How I Ran My First 5K and How You Can Do It Too
My First 5K
About two years ago I ran my first 5K. I was very proud of my accomplishment because it was something I could never imagine doing when I first started. In fact, the first time I jogged for a whole minute, I was ecstatic and surprised at myself as I felt that was a long time! You should've seen me when I was finally able to jog for 20 minutes without stopping. It happened in Manhattan. I was traveling at the time and decided to continue my training program among the beautiful trees and pathways of Central Park. I was wearing cheap boy shorts that I'd bought from a street vendor because I hadn't anticipated that the weather would be too balmy for my sweatpants. :) It was not much later that I was able to complete my very first 5K race.
I'm going to share with you how I kept myself motivated and how I trained my body to be ready to run my first 5K at the Palo Alto Moonlight run.
The Many Benefits of Running
Running is one of the best ways to get in shape and stay fit. Coupled with a healthy eating lifestyle, you are going to be one very svelte and healthy-looking person if you maintain a regular running schedule. There are many benefits of running that deserve to be touted:
- Running is practically free. The only investment is in running shoes and running socks. If you run on the beach or on soft grass, you don't even need to invest in running shoes. You can wear your regular comfortable sweatpants and t-shirt and you are ready to go.
- Running helps keep your cardiovascular system healthy. It brings oxygen to all your cells (which is a good thing). It tones and conditions muscles. It strengthens bones. Running is very beneficial to your body.
- Running feels good if you do it right.
- Running can be meditative. It can be your time alone to muse over your day or over any problems you might be having. Many runners say their best ideas come during a run. Running helps your brain stay sharp and active by helping keep your brain cells fresh and helping to create new brain cells.
- Running is one of the best ways to enjoy nature and get some fresh air.
- It is easy to track your progress as you go. You can time yourself or keep track of how long you run. It's fun to keep track in unconventional ways, like how many blocks you run rather than how many miles, especially if you run the same neighborhood path regularly.
- Your clothes will fit! Since running keeps you in shape, all your clothes will fit easily. If you have some pounds to lose, you will soon need to purchase smaller clothing. This is especially true if you include healthy eating in your lifestyle, which I recommend.
- Running can be done anywhere. You can take your exercise with you when you travel.
- Running helps you explore an area. You can travel through beautiful paths and go where your heart leads you. I've discovered many interesting and pleasant parts of the city I live in when out for a run.
- As your stamina and health improves, running saves you time! Why walk somewhere when you can run? A little jog won't make you that sweaty, especially when you're fit. Walking will begin to feel slow once you're in a regular running habit.
- Running can be done by anyone. You don't have to be super fit when you start out. You just have to start out slowly. You can go at your own pace and at the pace that's right for your body. Everyone has their own running rhythm that works best for them.
- Running is a great way to listen to interesting podcasts or to your favorite music. High-energy music is especially fun on a run, since you feel like going fast and moving with the beat.
- It's easy to fit running into your day. You can run early in the morning before work and get your exercise all done with. That way you have an empty stomach and won't have to worry about cramps. You can run at night, when the weather's cooler and there are less cars out. You'll expend the last of your energy and when you go to bed, you'll sleep like a rock.
- Running is a nearly total workout, especially from the vantage point of your total health. Once you've become a regular runner you'll find you don't have to do a lot more to stay attractively fit.
- Your stamina increases as you begin to run regularly. This is fun to see and feel. You'll be able to get a better workout done in shorter time because you'll be faster and able to go longer.
- Running helps to keep you from eating unhealthy foods. You'll notice as a runner that the better you eat, the better you'll run. So it's a built-in incentive to eat healthier fare.
- Exercise curbs the appetite also, so your digestion and appetite will be well regulated.
Simply put, shoes.
How should you start a running program? There is absolutely something that I feel is mandatory if you want to run regularly. I recommend making one small investment that is really going to pay off later: proper footwear, which means running shoes and running socks.
You should go to a real runners' shoe store rather than just any old shoe store, even big name brand shoe stores. Running shoe stores have trained personnel who measure your feet and give you good running advice since they are usually runners themselves. I would recommend reading how to buy running shoes before going so you are well prepared.
I buy my running shoes a half-size too big because my feet swell during and after running. I also wear running socks for my running workouts. Running socks are more expensive than regular socks but they are worth it. They wick away moisture so you won't get blisters. They also make your running shoes much more comfortable. Mine are slightly less cushion-y on the top so my running shoes fit better.
There are now the new "barefoot" shoes to consider. I have not purchased these because I didn't feel they were as comfortable as my regular running shoes were. These barefoot shoes separate your toes and one of my toes just didn't like being separated when I tried the shoes on in the store. :) My running shoes are already of the "minimal" type, which means they have less cushioning than other running shoes and more of my feet bones and muscles thus get a workout and get strengthened.
"Couch Potato to 5K" Podcasts
If you have an iPod, I think you have a leg-up when starting a running program. I would recommend you search online or on iTunes for a free "couch to 5K" or "couch potato to 5K" running program. This is how I started and I highly recommend it if you're just beginning.
It's important to increase your pace and distance slowly so that your body can rebuild itself into a healthier runner's body. This doesn't happen overnight. In fact, most runner injuries happen because the runner does too much too soon.
Note: While I've been using the term running here a lot, there's nothing wrong with exchanging it for the word "jog". If your running is at a pace of jogging, that's fine as far as your health is concerned. Jogging is less impact on your knees and joints and just as good for your heart and body as running is.
