13 Tips for Your First 5k

My friend Chris, who I’ve known for about eleven years now, will be joining me at the start line on Saturday for his first 5k race. He started Couch to 5k earlier this year and finished it a few weeks ago. I’m so proud of him! Considering how long it took me to get through Couch to 5k, he has done such a better job starting out than I did. 🙂

He messaged me and said he was nervous, so I told him I’d write up some tips for him. Here ya go!

nashville predators fangtastic 5k

Photo from 2013 Fangtastic 5k
Source: Nashville Predators

  1. Pay attention to what you are doing a couple days out from the race.
    Eat well in the days before the race. Drink lots of water! And don’t stay up too late; get plenty of sleep.
  2. It’s okay if you don’t sleep well the night before, though.
    Nerves, anxiety, and excitement can keep you up the night before a race. Early start times don’t help (though, thankfully, that’s not an issue for this race). Studies have shown that the sleep the night before a race is not really important. Just try to get some sleep the night before that!
  3. Lay out all the stuff you’ll need on race day the night before.
    You’ll be less likely to forget something, and you won’t have to figure out what to wear while rushing around early in the morning. If you go to packet pickup before the race, go ahead and pin the bib on your shirt and attach the timing device to your shoe (not all races use these, some timing devices are attached to your bib). Not sure what to wear? A good rule of thumb is to add 15-20 degrees to the temperature it will be for the race and dress like you’re going for a walk in that weather.
  4. Study the course map before the race.
    Most race websites will post the course map, along with the location of any water stops. Check it over before the race so you know what to expect. If you think you’ll need to hydrate more than what they provide on the course, bring your own water. Make sure you check the elevation map too; if there’s a large hill right before the finish, you’ll need to conserve some energy for it!
  5. Don’t do anything new on race day.
    Race day is not the day to wear new shoes, new clothes, or eat anything new for breakfast. That is what training is for. The only thing new you should be doing is pinning a bib to your shirt.
  6. Get there early, especially if you are doing packet pickup the day of the race.
    I’ve seen packet pickups with no wait and some that I’ve had to wait 20 minutes in line for. It all depends. So if you are doing packet pickup the morning of the race, I’d aim to get there an hour early. That will give you plenty of time to park, pick up your things, attach your race bib, use the restroom, and get in some warm up time without feeling rushed.
  7. Don’t start in the front.
    Unless you are in a larger race with corrals, it’s going to be up to you to pick where in the crowd to start. The people in the front are the fast ones. The people in the very back are the walkers. Middle of the crowd is your 8-10 min/mi group. Pick where you think you would fall in. If in doubt, choose further back.
  8. Don’t start too fast.
    You will start too fast if you aren’t consciously thinking about it. Adrenaline will naturally make you run faster than you do in training. This, coupled with the fact that you are running with a bunch of people who are passing you, will make you want to take off faster than you have ever run. And you will get worn out quickly. Be conservative when starting out. You can pass all those people later when they realize that they’ve started too fast.
  9. Run the tangents.
    Race courses are measured by using the shortest distance possible to finish them. This means on curvy roads, the shortest path is straight down the middle and not following the curves. When you run a race, usually a watch or any other run tracking software will probably say you ran further than the race distance. This is because it’s nearly impossible to run all the tangents, due to other runners. But try to save yourself from adding too much extra distance to your race by running all the tangents you can.
  10. It’s okay to walk.
    Plenty of people run/walk or just walk races. That doesn’t just apply to 5ks either, as I know plenty of people planning to walk the Country Music Half next month. People aren’t judging you, and you aren’t a failure if you feel the need to walk. Sometimes it’s the little boost you need to get to the finish line. However, make sure you follow race etiquette: if you decide to walk, make sure there’s no one directly behind you and move over all the way to the right!
  11. Don’t worry about your time; it’s an automatic PR!
    This goes for every race of a new distance that you do. If you’ve never raced it, you don’t have a time to beat! Enjoy your first race and don’t be concerned about numbers.
  12. Don’t stop after you cross the finish line.
    Keep walking around for a bit to cool down. I know you are tired and probably want to sit, but get in at least 5 minutes of walking so it’s not a shock to your body when you stop.
  13. Eat something right after you finish.
    They offer you free food for a reason. Your body needs protein and carbs after you run (the sooner after you finish, the better), so grab a banana, a doughnut, or whatever else they are offering.

