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Training Tips for Running Your First 5K
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Training Tips for Running Your First 5K

Picture of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor
Updated: 21 November 2016
You probably don’t need us to sell you on running. The laundry list of benefits includes stress reduction, deeper more restorative sleep, and protection against serious illnesses including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. As a happiness enhancing, health boosting activity that doesn’t require a boutique studio or the associated membership fees, it’s a great fit for exercise newbies. Starting out, though, can feel a bit like this.

One of the best ways to build your stamina and make running a part of your routine is to set a goal right out of the gate — a 5k race, for example.

We spoke to seasoned marathoners and professional running coaches to find out their top tips for successfully completing your first 5k.

Invest in running shoes

One of the wonderful things about running is that it doesn’t require any equipment. However, a proper pair of running shoes is essential, because everybody lands on their feet differently.

“Making sure you have a pair of shoes that accommodates your personal strike [how your foot hits the ground] is critical for preventing injuries,” Carl Ewald from ODDyssey Half Marathon told us. “When you’re putting in mile after mile, the littlest imperfections start to add up.”

He suggests heading to your nearest specialist running store to have your strike analyzed. “Buying the appropriate shoes and keeping them in good shape will ensure you enjoy running much more.”

Specialist running shoes
Specialist running shoes

Pick a realistic training plan

Training programs help you build endurance and increase speed over time. But selecting the right one is key.

Jeremy Neisser, who authors the blog Train For a 5K, explains: “Often we download a plan that looks awesome on paper but in reality, we cannot commit to its specified schedule.” Pick the right one though and it can “provide a ton of structure and, depending on the goal, help you improve your times and finish strong.”

You can find Neisser’s free 5k training plans here.

Always warm up and cool down

Easing into and out of your runs is essential. As the miles begin to add up injuries such as hamstring strain, runner’s knee, sore calves, IT band syndrome and back pain become more likely.

Neisser recommends warming up with “light jogging combined with dynamic stretches that move your joints through their full ranges of motion and allow muscles to absorb oxygen.” Post run “stretching has been proven to help prevent injuries, reduce soreness, help your muscles recover faster, and just feels good in general.”

On your recovery days you might consider taking a yoga class to help prevent tightness. Some studios even offer classes specifically designed for runners’ bodies.

Runner's stretch
Runner’s stretch

Strengthen your core

Although a certain level of discomfort is to be expected during distance running, you should be able to complete your 5k with relative ease. This has as much to do with good form as it does fitness level.

Amanda Dale, owner of This Fit Blonde, stresses the importance of incorporating core work into your training routine. “If you watch a 5K, you can almost always see the weaker runners start to round their backs, slump over, and adopt a sluggish posture toward the end of the race. That is, if they don’t train their core as hard as their legs,” she told us.

The solution? “Simple movements like planks, crunches, and twists can strengthen the abdominal muscles and help you run tall with your chest up, back straight, and gaze forward.”

Aim for slow, steady progress

Strength and conditioning coach Tim Blake stresses that training for a 5k is all about “stacking small, successive improvements on top of each other.” Take it slow and make sure you schedule plenty of rest and recovery in order to begin making progress towards your goal.

“It’s always better for beginners to start off with distances that feel relatively easy,” he told The Culture Trip. “Don’t worry, the fact that you’re running at all is a novel enough stress that will be sufficient to drive an adaptation. Leave it 2-3 days for the stress-recovery-adaptation cycle to run its course and provide a performance improvement. That performance improvement will allow you to run a little farther next time, which is a slightly bigger stress that will be the catalyst for a further performance improvement, and so on.”

Invest in a good pair of running sneakers, do your stretches, work your core, and take a slow steady approach to training with plenty of recovery days, and you’ll be race ready before you know it.