one-legged hops, planks, side-planks, hip raises, clam shells, and burpees will provide a noticeable difference on your strength while you run and help to prevent injury.

Ultimately, as you prepare to run your first 5k, or if you are returning to running after a break, try to have fun! If you aren’t, return here to these tips to running a 5k and reevaluate your plan, gear, motivation, pre-and post-run routines, as well as your cross training and strength training routines and make adjustments as necessary. This will set you up for success and next thing you know, you’ll be buying a “5K” magnet for your car instead of a “0.0” magnet. Now, get out there and run!

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