Your first 5k: Training tips for beginning runners
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If you’ve been inactive for weeks, months, or maybe even your entire life, committing to run a 5K may seem like a pipe dream. But this news might help get you moving: Regular exercise not only improves emotional health and well-being, but the latest research suggests it can add years to your life and even stave off cognitive decline.
Running 3.1 miles can seem daunting, but if you start training 6 months in advance, and take it slow, it’s easily doable.
Even so, transforming your lifestyle from couch potato to athlete requires effort and dedication. You need to figure out the things that could get in the way of achieving your goal—and come up with ways to overcome them.
Here are 10 tips for beginning runners to help you get started:
- Consult your doctor. Before you set out on your first training run, see your doctor. Certain conditions and medications can affect your heart rate, breathing and your ability to exercise. And while training for a 5K is generally harmless, you can’t be too safe.
- Get a good pair of shoes. People think they can pick up running shoes at any sporting goods store, but it’s important to select a pair that match your foot arch and stride type—not only to enhance your performance, but also to prevent injury. Try a store that specializes in running, since the sales team at a standard sporting goods store may not be able to analyze the way you run and fit you properly. If you strike the ground with your heel, for example, you may need a different pair of shoes than someone who runs on their toes. Since running is a low-cost sport, investing $100 (or more!) in a good pair of shoes could be well worth the cost.
- Find a buddy. You’re more likely to stick to your training program if you recruit someone with similar goals to join you. Check out different running clubs or join a 5K group on meetup.com. Surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable can help you stick to your training schedule.
- Set goals. Setting small, measurable goals can help you stay on track. In addition to your ultimate goal of running a 5K, you can make small goals within a single training session. Challenge yourself to run a certain distance and then give yourself a walking break. Or see if you can extend your distance by a block each week. Before you know it, you’ll have reached your goal of running a 5K.
- Start slow. Rather than trying to run 7 days a week, start slow and gradually increase your time and intensity. The trick is to pace yourself: Fast enough so you’re breathing a little heavier but not so fast that you can’t carry on a conversation. At first, you may only be able to handle a 10- or 15-minute walk a few times a week. If you track your progress with a heart-rate monitor or pedometer, you’ll see more steps in no time.
- Take a walking break. If you’re trying to complete a 1- or 2-mile run, building in a walking break (or 2) breaks up your run into smaller, more doable chunks. A bonus: Taking a 1 to 5 minute walking break may help you run longer and harder.
- Don’t forget to warm up—and cool down. Make sure to include a 5-minute walk at the beginning and end of each training session. And before you start a run, you also need a good warm-up routine that includes dynamic stretching (think lunges, squats and knee lifts) to get the blood flowing. Then, walk briskly for 5 minutes before building up speed up to a comfortable running pace. Reverse the order for your cool down, except consider static stretches (reaching for your toes, for example) instead of dynamic stretches to finish.
- Go high tech. Apps, including MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun, can help you stay motivated. There’s even an app called Couch to 5K. These high tech tools can help you track your progress, stay motivated and even make workouts more enjoyable.
- Make the most of every opportunity to move. Walk your dog. Park at the end of the parking lot. Take the stairs. Wash your car (instead of going to a drive-thru car wash). You can even perform a short series of yoga stretches in your cubicle at work every hour. Every move you make will lead you one step closer to your goal.
- Don’t stop running when the race is over. Rather than transforming back to a couch potato after the race, join forces with friends to keep moving, create a lifelong training schedule or sign up for another event.
Accept in advance that you may face obstacles on your journey to being a road warrior. Maybe you have a busy week at work, or your child gets sick. You might even suffer from your own injury or illness. Whatever the setback, know that a lapse in your training is not a failure. With dedication and commitment, you can always get back on track.
Jake Heikkinen, AT, ATC, CSCS, is a licensed athletic trainer and strength and conditioning specialist. He is part of the sports medicine team at Henry Ford’s Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit. He is also the athletic trainer at Lakeview High School in St. Clair Shores, and in 2014, was honored as the High School Athletic Trainer of the Year by the Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society.
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