Tips to Train for Your First 5k

Runners start off strong at the Cam Run Memorial 5k 2016 Photo by Emily Lester

Runners start off strong at the Cam Run Memorial 5k 2016 Photo by Emily Lester

For something that seems so simple to do (you only need legs and 2 shoes…), running can be a hard sport to get into. There are so many questions when starting out: How far do I run? Where do I run? Why does my body feel like trash after 3 days of running?! It can be a bit intimidating and daunting.

The 5k distance is many people’s first step into the running world. The 3.1 miles may seem like a giant snow capped mountain that is impossible to summit, but we have faith in you (and a some pro-tips)! 

We talked with local Chattanooga coach Kevin Huwe and a few of our Fast Breakers about how to embark into the running world and train for a 5k. Hopefully these tips will clear the way for you to start running and finish a 5k! 

I’m a total newb. How do I start running? 

Just go for a run! It’s perfectly ok if you can only run for 3, 4, 5 minutes and then have to walk. The first step is to get out there. If you can’t run very long, run 1 minute, walk 2 minutes. As you progress, you will be able to run longer and walk less. You got this!

Properly fitted shoes are an essential part of running! Here, runners line up at the Cam Run Memorial 5k Photo by Kajsa Swanson

Properly fitted shoes are an essential part of running! Here, runners line up at the Cam Run Memorial 5k Photo by Kajsa Swanson

What gear do I need? 

The main component is good fitting shoes and sweat wicking socks. We have both at Fast Break with experts who will find a shoe that fits your foot properly. Not sure if you need new shoes? Read this. 

How do I avoid burn out? 

Many people jump into working out by running 2-3 miles a day, every day, all out. They “train” by running till they drop. After a few days of wearing themselves out, they decide “running isn’t for me.” Don’t fall into this trap! 

When you first get into running, start slow and gradually build up the duration of your runs. Pick a few days a week, or whatever your body and schedule will allow, and run at a pace that you can have a conversation at (aka, a conversational pace), even if this means walking multiple times throughout the run to get your heart rate down. Set a time that’s one minute longer than you think you can run. Run that amount of time 3-4 times a week, then increase the time the next week. Rest a few days between runs so your body can adapt. Lactic acid builds up in your legs when you run, and active rest, like yoga or easy walking, breaks it up and allows your body to recover and heal.  

I’ve been running for a week and my body hurts, why? 

You’re asking your body to do something new. Give it some TLC. Rest after you runs. Stretch and foam roll to ease the lactic acid that’s built up in your legs. 

Another aspect of training is your hydration and nutrition. You body can’t recover if it does not have enough protein, carbs, and water. Drink 4-6 oz. of water before you run and 16-24 oz. of water after. Remember to stay hydrated throughout the day. Eat well balanced diets of fats, proteins, and carbs to help your muscles recover before the next run. 

And lastly, how old are your shoes? Shoes are the base of your legs. Bad shoes can cause bad problems. Get fitted for a pair of shoes that will support your feet and body as you run.

What are the elements of a good training plan?

Photo by Emily Lester

Photo by Emily Lester

Once you’ve been running a few days each week for several weeks, you might want to set a goal, like training for a 5k. Coach Kevin likes to break his training into three general categories: easy runs, tempo runs, and intervals. 

Easy runs are at a conversational pace. This might feel too slow. But easy runs help your body to recover from the harder workouts while still putting in miles and training.

People have a lot of different definitions of tempo runs, but to keep it simple, find a pace that is hard but still controlled. This isn’t your race-across-the-playground-to-the-swing pace. This is a pace that you could hold for 15, 20, 30 minutes (depending your fitness level at this point). Then, at that pace, run for for 5 to 10 minutes followed by 1 to 2 minutes of jogging at an easy pace. Repeat this segment 2-3 more times. Another type of tempo run is to run for 15-25 minutes at a sustained harder effort.  

For intervals, run harder for a duration anywhere between 30 seconds to 5 minutes. If the interval segments are under 2 minutes, then run at a pace that could be held all out for around 5-6 minutes. For intervals between 2-5 minutes, run at a pace that could be held for 10-12 minutes all-out. Jog slowly for 1-2 minutes between each interval. 

Start by trying 3-4 intervals of faster running and slow jogging. Then as you get stronger, increase the amount of time you run hard and the number of intervals you do. 

Should I train for speed or endurance?

What is your goal for your first 5k? If your goal is to finish, then running easy paced runs while gradually increasing the duration of the runs will help you finish a 5k. But if your goal is to finish under a certain time frame, then speed and endurance workouts are important. 

Endurance runs train your body to run for longer periods of time before breaking down. They also strengthen your heart and your aerobic system. 

Faster runs, or speed workouts such as intervals, improve your body’s ability to utilize oxygen at a higher rate of exercise, which is one of the key contributors to being able to hold a faster pace. Speed workouts also improve form, and your body’s ability to remove lactic acid which is what causes your legs to feel heavy and stiff near the end of a hard run. 

How many days should I rest? 

Everybody’s probably a bit different, but taking at least one day of rest a week is important. Your body actually improves while recovering. You will feel tired after a workout, but when you feel like you can’t roll out of bed to slam the alarm clock off or like your legs have turned into cement blocks, then you probably should take a day off. Swim laps in the pool, do some yoga, foam roll, or take long walks on the beach at sunset. Learn from the start to train by the way your body feels, not only by a schedule or training program. If you are exhausted, you will do your body more good to rest than run. 

How long does it take to train for a 5k? 

This all depends on your current level of fitness and what your goals are. Training cycles for races are generally 18 to 24 weeks long, but many 5k training plans last 12-16 weeks. 

If you don’t have that long, it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t complete a 5k. Take an assessment of where you’re at physically and be realistic with your goals. If you only have a few weeks to train and have never run a 5k before, then go out for a run and see if you can complete 3.1 miles. If you’re close but not quite there, then try to build up to that distance.

After your test run, if a 5k seems unmanageable then look for a race further down the calendar and start training! 

Do I do anything different the week of the race? 

Slow down, take a deep breathe, you’ve almost made it! This is not the week to pack in extra training. Go on some easy, shorter runs a few days before the race. Most importantly, don’t exhaust your body right before your race! 

What should I expect on the morning of the race? 

Coach Kevin suggests eating something small a couple of hours before the race. Maybe try a piece of toast or a banana, but ultimately, stick with foods that you’re comfortable with and won’t upset your stomach. Drink a little water the morning of, but hydration is most important the day before. If you drink too much the morning of, the water will slosh in your stomach. 

The start of the Cam Run Memorial 5k 2016 Photo by Emily Lester

The start of the Cam Run Memorial 5k 2016 Photo by Emily Lester

I’m on the starting line, now what!? 

Hoooray! You’ve made it! All your training is about to pay off. With the crowd around you and nerves rising, you will want to start off fast when you hear the gun go off. However, try to maintain control through the first half of the race. Your breathing may be faster than your weekly runs and that’s ok, but if you’re 5 minutes in and gasping for air, then you need to slow it down. Runners like to say, “Run YOUR race.” Don’t be tricked into running someone else’s pace and burn out. 

Welcome to the running world and good luck with all your training! We are very passionate about sharing our love and knowledge of all things running relating at Fast Break, so stop on by and bring us all your questions! We hope to see you at the starting line (and finish line) soon!