Training for your first 5K. Are you doing the right things?

By: John Miller
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

The 5K is an incredibly popular foot race distance. It's long enough to provide a physical challenge but short enough that it's not intimidating for newcomers. Are you doing the right things to train for your first 5K?

It's just a 5K, right? Wait, how far is 5K?

The 5K is 3.1 miles. In other words, a lot of people could run one of these races without any training whatsoever ... but we don't recommend it.

What should your expectation be for your first 5K?

This is your first 5K, so set your expectations in a realistic way. Just finish the race ... then you can pick another race and adjust your expectations accordingly.

A beginner's training plan should include a mix of running and _____.

Don't try to go from zero to hero. A novice training plan should blend running and walking, which gives your body a chance to slowly transform from French fry digesting blob to Olympian.

Before you start training for a 5K, you should do what?

Find a beginner's training plan online. A plan gives you some structure for plotting out your training runs and helps you avoid overdoing it.

What's one of the first things you should consider when you think about training for your first 5K?

Not all 5Ks are created equal. Some take place on hilly courses at high altitude; others are in hot, humid areas. Know what you're getting into before you start your training and adjust plans accordingly.

If life circumstances cause you to miss a training run, what should you do?

Stuff happens. You'll miss a training run or two, and that's OK. The important thing is that you pick up where you left off and stick with the process.

On your second day of training, what are you likely to do?

Wait, really? One day of run/walk followed by 30 minutes of walking? Hey, this 5K training isn't so bad after all!

What's one thing you should have clear in your mind before you start training?

Understand in your own mind why you're taking up this project. Is it a temporary fun event to share with a friend? Or are you embarking on a life-changing fitness program? Or are you just testing the waters? Understanding your own motivations will help you approach training in a way that makes you feel good instead of obligated.

After you find a training calendar that you like, what should you do with it?

That training calendar is now your guiding force in life. Print it. Put it on the wall where you will see it every day. Cross off your training runs as you complete them. These little habits will mentally reinforce your dedication to the process.

True or false: If you decide to run a 5K, you must also start a strength training program and a core fitness program.

Again, this is a 5K. Your hardcore running friends might tout the benefits of strength and core training ... tell them to chill out. Just do your walking and running program and you'll be fine. If you decide to take up running seriously, strength training is definitely a good idea.

On that very first day of training, what are you going to do?

You'll start slow. You're going to alternate jogging and walking for about 30 minutes. That's it. Don't worry, Netflix will forgive you this transgression.

Your new training program should include at least two days of ______.

As an athlete-in-training, you must soon learn that rest is part of training. At least two days of week, you'll be taking it easy so that your body can adjust and absorb your training runs.

Many 5K programs include "run/walk" training days. What does that mean?

Newbie training programs often alternate running and walking. For example, you may run 30 seconds and then walk for 45 seconds, and then repeat. The idea is to slowly acclimate your body and mind to running.

As you work through your training program, you'll undoubtedly develop some soreness. What should you do?

It's one of the most important tenets of running -- listen to your body. Ice, stretch and pay attention to little aches and pains. Because if you don't, those little aches can turn into chronic injuries that halt your training.

If you decide to run a 5K, how should you address the topic with your friends?

Do tell your friends that you've started this new adventure. Talking about goals helps make them real. But don't bore them with the details; no one needs to hear about your latest blister.

If you get blisters on your feet while training, what should you do?

Blisters happen. Just lance them, keep them clean and keep going. If they become a chronic and debilitating issue, you may need to reconsider your footwear or check your stride.

When your training calendar specifies that you should run 1 mile, how should you approach this run?

This is your first 5K. Run slowly and smoothly during all of your training runs. We'll worry about speed for your next race.

What's a cheap and vital tool for beginning runners?

You don't need to spring for every doodad marketed to runners. But a foam roller is your new best friend. It will soothe your aching muscles and alert you to any body parts that maybe need closer monitoring.

As you're running, how should you focus on your stride?

The statistics are clear -- short, quick steps are much easier on your body than a long, galloping stride. Increase your cadence (stepping pace) and you'll be more likely to survive training without injury.

True or false, are most 5K training plans essentially the same?

5K training plans vary widely depending on the experience and conditioning of the runner. Because you're new to this, select a training plan for novices. Otherwise, you'll wish you'd never thought of this crazy idea.

For new runners, how long is a typical 5K training plan?

Just six weeks is all it takes for brand-new runners to go from a couch to a 5K. It's a brief training program that may open your eyes to your fitness potential.

On a 5K training program, your longest training run will be how long?

Most 5K programs slowly increase your training distances. You'll eventually do at least one long run of three or four miles ... which, of course, is your race distance. Once you do one of these long runs, your confidence will soar. You can do it!

How much water should you chug before the race?

You are not about to run across the Mojave Desert. Take a few sips of water. The race will be over before you know it.

Why should you pick a race that gives you time for at least 60 days of training?

Even with a short race like a 5K, your body needs time to adjust. Sixty days is enough time for average people to prepare. If you have health issues of any kind, you may want an even bigger cushion between the start of training and race day.

True or false, if you're training for a 5K, do you need to stock up on a lot of gels and other fancy runner products?

The guys at the running store would love to sell all of those fancy products to you. You don't need them. Eat a balanced, healthy diet during your 5K training and you'll be good to go. Save the hardcore products for your first marathon.

What's a mentally healthy way to approach your training runs?

This is your first 5K ever. It might be the first time you've ever spent consistent time exploring the outdoors near your home. Take the time to observe your surroundings and soak up the experience. It will help you appreciate exactly what you're doing.

What should you do after your training runs?

Your body needs fuel to repair itself after a training run. Eat a small, healthy snack.

What should you eat the night before the race?

This is a 5K. Forget the pasta. Just eat a healthy, balanced meal and you'll be good to go.

What should you do the night before your big race?

You've put a lot of training into this race. Go for a short jog or walk and then call it a night. Just rest and relax and have fun looking forward to the race.

What should you do the day AFTER your first 5K?

You successfully completed your first 5K. Bask in the afterglow, and rest. Then realize that you're capable of doing all sorts of things in life if you simply come up with goals and stick to a plan to achieve those goals.

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