You aren’t happy with your current fitness level. So you decide to join your running friend at a local charity 5k in a few months.
How do you go from a sedentary lifestyle to running an entire 5k?
If this scenario sounds familiar, you might be one of the many who decided to take up running. Whatever the distance and whatever your reason for getting out the door and off the couch, there are a few pieces of advice I’d like to share with you on getting started and making it to race day excited and ready to enjoy your race.
Invest in a comfortable pair of running shoes.
Your feet are going to take thousands and thousands of steps on your journey to race day. It’s important that you invest in a pair that makes your feet happy. There is no perfect running shoe. This also means that the most expensive running shoes are not always the best running shoes. If you have a specialty running store in your area, I recommend paying them a visit. They can help you sort through the noise and find a shoe that works for you. Luckily, running is a simple sport that requires very little gear. Shoes, a nice pair or two of athletic shorts, and a watch are all that you need to run.
Make a plan/develop a routine.
I recommend finding a coach or joining a local running group program (often offered through gyms or running stores). If money is tight or you live in an area where these aren’t offered, try the internet. Thousands of articles have been written on these types of programs.
A simple search will lead you to plans that are simple and easy to follow. I recommend finding one that is at least 8-10 weeks in length, simple, and easy to understand.
Tackling training for your first 5k shouldn’t require a degree in math, physics, or exercise physiology. Once you’ve found a plan to follow, schedule your runs for each week. Sit down on Sunday and sharpie in your runs (or put them in your phone calendar). Adding exercise to your weekly routine is going to require you to make the appropriate time. Planning ahead is an excellent way to insure that you find the time you need to exercise. Once you get in a routine of running on certain days, less mental energy is wasted in trying to find the time and get out the door.
Take it slow. Don’t be afraid to walk.
You may not have run since gym class in high school, so take it slow. Most couch to 5k programs have a large mix of running and walking during the initial weeks. This is included for a reason. You want to gradually build your stamina. The best way to do this is to incorporate rest breaks in your run. For instance, start with 20 minutes where you jog for 2 minutes and walk for 1 minute. These walk breaks allow your body the time to recover so you can extend your total time running. Once you have the ability to run non-stop for 2-3 miles, you can remove the walk breaks and focus on completing longer runs.
Remember, as you add volume and intensity to your training, never increase either factor by more than 10% from one week to the next. You might feel great to start, but this is a tried and true rule that nearly every running coach follows for a reason. Doing too much too fast leads to injury. We want you healthy and excited on race day, not beat up and battling nagging injuries. So take it slow and make sure you have at least 10-12 weeks before your first race.
Unplug and join a running community.
You don’t have to subscribe to the loneliness of the long distance runner. While running is innately an individual sport, it doesn’t have to be practiced alone. Now-a-days many cities have running clubs that meet multiple days a week, so you can socialize and enjoy your runs. Don’t be scared if you are a novice joining the group.
Most running clubs have varying skill levels from novice to weekend warriors, so there will be someone for you to share the miles with. A lot of these clubs meet at breweries as well. Who doesn’t love a good cold beer after a run with friends? The beauty of running is that it brings people together from all walks of life. It isn’t a sport that requires expensive membership fees or equipment you need a loan to pay for; it’s a simple sport.
A good pair of shoes and some shorts and you are ready to go. Getting the chance to have uninterrupted (because you left your phone in your car) conversations with a bunch of friends is an anomaly in 2018. Take advantage of it. I promise the miles will fly by as you and your friends leave the trappings of life behind for a few shared miles together. Your mind and body will feel refreshed when you finally plug back in. Research is showing more and more that taking time to unplug each day is crucial to living a healthy lifestyle. Running with a group can knock out 2 healthy activities at once. Check with local running stores or dig around on social media, and I bet you will find a group run in your area.
Remember to have fun. Running is tough.
It’s something that requires both mental and physical energy for extended periods of time. While you may be taking on a 5k as a way to get off the couch and improve your health, remember that while it’s going to be tough, you should embrace the challenge and have fun.
