Back before I signed up for my first 5k, running was just not something I was interested in. I wanted to go on hikes and treks and climbs, but running? I couldn’t understand the appeal. That’s why running a simple 5k has been on my bucket list for so long, always pushed aside for something that was determined bigger, better and less physically challenging.
The truth is that I’m not fond of most exercise. Gasp!
I’ve never been one of those people who are stoked to wake up at the crack of dawn to hit the gym. But let’s be real: as we get older, staying regularly active becomes a necessity if we want to be able to go on those long hikes or mountain treks. This is especially true for the traveler in me who wants to keep fit in order to have the energy and strength for adventurous things, like hiking an active volcano in Guatemala or learning to surf in Costa Rica.
I am just not willing to give up on adventure.
So, with the support of a much more cardio-inclined friend, I slowly but steadily grew to love that feeling of crossing the finish line and here’s how:
How to Train for a 5k
Running is notorious for being the habit that never seems to stick, mostly because we come out with guns blazing and burn out after the first few jogs. Sound familiar?
We pump ourselves up with mental images of ourselves as one of those people—you know, the kind who just love getting up at 5:30am to go for a jog—only to overdo it on the first try and end up sore, winded, and completely disheartened.
Now that we’ve acknowledged that the guns blazing approach doesn’t work for most of us, let’s talk about an approach that can: the Couch to 5k plan. This is what I used to train for my first 5k, and it got the job done.
Couch to 5k is designed for non-runners just like me who want to train for a 5k in just 2 months. Most importantly, it avoids burnout.
Two months is a reasonable amount of time to train, for most of us, and the plan’s schedule—30 minute workouts 3 times per week—is something that almost anyone could make time for.
At first, you’ll start off by alternating short intervals of jogging with longer intervals of walking. Each workout, you’ll up that pace so that your walking breaks are shorter and shorter. Eventually, you’ll be running just over 3 miles!
How to Find Your First Race
There are all kinds of races to choose from, with as many different themes as you could imagine. One of the most famous and fun race has got to be the Color Run—or, as its founders call it, “the happiest run on the planet”—where runners in white t-shirts are doused in colorful powder as they pass through the crowd.
Looking for something a little more serious? You can use online tools like the Race Finder from Runner’s World or the 5k search from Active.com to find races near you. Some races will raise money for charity, some will involve running in costumes, and some will do both. Pick your poison! My first race was the Levi’s Presidio 10, a race set alongside the water of San Francisco’s presidio with the perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
If you’re still nervous about signing up for your race, remember that you can always volunteer at one to see how it works, first.
What to Wear
Knowing what to wear for your race can be a bit tricky, especially if you’re running in cold weather. Keep in mind that if you decide to wear light layers, you might have to take them off as you run and heat up. (I had to wrap my jacket around my waist during my first 5k and it was definitely less-than-ideal).
Overall, you’ll want to wear shoes that you’re comfortable in—ideally a pair that treated your feet well while you trained—and clothes that (duh!) breathe.
If it’s bright out, you’ll want to bring some race-friendly sunglasses, and be sure to pack some light sunscreen, even if it’s not hot out! You might feel a breeze (or even a little chilly) while you’re running, but you’ll still be in direct sunlight.
Some people wear visors or hats while they run, in lieu of (or in addition to) sunglasses. The bottom line: experiment with different outfits while you train so that you know exactly what will be comfortable on race day.
Cosmopolitan has put together a really helpful article that goes into more detail about what to wear for a race. They recommend dressing for weather 15-20 degrees warmer than it actually is, to avoid overheating or freezing while you run
Bucket List Journey’s Running Gear Picks:
Day of the Race
First thing is first: you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to get to the race site, go to the bathroom, find a place at the start line, and mentally prepare yourself for your run. That usually means setting out your gear the night before and, of course, getting a solid night of sleep.
Me and my girlfriend arrived about two hours early for our race and it was plenty of time to get our bibs (I was #4492!), use the restroom and find a great place at the starting line.
But what about after that buzzer goes off? If you start your race at an easy pace, you can gradually speed up over the course of the race—and avoid crawling your way across the finish line thanks to an overzealous Mile 1 pace.
Pro tip: steer away from starting near the front of the group, and you’ll avoid being tempted to run at the breakneck pace of those front-liners for the first mile.
A good rule of thumb is to keep it easy for your first mile, up the effort a bit for the second, push yourself even more for the third, and go all out to finish the last .10 miles. You can use a watch to track your pace, but paying attention to your breathing can help to avoid overworking yourself in the first mile—and having to drag yourself through the last mile.
There are all kinds of tactics and strategies to help ease your way through the race. One of my favorite tips: break the race into three chunks (the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd miles…plus some change) and tackle each as it comes. That can help the race seem more manageable and keep your spirits high throughout.
You can download and use the Nike Plus app to keep track of your time and miles during the race. That’s what I did!
Last but not least: be proud of yourself! Don’t beat yourself up about your time while you’re running. Keep a steady, slow pace and think of how proud you’ll be when you cross that finish line. Remember, that above everything else, you actually made the effort to be out there!
It might not be a marathon, but running a 5k is a serious accomplishment. Congratulate yourself on taking the initiative to train, sign up for a race, and see it through!
As with any bucket list goal, completing this one warrants celebrating. Most races will have booths, bands, food, and/or drinks for you once you finish. Those post-race celebrations pretty much run the gamut—the Color Run throws a full-on party at the finish—but even if your race doesn’t go big on the festivities, you can always plan on treating yourself to a meal with your running buddies (or cheer squad) post-race.
You’ve earned it!
Besides just completing the race to check if off my bucket list, my other goal was to not come in last. And I got to celebrate that I actually didn’t.
Whether you’re looking to make running a regular habit or just want to cross a 5k race off your bucket list, you definitely won’t be worse off for having this experience.