Running your first 5km
So, only a few weeks to go before your first 5km race. It can be daunting, the thought of all those people lined up at the start. Surely everyone else is super fit and will be off like Mo Farah? Worried that you are going to get left behind like the guy who decided to crawl the London Marathon?
Well, don’t worry.
Firstly, 5k is pretty achievable for most people with even a basic level of fitness (assuming that you have no health issues stopping you from running). To give you an idea, 5k is about the distance from Finchley Central to Hampstead, or from Edgware to Hendon Central (as the crow flies), which you could probably walk in an hour.
And in fact, that's my first training tip: It’s OK to WALK. Walking is exercise, too. And it’s a perfectly good way to build up to running any distance. So, if the furthest you have ever run is 2 or 3k, then I’m pretty sure you can run/walk your way up to 5k.
My second training tip: Don’t crawl.
Lets break down the key things you need to think about to get you ready for your first 5k:
Warm up / Cool down
Our bodies work better when they are warm (although there is an upper limit to this, so running in 40C heat isn’t advised). Our joints, ligaments and muscles all perform better when they are warm, and we are much less likely to get injured, too.
We also work better when we have gently stretched our those muscles, tendons and ligaments, as well as raised our heart rate – getting the whole system ready for what is coming. However, evidence shows that static stretching (standing still and holding a stretch for a period of time) before exercise can actually increase the chance of picking up an injury, so we recommend what is known as Dynamic Stretching and Mobilisation. Basically this is a series of movements that both warm up our bodies, prime us mentally for exercise, increase our heart rate and stretch our muscles safely.
Similarly, we need to allow our bodies time to cool down after exercise, so our blood vessels return to normal without a shock to our system, and we stretch out those muscles we have been using.
You can find out how best to warm up and cool down here. It was written with the London Marathon in mind, but works just as well for 5k, 10k, triathlons, or an exercise class.
Nutrition / Hydration
Running more means losing weight, right? Well, that’s the general idea, and it’s certainly a great way to do so, but there are some other considerations when it comes to eating and drinking for your 5k:
If you have a poor diet to begin with, then just running more won’t necessarily help. You should look to improve what you eat, together with the additional exercise you are doing.
Running tends to make us feel very hungry, but at shorter distances, we often haven’t burned as many calories as we think we have – so be careful not to overcompensate or you may end up actually putting on weight!
If you start to run/exercise regularly (2-3 times a week), or want to run longer distances, then you want to look at how to fuel your exercise, before, during and after. You can find out more about that here.
Hydration is critical, especially in the summer. If you are just running/exercising for 30 minutes, then simply drinking water should be sufficient. But anything longer and you will need to start replacing salts and other minerals that you will be losing through your sweat. If that’s the case, then start to look at isotonic sports drinks with sodium, etc. 5k races don’t typically have a water station, but if they do, then please take advantage of them. Just be careful you don’t slip on discarded cups/bottles or bang into any other runners trying to grab some water.
This is a very basic training principle – that doing something is better than doing nothing. And doing a little of something more is even better. With that in mind, you can start your training. The general pattern is as follows:
Dynamic Warm-up (as above)
5 minutes of gentle jogging at a pace where you can keep up a conversation
1-4 minutes of faster running, enough that you can’t say more than a few words
4-1 minutes of walking (making up a total of 5 including #3 above – i.e. if you ran for 1 minute, walk for 4)
Repeat another 3 times
5 minutes of gentle jogging
If you can do this 2 or 3 times a week, then each week you should find that you can increase the time spent running and decrease the time spent walking, until eventually you are running for the full 30 minutes. Depending on your pace, that might be sufficient time to run 5k, or you may need to extend your training to add another 1-3 sections of walk/run to reach the full distance.
Once you have run a full 5k without needing to walk then you can start to focus on increasing your speed!
Some people find it easier to run with friends, some prefer to be alone. Some like to run to the beat, some enjoy being chased by Zombies. In the end, whatever works for you.
Good shoes that fit you.
A running top that will wick away the sweat from your skin (i.e. not cotton, which will just soak it up and make you damp and cold)
Other than that, there’s a whole host of clothing choices, accessories, etc. – but no need to worry too much right now.
Strength work/Cross training
Running is a rather repetitive sport, without much variation for your muscles. Therefore it is important to ensure that those muscles are strong and capable of keeping going as long as you want them to. At the same time, you also want to ensure that you don’t pick up the sporting equivalent of an RSI.
So, spend at least an hour a week doing some sort of strength training, primarily focused on your lower body and core. Why core? Well, it’s not to get a 6-pack (and doing millions of sit ups won’t get you a 6-pack anyway) – but instead to think of your core muscles as the scaffolding that all your limbs are attached to. Without a strong core they will never be able to exert as much strength as you would like.
As an alternative, or even better as an addition, it’s worth spending some time doing something other than running. This might be swimming, cycling, yoga, dance, whatever will get your body moving in a different way to running. This will help reduce the chance of picking up injuries.
Sleep is when your body has the most time to replenish itself, rebuild your muscles and regenerate your energy stores.
Similarly, your body requires rest in order to respond to the stress your training puts on it. Make sure you plan sufficient rest time. You should certainly make sure that you have a rest day after your hardest run/workout.
You can find more ideas about how to use rest and recovery to improve your fitness and running here:
We may be training our body, but ultimately, our brain is in control of it, and it can help or hinder us on both a conscious and subconscious level. We run better when we are motivated and have a goal in mind. But our brain also subconsciously wants to protect our body from hurting itself – which is where scientists think the feelings of fatigue come from.
Regular training helps teach our brain that our body is capable of more than it assumes is possible. In addition, the more we run the more muscle fibres our brain learns to recruit for running. We are literally training our brain as much as we are our body.
On a bigger scale, we need to have good motivation to ensure we can push ourselves through those early morning runs, or when it’s cold and wet outside, or when we just don’t feel like it today. It’s easy enough to go for a run when the weather is perfect and we’ve had just the right amount of sleep and not a care in the world, but reality is rarely like that. To do that we need the right kind of goals and the right kind of rewards. And the best goals and best rewards are those we set for ourselves.
So, if you haven't already signed up for the Maccabi GB Community Fun Run 5k - do it here.