The sense of joy and accomplishment when you complete these tough runs on days when you are achy, the weather is bad, and you don’t want to get off the couch will make your victory on race day more fulfilling.
Get excited when you finish your runs, get excited when you see progress, get excited when your training partners accomplish their goals. As the cliché goes, find joy in the small things. Use that energy to propel your training when it gets tough in those moments. If you are having fun, you are more likely to stick to your program.
You cannot put cheap gas in a Ferrari, so you shouldn’t fuel your body with cheap food. In this case I don’t mean that the food can’t actually be inexpensive; loads of healthy food is cheap. I referring to cheap in a nutritional sense. Now that you are exercising, it is important to give your body the high-octane food that it craves. Time to ditch the quick-hit sugary and empty calorie snacks and sodas. I’m not saying you can’t reward yourself with a treat from time to time, but these types of food don’t need to form the basis of your nutrition each day. With higher energy demands, it’s important to fuel your body with food that is going to sustain your workouts.
Most snacks and processed food just aren’t going to cut it. So get rid of your morning bowl of cereal in favor of something more nutritionally dense and less sugar-filled like oatmeal or eggs.
Nuts, berries, and other fruits are great snacks during the day and can be just as easy to carry with you to work.
For lunch, try spinach salads with nuts, berries, a lean cut of meat or tuna, and some vegetables tossed in with a vinaigrette dressing. It’ll give you enough calories and good dietary fat to last you through till dinner. The important addition to your nutritional program will be a recovery snack. Whether you are working out first thing in the morning, at lunch time, or after work, getting calories back in your body quickly after exercise is going to help start the recovery process.
Once again, you don’t want quick hits of sugar; that’s just going to get burned off before it can really help repair. You need something with protein. Proteins are the building blocks for the muscles that you have just trashed during your session. To repair and rebuild those muscles to be ready for the next session, you ideally need something with a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.
This means 3 grams of carbs to every gram of protein. You are also looking for something in the 150-200 calorie range. Recovery drinks are my personal favorite. After a good hard session, nothing is more refreshing than a chocolate shake. Luckily, Cocoa Elite makes a chocolate recovery mix. It’s all the benefits of cocoa and recovery rolled into one mix. If you want to get fancy with it, there are several recipes available online to make your recovery a real treat!
Most Americans don’t get enough fruits and veggies everyday.
The USDA recommends 2-2.5 cups of vegetables per day. For endurance athletes, consider vegetables as a great source of carbohydrates. You don’t have to load up on grains like rice and pasta every night to get your carbohydrate needs. Vegetables are loaded with many nutrients that are critical for performance. Spinach and beets are great for your red blood cell count. Broccoli and other greens are tremendous sources of vitamins and antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Potatoes are also a great source of vitamins as well as carbohydrates, with far less calories than the same size serving of rice or pasta. For protein, chicken and salmon, both sources of lean protein, will help you reach your recommended intake for muscle repair and growth.
Don’t be afraid of red meat. I know it has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but red meat, in particular liver, is a tremendous source of iron. One serving of red meat a week should do the trick. That doesn’t mean reach for that juicy hamburger; we are talking about a good cut of steak or liver. If you noticed, many of these items are all around the outside of the grocery store. This is what I mean by high octane food. High octane food is real food that has been sustaining life for thousands of years.
Running is a simple sport that can add a lot of joy and success to your life.
Hopefully these tips will set you up for success on race day and lead you to a life filled with joy from running.
Brandon Hudgins is an Elite Track Runner. He became the 448th American to break the 4-minute mile barrier. His passion for the sport overflows and shows in his desire to elevate the sport to new levels. He also strives to raise awareness for the rare auto-immune disease that he suffers from through his association with the Vasculitis Foundation.
Brandon is also a published author. You can buy his latest book here: Going the Distance.
All bloggers receive a small compensation for their contributions.*