Preparing for your first 5k can be a daunting experience.
You’re excited about the training and seeing how hard you’re going to be able to push yourself, but you want to make sure you get everything right so you don’t hit any roadblocks along the way.
You also want to optimize your training so you run your best time.
We spoke to some top running coaches, doctors, PTs, and runners to glean their wisdom for anyone preparing for their first 5k.
Let’s jump in!
Related: Here’s our complete Couch To 5k guide and training plan
Dr. Jordan Duncan, is the owner of Silverdale Sport & Spine; a sports medicine clinic specializing in difficult to treat musculoskeletal pain conditions located in Silverdale, Washington, about an hour from Seattle. In addition to working with runners, he has completed several marathons and numerous shorter distance races himself.:
1. First, Choose a Race a Few Months Away
The first thing I would recommend to someone running their first 5k is to choose a race a few months in the future and sign up. Once you have done this, I would find a training plan. There are many great plans online or in running books, and I would search for one that suits your level of fitness, running experience, and schedule.
2. Find a Training Plan and Commit To It
When you have found the right plan, make a commitment to start it on a certain date and stick to it. Carve out the time you need to complete your weekly runs, and ultimately reach your goal of running a 5k.
Finding a running partner or joining a running group can be a great way to keep yourself accountable for the inevitable days you may not feel like running.
3. Listen To Your Body
From a physical standpoint, it’s best not to overdo it when starting out. Training plans will help you gradually increase your mileage, however it is wise to listen to your body. Injuries such as shin splints and Achilles tendonitis can occur because the overall training load was too much for an individual at a given time.
Initial soreness, often located in the quadriceps, gluteal muscles, and calves is common when starting out. This soreness usually appears the day after running and should subside within a few days. Soreness or pain that lasts for longer than a few days should warrant a reduction in training volume, frequency and/or intensity, and if that doesn’t help, consult a healthcare provider.
4. Add In Some Simple Strength Training
Alison Marie Helms, PhD is a pre/postnatal Certified Personal Trainer, and commented on the importance of strength training to supplement your running:
One thing that cannot be left out when training for your first 5k is strength training. Running is a single leg, dynamic, and plyometric exercise. We need to be strong. Ideally, a runner should work their way up to being able to perform 25 of each of the following with good form.
- Single-Leg Calf Raises
- Single-Leg Sit to Stand
- Single-Leg Bridge
- Side Plank with Hip Abduction Leg Lift.
Stephen Lane, USA Track and Field Level 2 certified coach; and have coached numerous all-Americans and all-region athletes at the HS level. Here are his tips for anyone prepping for their first 5k:
5. Rule #1 = Have Fun
On my team, we always said, “Rule #1 is have fun. Rule #2 is see Rule #1.” Obviously running hard means discomfort, and that won’t always be enjoyable, but overall, it’s important to enjoy the journey.
More practically speaking, it’s important to know why you’re running. Is it just to get fitter? Spend time with friends? Feel healthier? A new challenge? See if you can complete this sentence: “I am running because _______ .” If you can, great – be sure to remind yourself of that often. It will help you follow Rule #1.
6. Know What Your Goals Are
Goals: iI you do have a more specific goal, like losing weight, running a certain time, being able to run a certain distance, that’s great too. Goals can help, if you think about them the right way. Start with the goal, then list the things you will do to accomplish it – the goal is the outcome, the things you will do make up the process.
And, if your goal is, say, to run 8-minute miles for a 5K, then you also want stepping stones: we never put a timetable on goals, we only kept track of hitting the steps along the way. So if you run 9 minute miles this time out, you try to run 8:55 next time out, and you can track your progress toward the ultimate goal. Progress is fun. See Rule #1….
Thomas Watson is the head coach and founder at MarathonHandbook.com, here’s his tips:
7. Dial It Down The Week Before
In the five days leading up to your 5k, you should dial down the intensity and mileage of your training. This helps your body heal from any stress it’s been under recently, making sure you’re in optimal condition when you get to the start line.
8. Sleep Right for Two Nights
Well-rested means well prepared. Did you know that the most important night for resting is actually two nights before a running event? While you should always try and get a good night’s sleep the night before your 5k, the previous evening is even more critical! Make these evenings calm and relaxing, and avoid alcohol.
9. Know your Gear
You should already have extensively trialled and tested all the gear you are taking with you to your 5k. This means running shoes, socks, shorts, shirt, cap . . . everything! A new pair of shoes can begin to ache, or new shorts chafe in unexpected ways. Avoid getting unpleasant surprises during your run; test everything!
10. Breakfast = Fuel
On the morning of your 5k, you should look to eat an energy-filled, easy-to-digest breakfast. Try and each this 2-3 hours before your run. You can go for oatmeal with added nuts and dried fruit, a power-packed smoothie, or pancakes with fruit. Whatever floats your body – just remember to make sure it’s something you like, and that you know will be easily digestible!
11. Start Line Logistics
Make sure you’ve studied the event instructions, so you know exactly where to go and when to be there. Get there early to give yourself time to use the facilities, warm up, and get in the zone.
12. Last Minute Fuel
Eat a high-energy snack like an energy bar, banana, or gel 15-20 minutes before the start. Make sure this is something you’ve tested before – the last thing you want is a nervous stomach as you begin!
13. Conserve Your Pace
As the start gun fires, it is easy to get swept along in the energy of the moment and run as fast as you can. Remind yourself that you’re in the middle of an adrenaline spike which won’t last for the full 5k. Unless you’ve been training rigorously and know your pace inside out, try to hold back slightly in the first 1/3 of the run.
14. Keep it Steady
The most successful runners will either run the same pace throughout the 5k, or gradually speed up. If you’re relatively new to running, I recommend aiming for a consistent pace throughout the run – not slowing down is an awesome achievement!
Download Our Free 5k Training Plan
Our 4-week 5k training plan below is designed to get you ready for your run to the best of your ability!
The week-day training runs are designed to be walk/runs – if you’re finding them too easy or hard, simply adjust the ratio of time spent walking and running.
Cross-training days are awesome for your running fitness – don’t avoid them if at all possible.
And each weekend you have a long run – my suggestion is to attempt to run the whole distance, but take walking breaks as necessary.
If you need a break, it’s much better to slow down to a walk than stop altogether.
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