Running a 5K is a great way to challenge yourself to stay fit and healthy! More so than the race itself, the culture of the race is very fun and inclusive. Preparing for your first race can seem daunting, but if you are consistent and determined, you will succeed. Here are 5 rules to live by while you prepare for your first one!
Give yourself time to train and prepare! I suggest no less than 2-months to prepare for your first race, regardless of your experience or fitness level. Experienced runners may be able to go sooner, but that time frame of two-months allows even the best of runners the focus that they need to fine-tune their training and hone in on setting a personal record.
Successful training programs, such as the very popular and effective Couch-to-5K program, run between 8-12 weeks for a reason. They provide the time you need to build mileage and ensure that you build endurance.
Select a training program to fit your skills and abilities. If you are a beginner, use walk/jog interval training, and raise your weekly mileage slowly. This is especially important if you are transitioning into the road race off of other methods of cardio-training like an elliptical. If you are out-of-shape and have not been training at all, I would highly suggest a program like Couch-to-5K by Justin Clark, which focuses on keeping you engaged and slowly easing your way to be able to effectively complete a 5K. It is a nine-week program that starts with pure walking, progressing with walk/jog intervals that get you to run 30-minutes straight. This specific program has been successful for thousands of runners for many years.
If you have been training regularly, with running as a normal-part of your routine, try using a more difficult program that emphasizes varying distances and times to build speed and endurance respectively. Use both short and long runs, with target times between 10-40 minutes, to maximize the training-effect. Short-runs of about 10-minutes will help you build on speed-endurance, utilizing fast paces to challenge your aerobic threshold. Longer runs of up to 40-minutes will help you build on your stride-mechanics and endurance, giving you the mentality and toughness to tackle a long-race. There are many effective training programs out there for intermediate runners, find one that incorporates both long runs, short runs, and rest days to help you progress. If it doesn’t incorporate all three of these things, it is probably not a very good program.
Once you have found a program that works for you, stick to it. Don’t give up on it when it gets hard, because all of them are designed to get progressively harder and more challenging. Stick to it and keep hacking away at it to build on your abilities and give yourself endurance. Progress is hard work, and if you want to succeed, you have to embrace that fact. Too often, runners quit on a structured program because it is challenging. Adjust the times and distances if you need to, but don’t modify the program. Have faith in the process and follow it to completion.
Equip Yourself with the Right Shoes
As a runner, you can invest in all-sorts of gadgets to help you in your training: moisture-wicking apparel, distance-tracking apps, heart-rate monitors, etc. However, there is only one tool which is utterly essential, and that is your choice of shoes. Now is the time to invest in a good pair of running shoes, and a two-month training-cycle is the perfect way to break them in.
There are a myriad of philosophies behind what makes for a good running-shoe: and this is generally divided into two main camps. On one hand, many people prefer shoes with a high-level of built-in supports for the runner, with soles designed to conform to the arch of the runner’s foot and minimalize deviations of the ankle. These shoes aim to correct these inconsistencies in our anatomy and help us On the other hand, many people prefer a minimalist-approach, emphasizing lightweight construction and as few natural-supports as possible.
The truth is that a great running shoe will give you all of the supports your feet and ankles need, and nothing more. The optimal type of shoe for each runner is going to be different, and you should be assessed by a fitness-professional before selecting your pair. If you have a history of injuries at the ankle or foot, I highly suggest that you also be assessed by a podiatrist, who can help you further select the type of shoe that will best suit your needs.
Running is a Skill. Practice your Skill.
As is the case with any sport, running is a skill that must be practiced. It is a simple skill to learn, but a difficult one to master. If you rely on an elliptical, rower, stationary bike, or even circuit-training for cardio, you will find that making the transition to a running-based training routine can be a challenge!
Make a concerted-effort to train outside as much as possible, weather-permitting. The more specific that your training is to your event, the better the more effective that training will be! Whenever running outside is not an option, the treadmill will work just fine, but make sure that in the last 4-weeks of your training that you are spending at least 50% of your training outside.
Running technique is of critical importance, and practice is the only way to become efficient with it. Focus on your posture, keeping a steady cadence and rhythm to make your running very efficient. There are hundreds of ways to hone your technique, but if you focus on nothing else: boil it down to this one crucial tip:
Don’t let your hands cross the midline of the body. This helps to minimize twisting forces that rob you of power and energy! Do not waste energy! The rotation of the hands over the midline forces the shoulders to rotate, wasting energy on unnecessary movement. Every bit of rotation at the shoulders has to be transferred down the spine into the hips, and it will throw off the entire run!
Good distance-runners learn how to conserve their energy so that they can maintain their pace for the entirety of their run. Preserve this technique by raising your turnover-rate (i.e. how fast your hands and feet are moving during the run). This will keep you from overreaching with your strides and minimize “vertical oscillation” (i.e. bouncing up and down). These work together to make your running very efficient and minimize the effort it takes to run for long periods of time.
To build your running technique and develop power, use hill intervals for cross-training! Sub these in for short-runs of 15-minutes or less to incorporate them into a larger program. Running uphill forces you to get up on the balls of your feet, building strength in your calves, hamstrings, and quads. Running moderate distances (200-400-m) forces you to develop technique and endurance. Sprinting against steep grades will force you to run with a faster turnover-rate and more force than normal, giving you power for the sprint to the finish line.
Try this sample hill-workout 1 to 2 days-a-week to spice up your training routine:
Option 1 (Short Sprint):
50-100-m Sprint - Rest Minimum: 00:30 secs
5-10% grade - Rest Maximum: 1:00 min.
Slowly jog back downhill - Repeat 5-10 Times
Option 2 (Long Sprints)
200-400-m Run - Rest Minimum: 00:15 secs
2-5% grade - Rest Maximum: 00:45 secs
Slowly jog back downhill - Repeat 3-5 Times
Take Care of your Body with Corrective Exercise
As you start pounding out the mileage, on the road and on the treadmill, you will need to take care of your muscles and joints more than ever. Yoga, Pilates, Foam Rolling, and Passive Stretching are all great-ways to compliment your training plan and keep you injury-free.
Don’t forget that health is all about balance. Wherever we place stress on the body, we have to place an equal and opposite destressor to keep that part of the body healthy. Running places a lot of stress on the feet, ankles, calves, thighs, and hips. Train to take care of these areas with methods of exercise that reduce tension, improve pliability, and address muscular imbalances.
Likewise, your strength training should focus on building meaningful strength in these areas, with a focus on high-movement quality, full range-of-motion, moderate tempos, and repetitions performed for timeframes of about 45-seconds to 1:00 minute. This will ensure that your strength-training makes a meaningful impact on your muscular endurance and helps you build healthy, well-balanced muscles you can rely-upon when you hit the pavement.
Flexibility-training is of MAJOR importance! The risk of developing a common injury to the feet, ankles, knees, and hips can be mitigated using techniques like passive stretching, yoga, foam rolling, and massage therapy. Muscle-bellies get hypertonic with long-distance running, so its especially important to incorporate elements of this daily. Think of this as a type of daily-maintenance, if you don’t brush your teeth, they will rot! If you don’t stretch and take care of your muscles, they will get tight, painful, and contribute to injuries.
Run with Attitude!
Don’t forget to lighten up and have fun! If you treat your training like a game, instead of like work, you will tackle your hardest runs with energy and determination. Make short-term challenges around your training-plan, and aim to beat them. It takes tremendous effort to overcome tremendous adversity, push yourself to do the best that you can!