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Tips for Running a 5k for the First Time

Updated on January 7, 2016

Get off the couch and get running!



Recently, I made the impulse decision to run a 5k. I had many questions and, if it is your first time, I’m sure you have some questions as well. Maybe, even some of the same questions. Here are some questions you might have and some answers. Before I get to that, though, I want to ask you a question that I want you to consider. Why are you running? Are you running for fun? Are you trying to start some new habits? Are you deciding to enter the exciting and intense world of competitive racing? Your answer to this question will determine how you prepare yourself for your first 5k.

*Please note that the advice given in regards to running wear is specific for women. I’m not a man so I can’t advise you in what is the best thing to wear or not.

What kind of training should I do?

What kind of training should I do?
To be honest, I did not really train for my first 5k. Does this mean I jumped right off my couch onto the starting line of a 5k? Absolutely not. I had been working out for the previous two months using various workout DVDs (Jillian Michaels, Denise Austin, and others). The week leading up to the 5k I ran on a treadmill a couple of times at the gym (only once going 3.1 miles). That being said, I was not planning on setting any records, either. I decided that I needed increased incentive to workout as my motivation for working out was lagging. The 5k was an incentive. So, if this is your first 5k and you are already moderately active, then I would recommend that, before the race, you walk/jog/run the distance of the race (3.1 miles or 5 kilometers). Make sure you can do it before you try to run it!

However, let’s say you do want to set some records, or at least get headed in that direction, then I would recommend that you find a training plan. There are a few options available on the internet such as this one.

I want to emphasize that if you have not been very active, then do not attempt to run a 5K today. Instead, take 1-2 months to exercise (following a 5k training plan or not) and get more physically fit first. You don’t want to injure yourself the first time you race.

Let's face, we like to look good!
Let's face, we like to look good! | Source

What should I wear?

This is something that might come to your mind immediately after signing up for a race. Especially if you’re a girl. You don’t have to run out a buy the trendiest running outfit and most expensive running shoes possible to run a 5k. I bought my clothes at Wal-Mart and my shoes from Payless. I prefer running in tight exercise pants such as these. I don’t like the loose fit of other pants or shorts. That is a personal preference because I feel that it reduces the amount of friction between my legs. I’m being honest here. I’m not a skinny runner. I have curves and, while curves are nice, there are some downsides. If you don’t like the inside of your thighs rubbing together (especially when you’re hot and sweaty) then get some tighter fitting pants. If you’re worried about getting too hot, then skimp on the fabric on your top. I just wore a cheap t-shirt (cotton) but you can easily explore different options. You can wear a Think comfort. This is not a runway show. Remember, your body will heat up as you run. If you are running in the summer, wear a fabric that is breathable. You don’t want to die of heat exhaustion. If it is the winter, check out this website for suggestions on how to dress. As for underwear, you want something that wicks the sweat away. You don’t want your sweat pooling in certain areas. Not only can it be uncomfortable, but it could lead to other issues as well. Check out this awesome article on some different options of underwear. As for your bra, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a sports bra. Again, I like my curves, but when it comes to running I like to strap my girls down. By the way, did you know that failing it wear a sports bra (or tight-fitting bra) when you workout will result in sagging boobs? So, for the sake of comfort and appearance, get a good bra. You will be grateful. If you're still not convinced check out this article that talks about the why you should wear a sports bra as wells as tells you what to look for in a good sports bra.

What should I eat the day of the race?

First of all, you should eat 1-3 hours before you run. The last thing you want is to cramp up ten minutes in because you gulped something down right before the race started. Second, you should eat! Don’t run on an empty stomach – that REALLY isn’t a good idea. Unless you like passing out. Now, what is good racing food? I would recommend a combination of protein and carbs. I think of it this way – you want the carbs for energy (preferably whole grain carbs) and the protein for endurance. A simple breakfast of eggs (not too much!) and toast would be perfect. A simple protein bar might do the trick. An apple or banana wouldn’t be too far amiss. Don’t try something new the day of the race. You don’t want to eat something that isn’t going to sit well with you. Test out some different meals, figure out what agrees with your stomach and how long it lasts (you don’t want to eat something that will leave you feeling hungry twenty minutes later). If you're still not sure, do a test. Simulate race day by choosing a day and treating it as the race day. Eat the meal you want to eat and then do a run at the time the race will be at. If it works well, then you're all set for race day! If not, at least you know what not to do. Just remember, if at first you don't succeed, try try again!

