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Preparing for Your First 5K

Preparing for Your First 5K
You can do it!

Training to run a 5K race is a great way to motivate yourself. It's a clearly defined goal, the deadline is fixed and when you finish people are cheering your accomplishment. It can be a huge rush of excitement.

Running with dozens or hundreds of other people can also be intimidating. To help you better prepare, I asked race directors and race timers for their insights. Here's what they shared with me.

Don't think you have to run the entire race. Many people do something called Run/Walk. They run for a while and walk to recover.

You can train to Run/Walk for set periods of time or distance. Run for five minutes, then walk for two. Run for half a mile, then walk until your heart rate recovers. Keep repeating until you cross the finish line.

You don't have to run at all if you don't want to. Most races have separate categories for walkers. Just make sure to follow the rules. If you're entered as a runner, you can slow down to walk without a problem. But if you enter as a walker, you cannot run. It's a category that people compete in, and suddenly deciding to run partway through is cheating.

Stick to your training pace. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and really get a quick start, but if you're running faster than you've trained for, you're going to burn out.

It's normal to be nervous, but don't waste energy worrying about the other people that show up. You're not competing against other runners, you're there to compete against yourself. The first race you run will establish your time and races after that you'll try to beat it.

Age isn't an excuse, it's a competitive advantage. Most races group people in age categories. The higher the age, the fewer people you're competing against. If you're running to win a medal, the most competitive categories tend to be between ages 20 and 40. Enter the race as a 60 or 70-year-old, and your odds of winning a medal increase substantially. The same goes for anyone 15 and under.

Don't worry about being the last person to finish. A race timer I talked with said one of the most rewarding things he saw was a group of friends that crossed the finish line of a 5K together, over an hour after the race began. Their determination to complete what they started was an inspiration that made the crowd burst into applause when they stepped across the line.

Turn a solitary competition into a team event. Most 5K races are for individuals, but that doesn't mean you have to run them that way. Training with a group of friends can keep you showing up on days you'd rather stay home. On race day, it can be much more comforting to run while surrounded by familiar faces than a sea of strangers.

Share what you plan to do with friends and family so they keep you accountable. Then share what you've done so they know how you did.

Register early. Most races cut the price for early registrations so you'll save a little money. It also helps keep you committed, since you've already paid. Some races restrict the number of entrants and if you wait, the race can sell out.

Don't bring anything new. On race day, stick with what you know. Make sure you're wearing shoes, socks, shorts even a running shirt you've used before. You don't want anything untested that might throw you off.

After the race is over, make notes on what you want to improve. Write down the things you had the most difficulty with and make a training plan to work on your shortcomings. The goals you set don't have to be dramatic, as long as you're working to make each run a little better than the one before.

Finally, look for races that have finisher medals to keep the excitement going. Carry the medal with you to remind you of what you've accomplished. When training for the next race gets tough, take the medal out and remember how good it felt to get it.

If you live in Key West, check out races from Theme Runs. They have runs like theTutu Relay, Heroes and Villains Run, illuminated 5K and the Red Hot Run. You get to have a blast, they all have finisher medals and money gets raised for charities. Everyone wins!

BONUS TIP: You can be someone else. One of the fears people have about running a race is having their time posted for all the world to see. Most races put the finisher times online, and a few even get them published in the local paper. But here's a little secret. For many smaller races, you don't have to use your real name.

If you're seriously worried about someone stumbling across your time online, check with the racing company and ask them about their policy on names. Many companies don't require you to use your real name to run. Typically they won't allow celebrity names or something like Mickey Mouse, because then there may be a dozen Mickey's running. But if you want to cross the finish line under an alias, they don't have a problem with that. Check with the company first before you register. If they say it's OK then have fun running secretly.

Click Here for Theme Runs Races.

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Updated 5/30/2015
Updated 4/16/2017