That's why it's so important to include lots of walking breaks during your running (or jogging) workout. The walking allows your body to heal up and you to catch your breath. You can enjoy the nature around you and then gear up for your next spurt of jogging.
The Couch to 5K free podcast programs that are out there are great for this. You'll be able to improve your running at a reasonable pace without having to time things out for yourself.
Learn Proper Running Form
A great book to teach you proper running form is Chi-Running . You want to be light on your feet, even paced, and leaning a bit forward.
Most importantly you want to listen to your body and slow down to a walk if something feels wrong. Lots of runner injuries could be prevented if the runner listened to their body instead of struggling to push through the pain. Pain is there to give you a message, so listen to it. A healthy run does not hurt and does not harm the body.
Tips for New Runners
There are many things you can do to make your new running program a success. Here are some of my favorite tips.
- Of course, start prepared with good running shoes and good running socks that fit properly. This will much lower your chance of getting blisters and your chances of injuring yourself because of poor shoes is also lowered.
- I recommend running outside rather than on a boring treadmill, but to each their own. I find outside running is more exciting and also happens to be free. Your feet, legs, and ankles also get the opportunity to strengthen up and handle different terrain, inclines, and curves, which doesn't happen on a treadmill.
- Decide your path before you start, or at least have an idea of where you want to go to explore. There are a lot of programs you can find for free like "Map my run" and other free aps that you can use to keep track of where you run. If you don't know a neighborhood, make sure you don't run yourself lost. Pay more attention than usual if it's your first time out in a neighborhood so you can get back safely.
- Start a running journal. This is a great idea and can really keep you motivated. This is what I did at a health website (Dr. McDougall's website) dedicated to those following Dr. McDougall's vegan dietary program. You can join a runner's forum or start a blog with Blogger or Wordpress and track your progress. It's a lot of fun if you find a supportive place where others start to get involved in your progress, especially if you are aiming to complete your first 5K. Getting the support of others working toward a healthier lifestyle was what I needed to keep me motivated to continue training. I was always happy to report my progress to them.
- Keep your new running schedule at a regular time in your day. It may depend on what you have on your plate, but I think it helps you subconsciously stick to your schedule if you always run at the same time of day. I used to run in the mornings or in the evenings, and eventually I settled on jogging nearly every morning as soon as I got up in the morning. I found that time slot had some advantages for me like being able to run on an empty stomach (no worry of cramps), getting to watch the sunrise (enjoyable), and getting my exercise done with for the day had a positive effect on my mood.
- Don't run every day when you first start and include a lot of walking breaks. Your body needs rests between runs to heal up and strengthen itself. That's why I recommend one of the "couch to 5K" podcasts, because they help you increase your stamina and distance at a healthy pace, without injury.
- A lot of runners like running with others. You can find a running partner on Craigslist or through a running forum or health forum. Maybe you can convince your friend to run? It's probably safer to run with others than to run alone, so if you are worried about safety, then grab a friend. You can also join a beginners running group. This is sure to keep you motivated and includes a little social group for you.
- If you have a dog that can handle it, take the dog! I don't have a pet but that sounds like fun to me. This way both of you get exercise and you have a bit more protection if you're worried about safety.
- Run in safe areas, not in obviously dangerous neighborhoods. Parks or college campuses can be beautiful to run through. If you have a beach nearby or a marina, that can be a great place to start running. Just use your common sense.
- Obey the laws of the road, of course, but I often like to run on pavement rather than sidewalk. My engineer friend told me that sidewalk is harder than pavement so it's better for you to run on pavement or dirt paths that can absorb more shock. Less impact means less injuries. When I run on the pavement I stay in the bike lanes and I'm careful. There's a street near where I live where all the regular runners and joggers use the bike lane because the distance between the bike lane and the car lane is relatively wide. It's very safe and a regular spot for many joggers and runners in the area.
- Take walking breaks! Bears repeating. Take lots of walking breaks and trust that with time your distance will improve. Worry less about being fast and being competitive ~ it's better to get a good workout that's shorter than a long one where you've worn your body out.
- Wear layers and be prepared to warm up.
- Stay well hydrated. I do this by making sure to drink a little water before my run. On warm or hot days, I might run in a park or near a place where I know I can get free water. I also carry a little lightweight coin purse with me that has a few dollars in it so I can purchase a water bottle if I really need one.
- Signing up for a specific 5K is a great way to commit to getting in shape, particularly if it's for a charity and a cause you love and/or if you have a friend joining in with you. A lot of charity runs include training programs and even group training runs. You just have to see what's out there in your neck of the woods. An easy way to find 5Ks is to do a Google search for 5Ks in your state or near your city. If you live in or near a big city there should be plenty to choose from. 5K races can have different price ranges, from free to about $30 or $35. 5Ks are a good start for runners, being only just over 3 miles long, so they aren't too long for beginners to train up to and for more serious runners, they help keep them in shape.
Getting It Done
Finishing the 5K was a nice accomplishment in my life. I moved from being someone who never thought I could run, to someone who had just finished a 5K! It was fun to run with all the other runners and to support a good cause. I felt the satisfaction of setting a goal and completing it. It amazed me that my body could adapt to running so well. I found that because of my training, I had a lot more stamina than I'd thought. If my body could do it, than so can yours! I hope you enjoy your 5K training and this article has given you some good tips and encouragement.