5 Steps for Your First 5K

Looking to run your first 5K? Proper training is key. Check out the following pre-race tips.

By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist

You may not have a marathon on your mind, but if your goal is to run in a race for the first time, proper training is still very important.

A 5K (3.1 mile) race is a good place to start. Having a short race to train for could give you the motivation you need to get in shape.

The following tips can help get a beginning runner on the right path to the finish line.

  1. Set realistic goals
    A 5K race is a goal most beginning runners will be able to achieve. Forget about going for the gold your first time out. Go at a pace that's comfortable for you. Don't worry about how fast or slow you are. Just aim to have fun and finish the race if you can.
  2. Do basic training
    First, check with your doctor to make sure it is safe to start a running program. Then plan on an 8- to 10-week training program as recommended by the American Council on Exercise.
    • If you have never tried a running program before, you may want to start with an 8-day walking routine before you start to run. Walk for 20 minutes the first 4 days, then walk for 30 minutes the next 4 days.
    • If you have no trouble, then consider a 30-minute circuit of running for 2 minutes and then walking for 4 minutes five times in a row. You may want to follow this routine three times a week until you are comfortable.
    • Each week, adding a minute to the running time and subtracting a minute from the walking time may help you get ready. Keep it up until you are running the whole 30 minutes, if you're able.
  3. Keep safety in mind
    Training gradually and safely are the keys to long-term success. Also, taking days off from running is just as important as time spent training.
    • When choosing gear, make sure you select proper shoes and clothing that fit well and are suited for running.
    • Run on a track if you can. If no track is available, dirt is the next-best choice. Asphalt is preferable to concrete.
    • If you run near areas of traffic, wear highly visible, even reflective, clothing.
  4. Stay motivated
    Since you may need to train over a period of weeks, it's important to keep up your motivation.
    • Find a running buddy or a group to run with. You are more likely to stick to your regular workouts if you have someone counting on you to show up.
    • Consider working with a personal trainer who specializes in sport-specific training. To hire a personal trainer, do your homework first. Make sure he or she is properly educated and certified and has the right qualifications to help you meet your goals.
  5. Track your progress
    Much like a food journal, keeping a running log may be helpful.
    • You can track things like distance, time of day, total running time, weather, emotions, and heart rate.
    • Then you can go back and review your log to see how much mileage you've logged and to remind yourself of what you've accomplished in your training.

    Whether you come in first or last, remember this: Running, like any form of physical activity, can reduce stress, help keep your weight in check, and improve your overall health. With regular exercise, everyone is a winner.