The Way to Your First 5K Race

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The journey to your first 5k race starts with your decision to participate in such an event. In case you already made this decision and want to learn how to prepare for the big day, congrats and keep on reading. If you’re still not sure if running is for you I recommend you to read one of these articles first:

Top 7 Reasons Why You Should Run

5 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Endurance Running

Let’s Get Started

If you were not a runner so far or stopped running for a while, you need to be careful to get a good start and focus on not getting injured by over-stressing your body. I’ve written a post on the first week of running that I recommend you to read if you’re a beginner:

How To Start Running: Your First Week

I wanna stress here that it’s crucial in the beginning of your running career to get to know your body and check out how much training works for you. Running is very healthy and the most natural sport for human beings. But if you lived the typical western, industrialized lifestyle you need to start slowly to familiarize your body to the new activity. For any tips to prevent injuries you might read this post as well:

10 Secrets That Help You Prevent Injuries

Find a Race

To have the specific date of your first 5k you need to find a race to participate. There are thousands of races around the world and the number is growing constantly. Most marathon events now also feature shorter races such as 5k or 10k runs. There are also a lot of online directories where you can search races nearby.

Races in the USA

Races in the UK

Races in Australia

Races in India

Almost every other country has an online race calendar as well. Just ask Google, they know all of them 🙂

Plan Your Training

The key to success is always a good preparation. In order to be ready on race day it is crucial to plan out your training and stick to this plan. Now I don’t want to just throw out a general plan for a first 5k but give you some information on how you can create your own, personal training plan.

How Much Time Do I Need?

Your specific 5k training should start six to eight weeks before the desired race. I recommend that you do at least two workouts each week that last for 20 to 60 minutes depending on the pace you can run. If you can, try going for three runs each week. Also take some time for stretching. The best is to stretch an hour after each of your training runs for about 15 minutes. So in total the training will take 6-8 weeks with around 1.5 – 2 hours each week.

How Should I Train?

Basically you should focus on two different types of training. The first one is endurance training that helps you to be able to run further. You should do a weekly run at a moderate pace. The pace is ideal when you are still able to talk with someone while running and are not completely out of breath. Try to increase the distance of this run starting from 1 mile up 3 or even 4 miles the week before the race.

The second important training run you should do each week is to get faster. Now in order to get faster you need to train at a higher intensity. As a rule of thumb you should run at a pace that is hard but maintainable for a couple of minutes. You can choose between these two:
1. Tempo Run: Run the entire workout at a constant pace
2. Intervals: Switch between sprints for about 100 to 200 meters and slow jogs to recover

Make sure you warm up and cool down with slow running for about 5 to 10 minutes. If it’s cold outside make sure your muscles are really warm before speeding up in order to prevent injuries.

If you can manage to go for a third run just make it an easy 1-2 mile run.

Training Structure

Recovery is a very important aspect of training. In the days between workouts your body adapts to the stimulation it got from the training run. Try to distribute the training runs over the entire week and allow at least one rest day between days you exercise. Also try not to increase your training volume each of the 8 weeks but reduce your training every third week by about 30% to get some rest. In these weeks you could also do something additional for recovery like getting a massage or going to the spa.

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Other Considerations

Of course a proper training is the key to finish your first 5k race. But there are also other things that are important the more active you are. I’ve already mentioned stretching to complement your training. Strength training for your legs and core is beneficial for a good running form and improved stability in your joints and should be considered doing once or twice a week to avoid injuries. Also a healthy diet is important. You should get enough energy for your training and essential nutrients for recovery. Try to focus on vegetables and fruits and don’t eat too much fat or sugar. Especially after training days try to get a bit more sleep than usual to recover from your workouts.

You might also have a closer look on the equipment you use when running especially shoes and clothes. Runblogger is a great source for shoe reviews, for tips on activewear you can read my Ultimate Guide on Running Clothes.

There are a lot more habits you can get into as regular runner. Read this post for more information.

Race Day

So finally the big day of your first race is coming closer. Despite being excited and a bit nervous you should try to get enough sleep the two nights before the race. Also don’t really train anymore in the last few days before the race, focus on recovery and just move a bit by walking or easy paced runs.

For the race day have a look on this checklist so you don’t forget anything:

1. Check the weather and pack accordingly (clothes, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, rain jacket)
2. Don’t forget your running shoes
3. Watch or Smartphone to track your epic run
4. Race confirmation
5. Anti-chafing lotion
6. Water bottle
7. Extra clothes for after the race
8. Safety pins
9. Family and fans

Most runners get pretty excited once they stand at the starting line which is great. However focus on not starting out to fast. Enjoy the race, the cheering crowd and your performance but always check if you’re running at a pace that you can maintain throughout the entire race. In a first race no matter the distance the time is not as important as finishing in a happy mood. That’s what keeps you motivated to go on with running and improve for the next race.

What Now?

If you didn’t succeed in your first 5k race don’t worry. Try to figure out what went wrong and learn from your mistakes. It’s totally fine to make mistakes in your first race as long as you don’t make them over and over again.

If you were able to finish the race then I congratulate you to your success! I hope you had a blast and are now even more motivated to keep on running. You have now three possibilities. First you could stop running but there actually is no reason for that, right? Second you can keep running at a pace and training volume you now did which is totally fine. And the third option is to set a new goal that motivates you even more. If you choose the latter I recommend you to read this guide:

How to Set Your Next Running Goal

As always I’m curious to read about your experiences. Write a comment about your first 5k race below!

Happy running

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