Yes, You Can Run a 5k!

July 31, 2013 at 5:54 pm , by

The Color Run image courtesy of Brian Hall

I still remember the pit of dread in my stomach when I lined up to run the required timed mile for my high-school gym class. Although I was active, I never considered myself a runner, and the last thing I wanted to do was be evaluated on how fast I could struggle around the track on a muggy spring afternoon.

It took me a long time to learn that running doesn’t have to be a terrible timed experience. In fact, I’m still learning that running can be fun. Events such as The Color Run, Diva Dash and Mudathlon are convincing reluctant athletes like me that running a mile, or even the 3.1 miles that make up a 5k, is completely doable. After all, it’s much easier to forget the burn in your legs and your lungs when you’re crawling through a mud pit in a tutu or being splashed with a rainbow of powdered color.

After talking to some experts, I learned the best tips for 5k training, whether it be a traditional road race or a wacky trail filled with obstacles like a 50-foot bubble tunnel.

  1. Begin training at least two to three months in advance. Training for a fall race in the summer will make the autumn event easier, says David Alm, communications director of NYCRUNS. The drop in temperature will give you a boost and makes running easier than it is in oppressive summer humidity.
  2. Find a plan that works for you. Many new runners have had success with Couch to 5k plans and apps for their phones. These workouts will give you daily combinations of walking and running for your skill level that will help prepare you for the big race. You should also plan on exercising at the same time each day to get yourself into a routine.
  3. Grab a buddy (or two!). If it’s a little too humid or you aren’t feeling motivated, a running buddy will help get you up and moving. That’s why Jim Halsch, president of the Greensboro, North Carolina, Running Club, calls running partners “accountability buddies.” Your ideal partner is someone with a similar skill level and goals. He also recommends having two running partners if possible: “A dog can count as one, but a dog can’t call 9-1-1 if you’re injured.”
  4. Find the perfect shoes for you. There are a lot of expensive running shoes available that promise to deliver the best results. However, a new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that for many people, ordinary sneakers work just as well as the high-tech lace-ups. Make sure they fit well and don’t rub or irritate.
  5. Start slow and stay consistent. It’s perfectly okay to do a combination of walking and running until you build up the stamina to run the whole stretch, Halsch says. Our bodies take time to build up connective tissue and lean muscle, so becoming a marathon (or even 5k) runner doesn’t happen overnight. Also, Alm says that before you try to run faster, you should be able to maintain a conversation at your current pace.
  6. Don’t overindulge. It’s easy to negate all of the hard work you’re doing with extra treats. Alm warns against thinking that you deserve an extra slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream because you got in your daily dose of sweat. “With running, we’re creating a perfectly tuned machine that will recognize that maybe you shouldn’t eat that extra waffle because you’ll feel too heavy afterwards,” he says.
  7. Have a blast. Get down and dirty at Mudderella or bring out your inner fighter in a Warrior Dash. These runs aren’t as intimidating as they sound because most aren’t timed and are filled with amateur athletes. In fact, 60 percent of The Color Run participants are running their first-ever 5K race. Pretty Muddy was designed specifically for women to enjoy an athletic event without feeling intimidated by male competitors. Just remember that these 5ks use more muscle groups than traditional runs, so you might be a little more sore afterward if you’re used to road races. To train for these events you might incorporate more strength training into your workouts. But then again, no one has quite perfected the art of training for a mud crawl or bubble tunnel run just yet.