By Eliza Parker, ATC
All runners have to start somewhere. Often, a good place is a 5K (you may have heard people say “couch to 5K”). Whether you’re new to running or getting back into it, and whatever your motivation, taking a few simple precautions upfront can help you make it all the way to the finish line – happy and healthy, and maybe even with a runner’s high.
Here are 5 tips for your first 5K:
Tip 1: Find the right shoes.
Go to your local running specialty store for your first pair of running shoes. They will go through a quick gait observation and fit process with you to find the perfect-fitting shoe for you. Run a few times in your shoes prior to race day to be sure they don’t cause any blisters or foot or lower-leg pain when you run.
Tip 2: Prepare for race day.
You might get nervous when it’s finally race week and think you need to rest but running the week of the race is a good idea to keep your momentum. Reduce your runs by a mile or two each day during the week leading up to the race and your legs will feel fresher.
Simply eating more carbohydrates the night before a shorter race, such as a 5K (or one mile), will not affect your race. It’s more important to eat something that your body responds to well – something that doesn’t cause gas, constipation or an upset stomach. For your prerace meal, it’s best to eat something with complex carbohydrates and lighter protein, such as oatmeal and peanut butter. Ideally, you should eat breakfast one or two hours before the start of the race to make sure you have time to digest the food.
Tip 3: Warm up before the race.
A common mistake is not properly warming up for a run. While stretching is important, it’s most effective after a run. A good warm-up before your race increases flow to your muscles and flexibility, and mentally prepares you for an increased workload. All of this helps increase your ability to perform, and will help reduce the risk of injury during the run. To get a good warm up, try some light jogging and dynamic movement drills to help prepare your body for the race.
Tip 4: Find a comfortable pace.
When you start the race, be mindful of finding a good pace. You will be tempted to start fast because of the excitement, but it is important to find one that is comfortable for you. Your ideal pace is one that won’t leave you winded after the first mile. Your training leading up to the race is key in determining what your race pace should be. Taking mental notes of how you feel during the race, how winded you are or how your legs feel is a good indicator of your pace. Music can also be a helpful que to help keep pace – use the beat.
Tip 5: Stretch and drink fluids after the race.
After you finish the race, it is important to stretch, which will help keep your muscles from stiffening. Drink water after you have finished to prevent dehydration, because your body will have lost water even if it’s cold outside and it doesn’t feel like you have been sweating. If you feel lightheaded or are cramping, this is an indicator that you need to drink some more water.
Eliza Parker, ATC, is a certified athletic trainer for the Mission Sports Medicine Program.