Run Your First 5K

This is really pretty simple.  If you are not running at all, go read "Start Running" on our website.  When you finish that, you will be ready.  If you are already a jogger / runner and just want a few hints, we can provide that.


We have several articles on proper nutrition.  The primary message is to stay away from fad diets, especially the low-carb diets like Atkins, if you want to run.  Running burns carbohydrates.  You need them.  You don't need simple carbohydrates like sugar.  You need complex carbohydrates, like potatoes, pasta, whole wheat breads, and vegetables.  You also need the same basic healthy foods your mother told you to eat, like fruits and vegetables and protein.  One simple rule to add is "natural is best".  Stay away from highly processed foods.  Instead choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

A vitamin supplement is good, but is not a replacement for eating the right foods in the first place.  It just fills the gaps if you miss something.  Also, an iron supplement is not a bad idea, especially for women.  Running may help to deplete your iron and your period doesn't help either.  Blood loss depletes iron.  Low iron will leave you anemic and feeling drained and tired.


Being flexible will not only help you with your running, it helps prevent injuries.  The one issue is forcing the stretching too vigorously.  Don't injure yourself before you leave the house.  Gentle stretching is good for you.  Loose muscles improve speed.  Things like flexibility classes or yoga may prove beneficial if you have the time and the desire to do these things.  If not, a couple minutes of gentle stretching of your legs before and after you run will help.

Sign Up For the Race

If you are already running, perhaps only a mile or two at a time, you are on the right track.  A good way to motivate yourself is to sign up now for a race about 4 to 8 weeks away.  Keep reading, but go ahead and sign up today.  It will give you a goal and motivation for those days when it is hot / cold / raining / too sunny / whatever when you just don't feel like it.

If you run more than this, what are you waiting for, sign up now and run it sooner!


Assuming you just run a mile or two a couple of days a week, you may want to train for about 4 to 6 weeks before you race.  This isn't complicated.  You want to work your way up to running at least 3 miles in training.  That will get you through the race.  To do this, keep running your mile or two, but increase it to every other day.  After about 2 weeks of this, try increasing the length just one day per week by half a mile each week.  If you start at one mile, this means doing one-and-a-half miles the next week, then two the next week.  Even starting at 1 mile, this will only take 4 weeks to get to 3 miles.  Once you do that, you can race the next weekend if that is when the race is or even get in more 3 milers (or more) if time allows.

Note that the longer runs are still just one day per week.  The other days, just do your mile or two you started with or maybe increase one mile to one-and-a-half miles on your other days.  The long run of 3 miles will be a little bit of a challenge at first and you don't want to do this every day or even every other day.  You need to vary your effort, including giving your body time to recover.  You are becoming an athlete, but progress is gradual.  You stress and then recover.  You don't get stronger when you stress, you actually get stronger when you recover (after stressing).


Don't train hard the last couple of days.  Training effect has a lag of days to a couple of weeks.  Working out hard the day before a race just makes you tired.  Rest, maybe take a day off, and get plenty of sleep.

When race day comes, you can eat a light breakfast if you want to.  Some of us who run 5Ks very hard don't because it might tend to come up at the end of the race, but you don't have to run that hard in your first race.  Drinking fluids is good too, but limit all intake in the last hour or so to sips of water.  You don't want a bloated stomach.  It would be better to be a little hungry and eat after the race, rather than feel ill or get cramps during the race.

Double knot your shoe laces.  Having loose shoe laces in a race is no fun.

Line up somewhere in the middle of the group.  The runners out front will be taking off at 5 or 6 minute mile pace.  You won't take off like that if you want to finish this race.  The people in the back will probably walk.  You want to be somewhere in between.

When the gun goes off, don't take off like it is a hundred yard dash.  This is a 3.1 mile race.  You can probably go a little faster than you train, but don't get carried away.  The most important thing is to run for 3.1 miles without stopping and finish with a smile on your face.  If it is a good effort but not too fast, you will finish.  You will also give yourself a goal time to beat next weekend!  You are really only running against yourself.  So is every other runner out there.  Few have any chance of winning the race outright.  Their challenge is to test themselves and see what they can do.  The objective is to finish the first one and then progress from there.

Happy Running!

Copyright 2009 by Florida East Coast Runners and Frank Norris.  Reproduction or reprinting without written permission is illegal.

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