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Tips for Beginners on How to Prepare for First 5K

  [ 37 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • March 19, 2003

Whether the goal is personal fitness, community support or a pure sense of accomplishment, running and finishing a 5-kilometer (5K) race is a realistic pursuit, even for novice runners. Because proper training is so important, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) has developed tips to get the beginning runner on the right path to the finish line.

Set Attainable Goals:

A 5K (3.1 mile) race is a relatively easy goal for a novice runner, but it may also challenge the expert runner depending on intensity and speed. Beginners should start out with a simple program that allows them to succeed and move forward when they are ready. To avoid burnout or injury, limits should not be pushed; the main goal is to reach the finish line. The runner’s goal for the first race should be to have a good time and to build confidence by finishing the race.

Starting the Training Program:

The first step should be a complete medical exam to make sure it is safe to begin a running program. Depending on a person’s training base, an eight-to-10 week program should be just enough time to prepare to run 30 minutes, which is the approximate time it will take a beginning runner to complete his or her first 5K.

If the runner has not previously been involved in a running program, it may be best to start with an eight-day walking program routine, before starting to run. The program consists of walking for 20 minutes the first four days, followed by walking for 30 minutes the last four days. If this causes no problems, next follow a 30-minute circuit of running for two minutes and then walking for four minutes, five times consecutively. This routine should be done three times per week until the runner is comfortable. Each week, the runner should add one minute to the running time and subtract one minute from the walking time. This should continue until the person is running comfortably for the full 30 minutes.

Be Smart and Safe:

Gradual training and attention to safety are the keys to long-term success; and rest time is just as important as the time spent training. When looking for gear, runners should select proper shoes and clothing that fit well and suit the desired fitness purpose. The best running surface is a track. If no track is available, asphalt is better than concrete, and dirt or silt alongside the road is even better. But, when running near areas of traffic, special attention must be given to wearing highly visible, even reflective, clothing.

Community Support:

Because running is relatively inexpensive and a great way to stay in shape, the popularity of 5K races has dramatically increased during the past few years. Races have also become popular fund- or awareness-raising events at the local level. By running a 5K on behalf of a charity, organization, or specific cause, a person is supporting their community and meeting new people who share similar interests and goals.

Staying Motivated:

Although running is an individual pursuit, it can also be turned into a group activity. Often, finding one or more people with the same goals (such as running a 5K) can help keep the motivation going, and maybe lead to running longer races in the future. Working with a personal trainer who specializes in sport-specific training may also benefit a person preparing for their first race. But, homework needs to done before hiring a personal trainer to make sure he or she is properly educated, certified, and has the right qualifications to help the runner meet his or her goals.

ACE has created an online database, Find an ACE Pro, so that people can locate ACE-certified fitness professionals in their community. Find an ACE Pro can be accessed through ACE’s main site,

Scott Lewandowski, the 2001 IHRSA/ACE Fitness Director of the Year, has extensive experience working with new runners at his club, the Union Station Multiplex, in Chicago, Illinois. There he trains and motivates members to run marathons. Although most of his clients are working toward a longer race, his motivational advice is helpful to runners at any level. When people train with me, says Lewandowski, I ask them to keep a log of all their runs. Included in the log are such things as distance, time of day, total running time, weather, emotions, and heart rate. He then encourages them to go back and review their logs to see how much mileage they’ve accumulated and to remind them of what they’ve accomplished in their training.

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