So you’ve decided you want to run a 5k! Fantastic! No matter what your starting fitness level or your motivations, it’s definitely possible to get there. A 5k run is 3.1 miles and although it is a relatively short distance, it can be one of the hardest distances to run. As a personal trainer, it is my job to not only motivate people but to help them reach their goals no matter what. I’ve put together 8 top tips for running your first 5k and enjoying the process.
1. It’s all about time on your feet
One of the basic principles of training as a runner is time on your feet. All this means is just getting the miles in, no matter what. Your legs, feet, and joints need time to get used to pounding the pavement, and although running is a natural human movement, sometimes it doesn’t come all that naturally! So get out there and run or walk no matter if it’s raining, cold, or you don’t feel like it. Fast or slow, a mile is still a mile.
2. Build up gradually
This may seem like an obvious one, but running can be a really tricky one to get right, and if you start to feel really amazing after only a few runs, it can be very tempting to overdo it. You want to push yourself to only about 60% of your maximum effort on your first few training runs, and keep them to only about a mile or two while your body gets used to it. It’s tempting to go sprinting off and think ‘wow this is easier than I thought!’ but beware! As soon as that tight chest and breathlessness hits, you might feel like you never want to run ever again! Take it easy and build up very gradually.
3. Use your surroundings
Interval training is the best way to build up your stamina. A classic way of training for your first 5k is to run for 1 minute, walk for 1 minute, and repeat. It can be hard to keep track of this when you’re outdoors and not on a treadmill, so use your surroundings to help you. You can use lamp posts as markers; run for 2lamp posts, walk for 2 lamp posts for example. Or use other landmarks, for example you could tell yourself ‘I’ll keep running until I reach that bench’ and then don’t let yourself stop until you reach it! Once you push yourself out of your comfort zone you’ll start making progress. But remember point 2 about not overdoing it and listen to your body.
4. Make sure you have the right gear
Running in the wrong trainers or sportswear can make you very uncomfortable and even cause injuries. I know that for me, if my sports bra is chafing or my leggings are falling down then I just want to stop and go home right away. Find yourself a sports bra that gives you appropriate support without being too tight on your shoulders, and running leggings which won’t fall down or ride up while you’re running. Being distracted by uncomfortable sportswear is the worst and will completely demotivate you. It may take a while to find the perfect gear, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run (pardon the pun!)
This is a really important point that even seasoned athletes need to remind themselves sometimes. Especially if you’re nervous or anxious about running, your jaw and shoulders will clench up meaning that the running becomes harder and you’re more likely to feel achy afterwards. While you’re running, make a conscious effort of relaxing your jaw by moving it from side to side, and shake your arms out to release the tension from your shoulders. You may feel like you look silly, but it’s important, so do it anyway!
6. Rest and recover properly
If you are feeling super achy, don’t go out and run again, even if it’s on your training plan. Your body will need lots of time to recover when you first start out, but it will begin to recover quicker after a while and you won’t have to wait as long between training sessions. Make sure you fuel and nourish yourself properly too, and always eat after you train! A common mistake people make is that they will go for a run in the evening, and then go straight to bed because they’re not hungry. But your muscles need nourishment to recover, so even if you’re not hungry, at least have something small like a banana.
7. Cross train
Cross training means doing other types of workout other than just running so that your muscle fibres can get stronger in other ways and improve your running performance. At least one day a week, hit the gym for a cross training session where you focus on strengthening your core, back, and legs because you will need them strong for your running.
8. Have fun
This is my final tip, and it’s the most important one of all. You should only run because you enjoy it, and not because you are punishing yourself for eating something unhealthy or because you hate your body. If these are your motivations for working out, you will never enjoy it and it will always feel like a horrible chore. The day you realise how wonderful the freedom of running is, and how irreplaceable that runner’s high is, will be the day you learn to enjoy running and to love your body for what it can achieve. Sure, at first you may feel sick, or have a tight burning chest, but take it slow and be proud of yourself afterwards. Don’t ever push yourself too far beyond your limit – unless you are a professional athlete you just don’t need to! The best way to train for your first 5k is to just get out there and run, and very soon you’ll be able to run further and faster than ever before and that is one of the best feelings in the world.