One of the most common goals people set for themselves every year is to run a race. In fact, in folks who resolve to lose weight or to get in shape around New Years, running a 5K, 10K or half-marathon race is right on top of their goal list.
If you’re just starting out and the thought of running to your mailbox seems a little daunting, strapping on your sneakers and trekking a few miles might seem like a pipe dream. But as one waddling walrus to another I’m here to tell you, it’s totally not.
I feel like, there’s three kinds of runners in the world. Those who love it, those who want to love it, and those who would rather go have a root canal without any novocaine than do it. Frankly, I was pretty firmly in the third category for most of my life.
I’m not a runner. I’m more of a shuffler/walker with a predisposition for faking a hamstring injury, or cursing so much that I run out of breath and have to take a break. But when I started CrossFit a few years back, I was forced to run in many of the WODs, and after having a coach who really knows their stuff take a look at my form, I learned why running was on my list of least favorite things.
My form was a mess, and I was using tons of energy doing the wrong things. Instead of shifting my weight forward and focusing on my cadence (that’s how fast your feet turn over), my stride was more of an up and down motion. Yikes.
After some time and tweaks I discovered that not only was I a lot faster, I actually sort of enjoyed running.
As I write this, I am two weeks out from a half marathon race in Clearwater, FL on April 12th. I’ll be joining a few thousand other women in the Tampa Bay area to trek up and down the beaches for 13.1 miles, and I’m more excited than I ever believed I could be about running.
Granted, I’m not fast, but in running I’ve found a form of cardio that I can make as high intensity as I want, and that I really enjoy.
So the moral of the story is this, if you’re not yet a runner, no race is impossible. Check out our handy guide running for beginners, and based on your fitness level, choose a race distance that’s right for you!
A Beginner’s Guide to Running a 5K: How Do I Get Started?
Here’s the deal, the cool thing about running is that literally anyone can do it. It requires next to no equipment to get started. If you have a good pair of athletic shoes, you can be a runner.
Now granted, I also recommend wearing clothes when you leave the house, and I would avoid denim for the chafe factor alone, but running is a minimalist sport.
If you’re totally new to it, begin with run/walk intervals. After a walking warm up of 5 minutes or more, try running for 1 minute and then walking for 1 minute. Alternate those intervals for anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on your fitness level, and be sure to do a nice cool down walk of 5 minutes or more when you’re done.
What Should I Know About Form?
A fun fact about running form, there’s no real “right” way to do it. Granted, there are lots of experts and tons of research out there that give you ideas, drills and best practices to make you faster and stronger. Even I benefited from some of that advice.
But running, and how you run, is actually really intuitive. Listen to your body and what it naturally wants to do. Do you naturally land on your forefoot? Your heel? It’s ok, as long as you work to keep your body in proper alignment.
Make sure to keep your neck, shoulders and face relaxed when you run. Hold your core tight, and work to make sure that wherever your foot strike lands on your actual foot, in relation to your body it’s landing directly beneath you.
Our friends over at Chi Running have some great additional advice on form, and finding your stride.
What Race is Right for Me?
Now a days, there are tons of races to choose from. Whether you want something small scale and local, or want the hype of a larger race put on by one of the big companies like IronGirl or the Rock n’ Roll series, you’re sure to find one in your area. Check out the ever popular active.com for local listings.
Know that, with enough time and training, you can prepare to race any distance.
A 5k is the shortest distance you’ll commonly find, measuring 3.1 miles for us in the US, this race is an awesome goal for those new to running.
If you’ve never run before, you’ll need around 10 weeks to safely train for the race and can expect to finish in anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes depending on your pace come race day.
A 10k is a bit more of a challenge, clocking in a 6.2 miles and a great course for intermediate athletes who have some running experience, or beginner runners with more time to prepare. Beginners should leave at least 15 weeks to ramp up to the mileage, where a runner with some experience who is able to run 2-3 miles continuously without stopping could prepare comfortably in 10 weeks.
You’ll be looking at 50 to 90 minutes on average to complete this distance, though many courses will offer as long as 2 hours before their cut off time.
If you’re feeling ambitious as a beginner, or have experience running and really want to challenge yourself, consider a half marathon. 13.1 miles of running fun, this course puts your body to the test. Most training plans suggest you be able to run 3 miles comfortably without stopping before you begin them, and average around 12 weeks to prepare.
This race isn’t one to be taken lightly, but with time to ramp up your training the right way you can expect to finish in anywhere from 90 minutes to 3.5 hours. Most courses will allow you up to 4 hours to get across the finish line.
Choosing a Training Plan
There are tons of free training plans available online for every level of runner. It’s important when choosing a plan to:
- Pick a plan that matches your level. If you’re a beginner, choose a beginner plan. This will ensure you build up your mileage slowly and don’t risk injury.
- Pick a plan that works with your schedule. If you know that you are only able to commit four days per week to running (or three, or five), choose a plan that allows for your needs. Selecting one that requires five days per week when you know you realistically only have three will set you up for failure before you even begin.
- Follow the plan. It might not always feel like enough, and some weeks it might feel like too much, but there’s a science that went into creating the plan. Trust that while you are a unique lotus flower, physiologically you are really similar to every other new athlete out there and your body will adapt just like most other humans. There’s a method to the madness. Follow it.
Once you’ve chosen your plan, all that’s left to do is execute. Make sure you sign up for your race, putting the money where your mouth is will keep you accountable for your training.
Come race day, you’ll be thrilled with the experience and probably amazed with how far you’ve come.
And be warned, you’ll probably also be hooked. I can’t find any stats on how many people sign up for their next race the day they finish their first one, but I would bet it’s near 100 percent.