The foot race is one of the oldest athletic competitions. In the first Olympics, there were six or seven foot races ranging in distance from 200 metres up to about 1,500 metres. Today the Olympic foot races range from 100 metres up to 10,000 metres and also include the half-marathon and marathon events. But for the casual runner, the 5km race is without a doubt one of the most popular racing distances and the most accessible.
The 5K is the distance that is most often associated with races for charity, where registration fees are donated to a specific cause or runners seek donations for each kilometre completed1. The 5,000-metre (3.1-mile) course is an attainable distance for novice racers, and yet is challenging for more experienced runners.
But just because the 5K is an accessible distance, don't think that it should be taken lightly. Puking across the finish line might seem like a good name for a punk rock band, but it's not a great deal of fun for yourself or your fellow racers if you failed to get in shape before you showed up on race day. So it'd be a good idea to do some training runs before you pay your registration fee and line up to run your first 5km race.
There is no shame in completing the distance at a walk. In many 5K charity events, there may be more walkers than runners. But for the sake of this entry, we're looking to get you into shape so you may triumphantly cross the finish line as one of the runners.
Before you even begin a training regimen you need to do two things:
Consult with your physician to make sure you can physically handle the stress of running; and
Buy a good pair of athletic shoes. Nothing can be worse on your feet, knees and legs than an inadequate or improper pair of running shoes. If in doubt, talk to any runner friends you might have or ask at a sporting goods shop.
With those preliminaries out of the way, you'll be ready to start training. It's a good idea for a beginner2 to start slow and build up stamina. You should be able to run for two miles without stopping before you begin this training schedule and you should start your training six weeks before the race date.
The following is a training schedule that one Researcher who is a recreational runner uses to get in shape for a race, but obviously you can mix and match to suit your particular needs:
- On Tuesdays and Thursdays run two miles for the first two weeks and then increase the distance to 2.5 miles for two weeks and then to three miles the final two weeks. Your pace here should be easy, but cause you to breath hard. You should be able to carry on a conversation while running. If you are breathing so hard that you can't talk, you're running too hard.
- On Wednesdays take an easy run/walk at about the same distances you run on Tuesday and Thursday. But don't get hung up on your pacing, this is more of a day to keep moving without working too strenuously.
- Monday and Friday are your rest days. Take it easy and don't do much more than a little light walking. You can switch your running and resting days to suit your schedule, but do try to be consistent.
- On the weekend, try to spend one day doing some other activity (swimming, biking, mountain biking, or hiking) as a sort of cross-training exercise. On the other day stretch out your runs for greater distance, starting with a three-mile run and gradually increasing it every week until you hit 3.5 or four miles. By running more than your target distance you'll develop the stamina to complete the race with confidence.
Don't forget to rest on the day before the race. Sometimes you can get so locked into a training routine that your scheduled rest day will coincide with the day of the race and your body won't know what to think!
Tips for Newbies
If this is your first race, don't even think about winning. Your goal for the first race should just be to finish it. Believe you can do it, but don't get overconfident.
Also, be sure to arrive early. There's nothing worse than hearing the starter's pistol while you're still warming up or finding you way toward the starting line.
Finally, enjoy yourself. Find a nice spot in the pack, ideally near a friend who is running too, and just cruise toward the finish line.