The 5-kilometer distance, or 3.1 miles, is a great goal for any new runner. In fact, the 5K distance race is the most popular event nationally by a large margin.
Follow these 5K tips to best prepare and train smart for your first 5K!
The Most Important Gear: Running Shoes
Running is a relatively inexpensive sport, requiring little equipment. The most important and, arguably, only equipment needed are proper running shoes. New running–specific shoes will prevent injury and provide a more enjoyable running experience. Depending on how much you run, coaches and running experts suggest purchasing new running shoes about 1-2 times/year, or about every 500 miles. To keep your shoes fresh, try to use your running shoes for running only. Some popular running shoe brands include Asics, Brooks, Saucony, Altra, Hokas, Mizuno and New Balance. Most runners do well in a stability or neutral shoe, but your local running store can help you get fitted to the perfect shoe for your gait.
2. How to Get Started: Run/Walk Method
Beginner runners can be very successful following the run/walk training method. This method alternates running with walking throughout each workout session. Throughout the weeks, your running time strategically builds as the walking time gradually decreases. This type of training allows your body to adapt to running while enhancing your ability to workout for a longer duration of time.
Run/Walk Method Example:
Week 1: Run 2 minutes, walk 2 minutes alternating for a total of 30 minutes. (3x/week)
Week 2: Run 5 minutes, walk 90 seconds alternating for a total of 30 minutes. (3x/week)
Week 3: Run 8 minutes, walk 1-minute alternating for a total of 30 minutes. (3x/week)
Week 4: Run 10 minutes, walk 2 minutes. Repeat 3 times (3x/week)
Week 5: Run 15 minutes, walk 1 minute. Repeat 2 times (3x/week)
Week 6: Run 20 minutes, walk 1 minute. Repeat 2 times (3x/week)
3. Where to Run: Best Running Terrain
Outside, inside, road, dirt, track, sidewalk… oh the places you’ll see! The best thing about running is exploring the world on foot, but there is ideal terrain to explore on. You take about 2,000 steps per mile running (depending on your stride), which can add up quickly during your weeks of training. Running on terrain that absorbs more shock will reduce risk of long-term injuries. The best surfaces to choose is either grass, a soft dirt trail, or a synthetic track. These surfaces provide added cushion and “give” with every step taken. Next, choose the treadmill. Although it is recommended to run in the environment you will be racing in, the treadmill has built-in shock absorption factor. Lastly, asphalt (pavement) and concrete (sidewalks) should be your last choice. Although the most common and available, sidewalks deliver the most shock and can be chronically damaging to runners’ legs. If you do have to run on the road or sidewalks, as most of us do, try to just do 1 run each week on a softer surface.
4. Typical Week of Running
5K training plans can differ vastly based on your goal, fitness level, and running experience. The one thing in common, they all involve running! The principle of specificity states that training should be relevant to the sport in order to produce the desired effect. Basically, you must run to get better at running!
For beginners, running about 3 times/week will facilitate training adaptations needed to complete the goal of a 5K race. Throughout a 6-8 week training program, weekly mileage should increase from about 5 to 10 total miles. Running coaches recommend following the 10% rule. This training idea explains that weekly mileage, or intensity, should only increase by 10% week to week for optimal improvement and injury prevention.
5. Hydration & Fuel
Now that you are running more, your body needs more fuel to recovery and perform. You might find yourself more hungry than usual, this is normal. Maintaining a healthy balanced diet will provide your body the nutrients it needs to build muscle and replenish energy stores. Fuel with nutrient-dense foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. Although everyone is different, it is recommended to consume about 150–300 calories of a protein/carb combo snack about 30-60 minutes before a run. After your run, focus on protein rich foods to aid in muscular recovery.
Hydration is very important while exercising, even in the cold weather months. Ideally, you should be consistently drinking water throughout the day for proper hydration. Aim for about half your body weight in ounces of water for an entire day’s worth of water intake. If you’re hydrating all day you should only need about 16oz of water before a run. Don’t chug your water or you might feel very full for your run!
6. Have Fun!!
Running is about enjoying the run and what your body can achieve. Take in the outdoor fresh air, enjoy the scenery, catch up with a running friend. Whatever it takes to enjoy your training. Yes, starting a workout in the freezing cold might not be thrilling, but most of your running should be a positive aspect of your life that adds joy… and savage-ness!
Written By: Bethann Wittig
Rutgers Recreation Fitness & Personal Training Coordinator
RRCA Running Coach; NASM-CPT