Most of all, have fun!

Warming Up and Cooling Down for Runners

Note: There are two videos below that may autoplay simultaneously, and I can’t control it. Sorry!

Warming up before running and cooling down after is very important to help prevent injury and to let you perform to the best of your ability.

Warming Up and Cooling Down for Runners

The goal of your warm up is to get oxygen flowing to the muscles you are about to use in order to wake them up. It should involve a less intense version of what you will be doing, so walking or gentle jogging. Couch to 5k/10k suggests a five minute walk, but I usually jog part of this, as walking doesn’t really warm me up very well, and I start my run sluggish. My ideal warm up is a five minute light jog, followed by a five minute walk, and then dynamic stretching. Supposedly static stretching in your warm up can actually slow you down, so save those for after your run. To dynamically stretch, I usually alternate 5-10 high knees with 5-10 butt kicks. And maybe throw some walking lunges in there too if I’m not feeling too self-conscious (i.e., if no one is around).

To cool down, slow to a light jog or walk for about five minutes after you finish. You don’t want to stop suddenly (I’ve learned the hard way how that can make you dizzy). Allow your breathing and heart rate to return to normal, and then do static stretching.

For static stretches, I mainly focus on the areas that get the tightest while running and those that are sore in the days afterwards, which are usually my calves and glutes and occasionally my hamstrings.

What stretches and exercises are your favorites to help you warm up or cool down after a run?

On Motivation

I’ve mentioned before that this is the third year I’ve attempted Couch to 5k. I just want to share my experiences with why I’ve actually stuck with it this year when I didn’t the others.

skechers gorun 2 running shoes

  1. I always have a race scheduled.
    The first time I started Couch to 5k was in 2011 to train for the Law Enforcement Memorial 5k that I knew I would be running with my coworkers. However, after the 5k came and went, I didn’t have any reason to run, so I stopped after week 3 (which was probably my second or third time through week 3; it took me a while to get through it).

    The second time was in 2012, just because I don’t like quitting things. However, I never entered a 5k, so after two weeks I stopped. I started up briefly again in the fall, but quickly got distracted by other things and didn’t return.

    Enter 2013. I was determined to actually do it this time. I signed up for the Color Run as soon as I could. Then this year’s Law Enforcement Memorial 5k. I plan on doing some other fun runs as well, like the second Color Run and the Electric Run. As long as I have a running event I’m looking forward to, it makes me get out and run.

  2. I started at my own pace.
    When I started Couch to 5k in 2011, it was HARD. I basically grew to dread it. I couldn’t finish the running parts. I always had to go back and repeat days and weeks. And what’s the point of doing something if I don’t enjoy it?

    At the beginning of 2013, I didn’t immediately jump back into Couch to 5k. I took a month or two just running/walking on the treadmill at my own pace. I’d run until I was out of breath, then walk until I recovered, repeat. Doing this made me dread it less because I knew I was in complete control. Once I was comfortable with the amounts I was jogging, I slowly started back in Couch to 5k. But I still have days where I do my own thing, and I think this is key.

  3. I bought actual running gear.
    The past two years, I’ve been running in some Adidas sneakers I got my freshman year of college back in 2000. They weren’t running shoes and they were old.

    In February of this year (after doing my thing on the treadmill for a month and being truly determined that I wasn’t going to give up this time), I invested money in real running shoes. This helped immensely. I started paying more attention to my form and my speed began to improve almost immediately since I didn’t have clunky sneakers weighing me down.

    From there, I bought some running tights, shorts, and tanks so that I didn’t feel as gross and heavy wearing sweat-soaked cotton. And I just bought my second pair of running shoes so I can switch them out and make them last longer.

There were other factors, I’m sure, but I think these are the three main ones that kept me going. Now I think it’s the endorphin rush I get when I run. I actually enjoy it. (My 18 year old self is rolling her eyes at me right now.) And a little over 2 years after I initially began, I’m almost through with my Couch to 5k journey and about to embark on 10k training.

What keeps you motivated?