My First 5K: Beginner to Finish Line

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    Step 1: Set a Date for a Big Finish

    Want a big thrill? Imagine crossing the finish line in a race. Even if your only sport is surfing the Web, you can train to run (or walk) a 5K in two months. That’s five kilometers -- 3.1 miles. And just training for a 5K can be a thrill that boosts your energy for everything else you do.

    Sign up! Pick a fun theme, a great charity, or support your school. Now, small steps, a week at a time, will get you there.

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    Step 2: Take a Test Run

    How far can you go right now? Do a test run or walk for 10 to 15 minutes. Go around the block, a half mile to a friend's house, around a ¼-mile track -- any distance you know. How far can you go comfortably without stopping? Note that distance, then match it next time, two days later.

    Brain bonus: You’ll be primed to hit the books afterward. Even short exercise breaks can help you relax and focus better.

     

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    Step 3: Be the Turtle, Not the Hare

    It’s tempting to try to run three miles right away. But going slow is smarter. You’ll build endurance, prevent injuries, and avoid overkill. Your goal is to run or walk 3 to 5 times a week. Start with 10 -15 minute sessions. Add 3 to 5 minutes each week. Write down weekly goals: being really specific helps you stick to them.

    If you get discouraged… visualize race day, write down the reasons you started, and think how good you’ll feel when you finish.

     

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    Step 4: Train With Water

    If you're even a little dehydrated, you'll run out of gas fast. Drink water before a run, as well as after you're done. If it's hot, take a water bottle with you to drink along the way.

    Skip sports drinks. Most people don’t need them, unless a run is a heart-pounding, sweaty exercise that lasts an hour or longer. For most runners, sports drinks are just extra sugar. A 20-ounce bottle can have more sugar than a bag of M&Ms!

     

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    Step 5: Find a Peak Training Time

    Running can wake you up, recharge you, or help you chill out -- but everyone has different peak times. Try different schedules -- right after you get up, before homework, or early evening -- to see which one makes you feel best.

    Next, mark a calendar or set a fun alarm tone on your phone to be sure you follow your training schedule. Bonus: Regular exercise will help you sleep better at night.

     

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    Step 6: Embrace Walking

    It's OK to take little breaks to walk during a run. Not only do walking breaks give you a breather to run longer, they help your body stay loose. Plenty of people "walk-run" a whole 5K.

    Count minutes, houses, songs: Run five houses, then walk five. Or, run two minutes, then walk three. Mix it up to challenge yourself.

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    Step 7: Pick a Path and a Partner

    Do you like training in your neighborhood, at a park, or on a gym treadmill while watching TV? Any or all are fine -- just be sure your outdoor training spots are safe.

    Get a buddy to run with you or join a running club at a rec center. It makes outdoor running safer -- and it's a major motivator. Meeting someone adds fun and means you're less likely to blow it off. Plus, if you can chat while jogging, you're going at a healthy pace.

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    Step 8: Find Hidden Practice Times

    Think you're too busy to train? Get creative:

    • Set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier for a mini-run before school. (Put the clock across the room, so you can't slap the snooze.)
    • Can't miss your favorite TV show? DVR it and then fast-forward through the ads. Use the bonus time for a run.
    • Jog to a friend’s house instead of getting a ride.

     

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    Step 9: Spin Some Tunes

    Losing steam? It's a scientific fact that people who listen to music while training get better results. A favorite soundtrack can make the minutes -- and miles -- fly by. Choose upbeat rhythms, or shop for exercise playlists online. Just be safe: Don’t wear headphones on a street, where you need to hear cars. Some runners leave one earbud out, for safety.

    Or, find a "mantra" -- a happy word or phrase -- to repeat as you run, to keep you feeling positive.

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    Step 10: Track and Share Your Stats

    A low-cost pedometer or a smart phone app can keep track of your distance and speed -- and show you fun stats about your progress. Extra motivation!

    Share: Post your runs on Facebook, or even just announce to everyone that you’re training for a 5K. You’ll have more people asking about your training and cheering you on.

     

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    Step 11: Don’t Sweat a Few Aches

    Soreness in your calves or hamstrings can be expected during training. It shows that your muscles are changing and getting stronger. But sharp pain in a joint -- your knee, hip, or ankle -- means you should lay off a few days, and see a doctor if it doesn’t get better.

    You can prevent injuries, too: Warm up by walking a few blocks or doing jumping jacks. After you're done running, walk a little more, and then do gentle stretches, for up to 30 seconds each.

     

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    Step 12: Cross-Train to Mix It Up

    You should exercise every day, but don't run every day. Cross-training -- by bicycling, swimming, weight training, or even just stretching on days you don't run -- will help you avoid injuries and stay limber. Mixing it up also helps you avoid an exercise rut.

    Try Yoga: This calm type of stretching makes you focus on your breathing, an important part of running. Yoga can also clear your head and lower stress.

     

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    Step 13: Practice Eating Breakfast

    Your race is just a week away? Try training at the same time the race will start, probably at 8 a.m. -- and eat before you go. How do you feel? Do you have enough energy to keep going? Or has a too-big breakfast made you feel sluggish? Some good, breakfast options include:

    • A small bowl of whole-grain cereal with skim milk
    • Yogurt with berries and ¼ cup of oats
    • A banana with a few whole-grain crackers
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    After the Race: Do a Victory Lap

    Way to go -- you made it! High-five your family and friends, rest up for a couple days, then get fired up for your next goal:

    • Do more 5Ks -- one every two months -- to stay in "race shape."
    • Try a sprint triathlon: ½-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride, and a 5k run.
    • Train for a 10K, then a half- or full marathon (13 and 26 miles).
    • Join a running or hiking club -- where you don't count the miles, but enjoy the journey.

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