You’ve seen others do it. Several of your friends talk about participating in them. There are people of all shapes, sizes and ages who are able to pull off this feat of fitness. It seems like everyone is having a good time. And often it’s for a good cause. But yet, you may be wondering- I’ve never done anything like this before, so could I do it too? What exactly goes into the preparation for a 5K race? What do you need to know in order to pull this off and have a good time? Let me take you through a few pointers to guarantee that your first 5K experience is so memorable and enjoyable that you can’t wait to sign up for your next race!
DO Get Clear on Why You Want to Do a Race
Everybody has their own motivations. It’s important to be clear on yours. Is it a bucket list item for you to cross a finish line in a race? Is it the next challenge in fitness program to push you to? Perhaps you’re interested in supporting a particular charity you value. Or maybe you’re looking to find a team-building activity for your family or community group. Whatever reason you choose will help you to prepare appropriately for the event. It will also help you choose the right race from many that are out there.
DON’T Choose the Wrong Race
These days, there are as many types of 5K races as there are racers participating in them. You can walk, run, dress in costume, navigate an obstacle course, get soaked in paint or mud, get chased by zombies or run naked. Race events have become much more exciting in the past 10-15 years as interest and participation has grown. It’s likely you can find one in your local area. Start is by talking to folks at your local sporting goods store or gym. People who work in the fitness industry are usually up to date on events that are going on and can recommend a race to try that is best suited for you. For example, if you are wanting to ease into the experience by being surrounded by supportive women of all body types, then the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure would be a better choice than the local Track Team Alumni 5K where the runners would be more competitive. Likewise, if you are wanting the challenge of achieving your fastest running pace, you would want a race tailored to athletes and charity events might not be a good fit, as many participants choose to walk these, making it difficult to get ahead of the pack. You may be able to do some research online about the race description to get a feel for the culture. There may be photos or race results posted. If there is a timing chip involved, then it is likely geared for runners who care about their finish times. If you see lots of photos of families dressed in matching team outfits, it may be more light-hearted and less competitive.
DO: Train Appropriately for the Event
Whether your goal is to run or walk your 5K, you want to be certain that you will be able to finish comfortably, without injury. Start by getting properly fitted for shoes. If you haven’t purchased new shoes in awhile, this extra investment can make a huge difference in your comfort level. Local running or shoe stores can help you make the right selection. Then, take an honest look at your current fitness level. The 5K distance is 3.1 miles, so ideally you should be able to walk or run this distance easily before race day. Often, what happens during the event is that your excitement and adrenaline are peaked and you end up going at a faster pace than you would when you are training for it. If you haven’t already prepped your body for this challenge, you could end up feeling uncomfortably winded during the race or quite sore after it’s over. Multiple training programs are available online to help you prepare adequately for completing a 5K. Check out this Couch-to-5K program that takes you from low level fitness to being able to run the entire race in just 9 weeks of training. Training programs are essential for providing the exact structure and guidance to help you gradually build your conditioning so that you can complete your 5K goal. If you’re already a runner, more advanced training programs are available to help you achieve a faster finish time.
DON’T Forget to Eat Right & Hydrate
With a 5K, the distance and training times are relatively short, so it’s not necessary to have a completely specialized diet. There are a few factors to consider, such as outdoor temperature as well as other exercise or training you may be doing. If you are following the 5K training program without additional exercise, then your usual diet is likely adequate for the exercise boost you are about to undertake. Most training sessions last about 20 minutes, so you don’t need to worry about eating during the training session. You won’t require any “sports” gels, bars or drinks. Most people do well to train an hour or two after eating a meal so that there isn’t anything sloshing around in the stomach. The most important factor is what you are eating AFTER your training session. A meal that contains a mixture of protein, carbohydrate (whole grain, fruit or starchy vegetable) and some healthy fat (coconut oil, olive oil, nuts or avocado) will give you all the nutrients to repair and build muscle and restore your energy so that you are able to train again the following day. As for hydration, the duration of the training and the event typically do not require specialized hydration formulas other than water. Sometimes, under extreme circumstances when it’s very hot outside and you are sweating quite heavily, you may need to replenish after your training with with a beverage that contains electrolytes. This will allow you to replace minerals and salt lost in your sweat. Most of the time, you only need a sports electrolyte drink when you are exercising for over an hour. My best recommendation is coconut water, as it contains many minerals and some carbohydrate and can be a nice “pick me up” after you’ve crossed the finish line. See if you can have a fellow supporter or spectator carry a chilled one for you to have post-race. Here’s what NOT to do when training for a 5K: I’ve seen it happen where people get the idea that they need to carb load or significantly increase their calories because they are training for a race, and that can lead to unwanted weight gain. There’s a thought that “Hey, I’m training for a 5K” so I can afford to eat this ice cream, this extra snack, etc. Those extra calories will add up over your training period whether you train for a 5k or a marathon. At the event itself, there will be a finish line spread of bagels, cookies, chips, soda, fruit and candy that beg to be eaten. Let me just remind you that you’ve probably burned around 300 calories, so choose wisely when sampling some of the post-race treats. I prefer sticking to water, and a piece of fruit and save my indulgence for a nice post-race meal where I eat whatever I want. If you’ve really pushed yourself during the race, you won’t really feel like eating much after you’re done, so save your indulgence for a special celebration meal.
Do Celebrate Your Achievement in Style
When you’ve dedicated time and energy to train for a 5K race, it’s important to honor your achievement. At some events, there is a photographer who takes photos throughout the race and these will be available for purchase, usually sent via email. You will receive a runner’s bib (number) and this can be nice to save, as it will have the race name and date, and your information on it. You may want to write your finish time on the bib as well. Some artisan jewelry makers specialize in creating custom piece that engrave your race information onto silver tags that you can wear afterward. If your 5K is a lifetime achievement, then this is a really special memento of your dedication. You can also find cute Euro style bumper stickers for your car or water bottle such as 5K, Runner Girl or simply, Run. These are all fun ways to make your day extra special. Don’t forget to take some before and after photos with friends and family who helped you along the way.
Don’t Stop Now!
Once you’ve had your first taste of how fun a 5K can be, it’s time to set your sights on your next race. Get more friends involved. Try joining a runner’s training group. Perhaps you decide to do a longer race, such as 10K or a different type of event like a running relay or adventure race. Whatever you choose, let your first 5K become a launching pad for you to enjoy a lifetime of good clean fun that’s both physically and mentally rewarding. Racing can be the perfect outlet for those with a bit of a competitive streak, whether it be racing against others or improving your personal best time. Many racing series have dates set way in advance so that you can plan your year and plan your training accordingly. You never know, you might be that person who ends up inspiring others to try their first 5K. You just might change your self-image and see yourself as a winner who’s able to finish what you start!
Have you already done a 5K? If so, Leave a Reply below on your experience or any advice you’d like to share to help encourage others to give it a try.