How to Train for a 5K
By Pete Williams
More than eight million people finished a 5K running event in 2014, up 44 percent from the year before, according to Running in the USA.
If you run or otherwise train, you’ve probably given some thought to entering one of the more than 36 thousand 5K events held in this country alone. If so, the road to the starting line can be intimidating. It need not be, however, if you follow these easy steps:
Sign Up for a Race:
You’re more likely to start serious training if there’s a deadline on the calendar. So sign up for a 5K, preferably one close to home. Start with a basic road 5K rather than an obstacle race or themed run; those can come later. For now, pick an event about two months out and register online.
Follow a Schedule:
Commit to running three times a week, every other day. This gives your body time to recover between sessions as you get acclimated to consistent training. In warmer months, many follow the “before or after 7” rule, running either before 7 AM or after 7 PM to avoid the heat. If nothing else, avoid the midday sun. Pick a time that fits your schedule. You’ll find that a consistent time, whatever it is, helps you develop a routine.
Find Your Stride:
How the foot strikes the ground often confuses runners. Some try to stride with the heel. Others try to run on the toes. Neither is correct.
Keep the big toe up or “dorsiflexed.” This ensures that your stride’s strike zone is beneath your hip, not out in front of your body. You’ll create a straight line from ear to ankle, enabling force to transfer efficiently through the body and minimize the potential for injuries.
Build a Base:
If you’re not running three miles a session already, start by running a mile, walking a mile, and running another mile. If this is too much, start by alternating between running and walking a half mile until you reach three miles. “Running” is a relative term, especially at this point. Call it jogging if you must, but think of this as the start of your interval training and go at 50 percent of what you’d consider an all-out sprint for the running portion of your training as you build a base. As you improve, shorten the distances you walk until you’re running a full three miles.
By building a base in an interval fashion, you’ll be more prepared to step up your interval training after three weeks. Start with a half-mile warm-up. Next run a mile at 50 percent effort, a half-mile at 80 percent, a mile at 50 percent, and another half-mile at 80 percent. Cool down with a slow half-mile run.
Intervals train you to run faster since your body is getting accustomed to running at high speeds for longer periods. By interval training, you avoid falling into the common runner trap of running only long, slow distances at a steady state. While there’s a place for these types of runs, and the slightly faster tempo runs, interval training will make you faster.
Running stresses the body and, like anything, can become repetitious and at times boring. That’s why it’s important to incorporate some cross training. Yoga and Pilates help lengthen your muscles, which naturally tighten and shorten from running. Resistance training helps develop not only strength but also power, which often is lacking in runners. Swimming and cycling, whether on the road or in a group cycling class, provide similar benefits to running while stressing the joints less. Not surprisingly, many triathletes start out as runners.
Find a Group:
There are running groups that meet every weekday evening, departing from running stores, restaurants, bars, and local landmarks for runs of all distances. Some even meet at parks or tracks for interval training. These groups tend to be informal and welcoming and are a great way to pick up tips, meet new friends, and find supportive training partners.
Runners have a tendency to overdo it. But it’s important to incorporate proper rest because it’s during this time that the body heals itself, grows, and benefits from your hard work. Rest includes not only adequate sleep, but also taking days off from training. You still can incorporate “active rest” techniques such as stretching and foam rolling, working tight areas with a foam roller and giving yourself a poor-man’s massage.
As you approach the race, it’s time to dial down your training so that you will be well rested and ready to put forth your best effort on race day. Your last hard workout should be three or four days out. Run one more time, a lighter workout two days before. This is a good time for yoga, additional stretching, and foam rolling.
Post Your Accomplishment:
The latest running boom began in 2008, not coincidentally the time social media began to take off. Even if you’re reluctant to brag on social media, post a photo from your first race. Many of your friends and acquaintances likely don’t know about your commitment to running. You might find new running friends and advice as you pursue your next race.
Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer, fitness book author, and race director for two 5K events in Central Florida.