Most running coaches agree that a 5K is a great place to start, and there are lots of 5K races in Canada ‘ whether it is a charity runs for a great cause, a race close to home or getting caught up in the fever of a marathon (minus the sore legs at the end of it!). Best Health sought the advice of top marathoners, sports physicians and running coaches on how to train for your first 5K, how to stay motivated, and how to avoid the pitfalls ‘ getting you across the finish line in eight weeks or less. Follow this plan for success ‘ if you’re fit, you can combine weeks and set your sights on a 5K in as little as five weeks!
From the starting block:
When you get started, be patient with yourself and remember that it takes time to adjust to a new fitness program, says Cheryl Malton, a running coach with the Running Room in Pickering, ON. ‘It also takes exertion as a beginner runner. Set reasonable goals for yourself, and stick to your plan for at least a couple of weeks to see if running is right for you.’
If you are the type of person who needs motivation from others, find a friend or a group run at a certain time every day and make that commitment to yourself. ‘Tell everyone you are running, then find a race and register for it. Tell your family and friends this is your commitment and you need their support,’ says Cari Meredith-McMurray, a running coach based in Oakville, ON. Group run clinics are offered across the country ‘ check with the Running Room or your local running store ‘ are inexpensive and roughly 8-10 weeks long.
Finally, make sure you are properly outfitted: shoes, weather-appropriate clothing and a good sports bra are essential. As for running shoes, it is imperative you go to a running store or a sports physician to check out your foot type and the right shoe for you. ‘Shoes are the most important thing for running,’ says Dr. Chris Woollam, a sports physician with Athlete’s Care and medical director for both the Mississauga and Toronto marathons. ‘An expert will gauge the way you walk ‘ if you pronate or supinate ‘ and will see if someone has a high or low arch, if they have problems for that, and what special shoe will be best for them.’
Of course, when starting out with any physical fitness consult a physician, or take the Public Health Agency of Canada Par-Q test to determine if there are any red flags in your health that would prevent you from running.
So, you’re dressed up and ready to go. Now what?
The 5K running plan:
At the minimum, you should be running three times a week, but try to commit to four runs, each run consisting of about 30-40 minutes of combined walking and running. Try to increase your total weekly mileage by no greater than 10 per cent week over week. ‘This is a good way to avoid both overtraining and injury,’ says Malton. If you’re running with a group, you’ll likely complete three scheduled group runs and one solo run.
Goal: Walk 90 seconds, jog or run 60 seconds in intervals, and then recover. Interval training alternates higher intensity with lower intensity exercise and is an efficient way of working out. Repeat intervals until you’ve reached 30 minutes.
Set your target: All runners come to running for various reasons ‘ some are trying to lose weight, some want to live healthier, some run because they have lost someone close to them and want to take part in a fundraiser. Decide what your goals are and place them on the refrigerator as a reminder.
Goal: Increase running time to two minutes, decrease walking time to one minute. ‘What you are trying to do is build up your cardio and recover in that one minute of walking time,’ says Meredith-McMurray.
Great Motivator: ‘Tell yourself, ‘I’m setting a good example for those around me. I will probably inspire someone else to make a lifestyle change, whether I know it or not.’ That will help you stay inspired yourself,’ says Malton.
Goal: Run for three minutes, walk for one minute, for 30-33 minutes. As an extra challenge, consider picking up your pace during one of the running intervals.
Potential Pitfall: Dehydration. The USA Track and Field recommends you be sensitive to the onset of thirst as the signal to drink, rather than trying to stay ahead of thirst by drinking first. Try to drink 500 ml an hour before you set out, and then stay hydrated throughout the run.
Goal: Run for four minutes, walk for one minute, for 30-34 minutes. As an extra challenge, pick a route that has hills. ‘I believe all runners should include hill repeats in their schedule as an excellent way to increase strength and endurance while still logging mileage,’ says Malton. Hill repeats involve repeated efforts up and down a hill with a grade of no more than 10 percent – challenging up the hill, easy down.
Speed isn’t an issue: Coaches tell us: don’t focus on how fast you finish, but on the finish line. ‘Remember your time will be your personal best no matter what time you run,’ says Meredith-McMurray.
Goal: Run for five minutes, walk for one minute. For an extra challenge, pick a windy day and run against the wind.
Visualization Techniques: Cari Meredith-McMurray tells us that the five-minute running interval is one of the most challenging for beginner runners. She advises you play a game with yourself ‘ such as counting all things you see that are yellow during the five minute running interval ‘ to keep your mind busy and to stay motivated.
Goal: Try to bump up the running time to seven minutes, and walk for one minute. If you want an extra challenge, you could consider running with very light hand weights.
Potential Pitfall: Injuries. Running injuries run the gamut, from ‘runners knee’ (patelo femoral syndrome) to plantar fasciatis, a stretch injury to the plantar ligament that runs under the arch of the foot. When dealing with injury, experts agree that you should determine whether the injury is something serious or simply a regular ache or pain from running ‘ in many cases, it could be something that rest and ice will take care of. If you don’t know, ask your doctor.
Goal: Up your running to 9 minutes, and walk for one minute. At this stage you should be running for roughly 27 minutes total ‘ you’re nearly there!
Side Stitches: A side stitch is a muscle spasm of the diaphragm and often shows up with novice runners ‘ and if you’ve eaten a bigger meal before you run. According to Dr. Woollam there is no one definitive ‘cure’ for a side stitch ‘ ‘stop, breath deeply and pick up again.’ Try not to eat an hour prior to running.
Goal: It’s the week of the race. Try to run for 10 minutes and walk for one minute. On race day, if you need to walk part of the way that’s ok: ‘I run marathons and still walk part of the way,’ says Meredith-McMurray.
Great Motivator: ‘I always tell my group the greatest motivator is the t-shirt and the medal on race day!’ Merton says. ‘And be proud of yourself ‘ you’ve just run your first 5K.’
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