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Training Tips for a 5K

If this is your first time training for a 5K, remember to start slowly and don't run for distance. Run for time at a comfortable pace. The body you start with at your first training run will not be the same body you bring for the 5K if you prepare properly.

Always consult with your physician before starting any exercise program.

Gear

First, purchase a good pair of running shoes. If you're not sure which type of shoe you need, visit your local running specialty store to get fitted properly. Along with shoes that properly fit, good socks are very important. Look for seamless socks with moisture-wicking properties. This will help keep you free of blisters. And remember that you get what you pay for. Discount shoes and socks will not hold up and, over time, may contribute to an injury. The clothing you train in should be comfortable, easy to move in and breathable.

Nutrition and hydration

Do you know the old saying, "You are what you eat"? It may help to understand that what you eat is fuel for your run. Eat a balance of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and even some fat. Eat smaller, more frequent meals but do not skip meals. Skipping meals is the fastest way to decrease your performance and increase your recovery time. Runners who are salty sweaters need to add salt to their diet. Salt is your friend, and you may find that it actually helps you run better.

There are many schools of thought regarding proper hydration (½ your body weight in ounces, 64 oz./day, etc.). The gold standard is to observe your urine. If it is the color of a banana peel or darker yellow, you are dehydrated and need to drink water. If your urine is clear or almost clear, you are well hydrated.

If you're running in hotter weather, you will sweat more and, therefore, need to consume more water before running. Avoid chugging water before you run, as this will leave you feeling bloated and you'll probably have to stop during your run to urinate. In rare instances, drinking too much water can result in a condition called hyponatremia or water intoxification. Electrolyte drinks are not necessary for a 5K. Never use an energy drink.

Once you have finished your race, it's time to replenish what your body used while running. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy burned during a 5K, and chocolate milk will give you the proper carbs-to-protein ratio that will give your body great hydration and energy. Fresh fruit is always a great snack after a race. A good rule of thumb is to replace 100 calories for every mile you run, so 300 in this case.

Dynamic stretching vs. static stretching

Dynamic means active. This type of stretching activates and loosens up your leg muscles, which prepares you for running. Dynamic stretching will increase your flexibility and promote stronger muscles and joints. Some good dynamic stretches for running are:

  • Leg swings, forward and back and side to side
  • Walking lunges forward and back
  • Knee-high walking
  • Walking butt kicks
  • Exaggerated arm swings
  • Skipping

Static stretching should be done after you run to help bring down your heart rate, reduce your chances for injury and decrease your muscle soreness. This includes traditional stretches such as:

  • Hip flexor stretch
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Standing quad stretch
  • Wall calf stretch

Warm up to run

After you have completed your dynamic stretching, walk briskly for a few minutes. Then speed up to jogging for a few minutes. Begin to pick up your pace to a comfortable running pace. What is comfortable? Run according to your breathing. If you can carry on a conversation, you have a good pace. If you are out of breath and gasping for air while talking, you need to slow down. Remember to start slowly (be the tortoise, not the hare) and build up your pace based on your comfort zone.

Cool down

You deserve congratulations after you finish your 5K, but you can't stop there! The cool down is an essential element that allows your body to return to its resting state, eliminate the waste products produced by the run and maintain healthy muscle function. Start your cool down by returning to the jogging pace you used to warm up for a few minutes and then walk for a few minutes. Remember those static stretches? It's time to do those. As appealing as a nap sounds after your 5K, cooling down is going to make you feel much better the next day.

Sample program

There are many 5K training programs with good ideas and suggestions. This is just 1 more. Remember that slow and steady progression gives you the best chances of staying injury-free and enjoying the many benefits of running. This program is for the beginner runner. Have fun!

Weeks 1 and 2

  • Run 3 days for 25-30 minutes (remember to warm up and cool down)
  • Cross-train 2 days for 30 minutes (bike, train on the elliptical, swim or strength train with weights)
  • Rest 2 full days (Wednesday and Sunday)

Weeks 3 and 4

  • Run 3 days for 30-35 minutes (remember to warm up and cool down)
  • Cross-train 2 days for 35 minutes (bike, train on the elliptical, swim or strength train with weights)
  • Rest 2 full days (Wednesday and Sunday)

Weeks 5 and 6

  • Run 4 days for 35-40 minutes (remember to warm up and cool down)
  • Cross-train 2 days for 40 minutes (bike, train on the elliptical, swim or strength train with weights)
  • Rest 1 full day (Sunday)

Weeks 7, 8 and 9

  • Run 4 days for 40-45 minutes (remember to warm up and cool down)
  • Cross-train 2 days for 45 minutes (bike, train on the elliptical, swim or strength train with weights)
  • Rest 1 full day (Sunday)

Week 10

  • Begin to taper for the 5K at the end of the week (on the weekend)
  • Run 3 days for 30-35 minutes (remember to warm up and cool down)
  • Cross-train 1 day for 35 minutes (bike, train on the elliptical, swim or strength train with weights)
  • Rest 2 full days (Wednesday and Sunday)
  • It's 5K race day!

Pay attention to your body, and your results will be fantastic.

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