5 Key Tips to Remember When Training for Your First 5K

The annual Big Dam Run is less than 2 months away, but there’s still plenty of time to sign up and begin training for the race! The 5K distance makes this run incredibly beginner-friendly, and the virtual setting provides flexibility for people who don’t want to run outside in the cold, wake up early, or travel for a destination race. In other words, this year’s race leaves no room for excuses, even if it’s your first 5K! From April 10 through April 17, you can complete the 5K wherever and whenever you’d like!

The Importance of Consistency

If this will be your first 5K, or if this is the first time you’ve tried running in years, consistency will be the most important factor in your training routine. Doing a short 15-minute workout every other day, for instance, is more realistic than trying to do an hour of cardio every day after going months without exercising. While training, a good rule of thumb is that you should feel challenged, but not to the point of pain or overexertion.

To strike that perfect balance between enjoying your training sessions and improving your physical endurance, here are 5 tips to keep in mind while preparing for your first 5K:

1. Warm up before running.

Jumping right into your fitness routine without warming up your muscles can increase your risk of injury while you’re running. Tyler Pake, a certified health fitness specialist and personal trainer, suggests doing dynamic stretches and warming up with a brisk walk for a few minutes before jogging or running. Dynamic stretches, such as walking lunges and high knees, will help you improve your flexibility and prepare your body for the high-impact aspects of running. Pake additionally explains that a good warmup will gradually raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles, which decreases the risk of muscle cramps or other injuries during your workout. 

2. Ease into working out.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they decide to start running is that they try to do too much too quickly. Instead of making a commitment to walk and jog for 15-20 minutes a day 3X a week, for example, determined new runners may immediately try to do strenuous workout plans geared towards more experienced runners. Not only can this be discouraging to beginners, but it can lead to serious injury if the person tries to push themselves too hard and ignores what their body is telling them. If you plan on running your first 5K, be sure to ease into a plan that is flexible and accommodating to your body’s needs!

When Jenny Hadfield first started running, she felt miserable and discouraged when she wasn’t able to run as far as she wanted. “I always wanted to run, but every time I tried to run I’d make it to the end of my block—only to begin crying because it wasn’t much fun,” wrote Hadfield for Active. “I wanted to run. I just couldn’t figure out how and didn’t think I had the body of a runner.” 

To begin easing herself into the sport of running, Hadfield learned to listen to her body and adjust her running workout to suit her endurance level. She suggests that newbies should begin with 30 seconds to 1 minute of running followed by 1 to 3 minutes of power walking, or however long it takes for the runner to catch their breath. “Progress little by little, adding more running to the mix and less walking,” Hadfield explained. “Focus on going farther, not harder.” 

3. Make small dietary changes.

You may have heard the saying that fitness is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition, and this isn’t too far off the mark. Michelle Ulrich, a clinical dietitian and a sports dietitian for ETA Coach, explains that runners need to ensure they’re getting the macronutrients (which include carbs, fats, and proteins) they need to get the most out of their workouts. As a general rule of thumb, people should aim to get 45-60% of their daily calories from carbs, 20-35% from fats, and 10-35% from proteins.

However, this doesn’t mean you should immediately throw out all the junk food in your house and vow to stick to a strict diet plan. Just like working out, you should aim to make small changes and gradually work up to a healthier diet. Cutting out all your favorite “guilty pleasures” cold turkey will only make you crave them more, which may lead to binges or excessive “cheat days.” Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some ice cream or chocolate in moderation! 

4. Find ways to make running more enjoyable.

Some days, you just won’t feel like running, and it can start to feel more like a chore instead of a healthy hobby. If you feel bored with the monotony of running, try out new routes, create a playlist of high-energy songs to get you pumped up, listen to funny podcasts, or watch your favorite Netflix shows as you run on the treadmill. If you’re still feeling unmotivated most days and struggle to force yourself to work out, finding an accountability partner to talk to can be really helpful.

5. Don’t worry about speed.

Many runners set goals for themselves, such as trying to run a mile in under 9 minutes, but Gary Berard, a running coach and the founder of GB running, says that beginners and those running their first 5K shouldn’t worry about speed. “Aim to enjoy yourself from start to finish,” Berard advises. “Lay out your training and plan to partner with a friend in preparation for your race.” Allow yourself to enjoy your 5K, whether you finish in 25 minutes or 55, and celebrate the fact that you’ve accomplished something new.

If you haven’t signed up for the Big Dam Run yet, go ahead and register here. We look forward to (virtually) running with you!

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