So you want to run a 5k? Woohoo—this is going to be FUN! Planning ahead to run a race is a dynamic, sustained effort that builds healthy habits for your mind and body. So let’s get right to it. Here’s how to start training!
5Ks are usually a manageable distance for most newcomers to the sport. Elite runners can finish a 5K in about 15 minutes. But for the rest of us mere mortals, it typically takes between 25 and 35 minutes to complete a race. Totally doable, right?!
First and foremost, pick a race! This will help you create a timeline for training and give you a future goal to work toward. May I suggest the 2023 Cookie Classic 5K, held in Chesapeake on January 14, 2023? Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast hosts this incredible race annually to raise funds to help improve the lives of girls in coastal Virginia. Taking place in the Great Dismal Swamp, the run offers a scenic opportunity to enjoy the forested wetlands and eat Thin Mints during the race!
A 5K means the race is five kilometers; the mileage equivalent is 3.1 miles. Not so bad, right?! While all 5Ks are the same length, they are not created equal. Some races take place on pavement; others might be on hilly trails. Pick a location and time of year that suits your preference. If you hate running when it’s hot out, don’t choose a summertime 5k. Many people prefer racing in cooler temperatures, so the Cookie Classic would be ideal if you don’t like the heat.
After you’ve chosen your race, the next step is to ensure you have proper training gear. Properly fitting sneakers are important. If you’re doing this for the first time, don’t feel the need to buy expensive running shoes; however, you should make sure that your running sneakers are fairly recent and in good condition. Foam cushioning degrades over time, so if you’re thinking of dusting off your trainers from the 80s, toss them aside and head to the store to pick up some new shoes.
Socks, running bras, hair accessories, and athletic wear are important as well so make sure you have what you need. Plan to buy a cold weather outfit and also a warm weather outfit, since training usually takes place over a few months and weather changes seasonally. Bright colors and/or reflective clothing is helpful if you plan to run near cars.
Now that you’re properly outfitted, here’s a few tips for the running part. First find a safe place to run. Look for trails or sidewalks and try to measure out your distance ahead of time so you know where you’re going. Mapmyrun.com is one of many apps that can help. Tools such as Garmins, FitBits, or Apple watches can also help provide real time data to you about how fast your pace is and how long you’ve been running, but aren’t necessary for beginners just looking to get started.
Rather than focusing on the distance, which can seem intimidating at first, I recommend picking a goal number of minutes. For example, for your first run pick 12 minutes. Try to run for three minutes, walk for three, run for three, and walk the last three. See how you feel afterward!
As your feet hit the ground, can you hear your footsteps? If you sound like a galloping Clydesdale, focus your energy on having “light feet” that softly hit the ground. This movement will help reduce impact on your joints.
Want to go a little faster? Use your arms. Many people think pacing comes from your feet. In fact, if you try swinging your arms back and forth faster, your feet will follow suit. Make sure you’re swinging your arms front to back rather than side to side to enhance your stride.
Other injury-reducing ideas include leaning forward INTO the hills when you’re running downhill. It’s a bit counterintuitive since most people lean back when they run downhill, but by pressing forward, you’re actually positioning your body for a better angle to continue your pace.
Listen to your body, stretch often, and celebrate when you reach your milestones. There’s lots of training plans out there that you can use as a guide for your preparation. Don’t get too bogged down by which one. Simply pick whichever one looks manageable for you, lace up your shoes, and get out there!
Most importantly, choose to have fun with your training plan. Here are a few things you can do to spice up your training. Try bringing a friend one day. Put on a crazy outfit. (There’s a reason people dress up for 5Ks like it’s Halloween—it’s fun!) Try a new route.
As a former top cross country runner in high school, I’ve run countless 5K races. Running in New England weather taught me grit, commitment, loyalty, and more. It is the foundation of my fitness journey, which today has led me to creating and owning my own fitness business with three locations here in Tidewater.
Running is still a sport that is near and dear to my heart today because you can do it at any age, and you can choose to START the sport at any age, too. My sixty-two-year old cousin made it her life goal in her thirties to run a marathon in every state, which she has now accomplished. Running can teach you incredible things about yourself, and it will show you the world.
Disclaimer: Always consult your medical provider before starting a new training plan.
Marisa Beck, who lives in Norfolk, is a Navy spouse and has two little girls. She owns and operates Latitude Climbing + Fitness, a rock climbing gym with locations in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Hampton (opening early 2023). Her goal is to promote health and wellness within the community.