The weather has finally warmed up enough to get back into your walking routine! How will you build on last year’s progress? One option is setting a new goal, like a 5k (or 10k!) event. Although you could always walk a 5k, learning how to run the 3.1-mile distance offers a new and exciting challenge. You may also improve your cardiovascular endurance, boost your self-esteem, and make new connections with runners in your community! Not to mention having an event on the calendar to train for provides additional motivation to stick with your exercise routine. But before getting started, check with your physician to ensure you’re cleared for exercise. When you’re ready, take these steps to build up to running your first 5k.

First, pick an event. Choose one that’s about 6-8 weeks away, depending on your fitness level. This will give you ample time to gradually build your endurance. Commit to this race by signing-up and paying for it right away; financial commitments are one of the best ways to stay motivated! Race entry fees also get more expensive as the event date nears, so if you want to save money, it’s wise to sign up sooner rather than later! If you need help finding a race, you can use a website like Running in the USA. Local running shops are great resources for lesser advertised local races and may even have discount codes and sign-up specials.

Second, select your shoes. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends connecting with a local running club to ask about local trustworthy shoe stores staffed with experts. You’re best off getting your shoes sized in-store after having your running gait and foot motion observed. In general, look for light-weight shoes that provide support and comfort with an appropriate amount of cushion for your running style. Avoid shoes with high heel cushion and low forefoot cushion. Generally, replace running shoes every 300-500 miles, keeping in mind that different shoes will vary in wear based on materials used.

Third, start training! Use a free smartphone app like Couch25k designed to gradually ease you into more walking and running. The idea is to avoid overtraining which can quickly lead to burnout and unfulfilled goals. Beginners may benefit from starting with running/walking intervals of running for 1 minute, then walking for 2 minutes. As your endurance levels increase, run more and walk less. Plan to run or run/walk 3 times per week starting with 1 mile in your first week. Add on an additional ½ mile each week after that. After six weeks, you could build up to 3.5 miles, exceeding your 3.1-mile (5k) goal! If phone apps aren’t your forte, consider using one of the printable training programs from Hal Higdon.

Fourth, get ready to crush your goal! Consider familiarizing yourself with the start and end of the race course by driving-by or taking a trial run. Knowing where your race ends can help you push through mental and physical fatigue. All experienced runners will tell you to never try anything new on the day of your event. Eat the same foods and wear the same shoes you trained in the for the last two months. It is recommended to eat a well-balanced meal 3-4 hours prior to the race, and a small carbohydrate-based snack 30-60 minutes before you start running. The snack before your run should be relatively low in fiber and fat, as these nutrients can cause upset stomach and GI distress during your run. Easily digestible fruit, granola bars, and toast are a few examples of pre-run options. Being dehydrated can cause serious issues on race day, so be prepared by drinking two cups (16 oz.) of water with your pre-run meal and one cup (8 oz.) 15 minutes before the start of the race. If you’ll be running for less than 90 minutes, choose plain water over sweetened sports beverages and take advantage of the hydration stations along the race course.

Ready, steady, go!

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