What time should I show up and what should I do once I get there?

Usually 5k’s will have a schedule that shows what time registration/sign-in starts, when opening ceremonies start, and (of course) when the race starts. The race I ran had registration open 1 hour before the race started. We got there at about that time and it worked out really well. We were able to get a great parking spot as well as beat all the long lines. I had to register the day of, so that gave me time to get registered, take a bathroom break, and warm-up before the race started. Once you have signed in or registered, then you should do a few other things. First, warm-up. You don’t want the first five minutes of the race to be your warm-up. I would recommend some jumping jacks, running in place, and some dynamic warm-ups. If you are running to set a record, then your warm-up will be different. (Find link). Next, scout out the situation. Where is the start? What kind of people are showing up for the race? (Parents with strollers, kids, runners, etc.) Basically, you want to become familiar with the situation. That way, when they say “go!” you don’t feel lost or confused. Here’s a hint: If this is your first race, do NOT stand at the start line. Let the super fast, competitive people go first. Finally, make sure to go the bathroom. You don’t want to have to go to the bathroom half-way through. That could really mess up your flow. When you have done all of this, choose your spot in the line-up and wait for the opening ceremonies. I would also include that as they go through the opening ceremonies it wouldn't hurt to do some extra jumping jacks, running in place, etc. just to keep yourself warm.

What happens during the actual race?

Organized chaos, that’s what happens. As the race starts, everyone has to find their rhythm and figure out where they fit with the other racers. You might be faster or slower than the people around you. Do your best to handle the crowds and find your place as you run. Just don’t be rude about it. Remember, everyone (regardless of why they are running) want to have a good time. Don’t ruin someone’s run by being a jerk. Be mindful of the other runners, in front of you and behind you. If you are going with a large group of friends, don’t create a long line that is difficult for others to run by (based on personal experience/frustration). This is more difficult at the beginning because the crowds can be pretty big. However, as you get further into the race the crowds thin out and it becomes a lot easier.

Other than that, the rest is up to you. No matter what, don’t push yourself too hard. You don’t want to pass out or injure yourself. That would ruin the race for you. Listen to your body and, even if you don’t want to, if you start to feel a little shaky or extremely winded slow down to a walk. It won’t hurt you, but to keep running might. I like to set goals for myself as I run. At the beginning, my goal was to run/jog for the first mile. Once I completed that, then I let myself walk for a couple of songs (I had my IPod to keep me company). After I had “rested,” I began to run again and set a new goal for myself. At one point, I had to slow to a walk because I began to feel slightly dizzy. My last mile was slower than my first mile because of this, but I still finished in pretty good time.

Water - Nature's Drink


What about water?

At some point during the race (usually about half-way), you have the option of getting a drink of water. I recommend caution when this option arises. I have heard of experiences where people drink some water and then end up getting cramps. This happened to a fellow runner on this race. He gulped down some water and a few minutes later had to slow to a walk because of some cramps. I had heard that this might be a problem so I was cautious. I took roughly a swallow’s worth of water, but I didn’t swallow right away. I slowly “sipped” it as I ran for the next few feet after the water station. This has two advantages: First, it didn’t slow me down too much. Second, I didn’t drink enough to give me cramp. It was enough water to wet my whistle, as they used to say.

At this point you are probably wondering, how do you keep from getting dehydrated then? That’s simple – drink plenty of water before and after the race! If you are well hydrated before you run and you drink a ton of water afterwards, then you are not at risk of getting really dehydrated while you run. This is only a short race, after all. This is not a 10k or a marathon.


What happens at the end of the race?

Hopefully you are able to finish strong and proud (meaning you did not injure yourself during the race). And, hopefully, the people running the show provide water and food at the end. We were provided with a bottle of water, a banana, and an apple. I took the water and the banana. I know from experience that I’m at risk to getting an upset stomach from an apple, so I steered clear from that. However, both apples and bananas are a “power food,” so you really can’t go wrong. You should eat something, though. Just not junk food. That seems to defeat the whole purpose, doesn’t it? Again, I would recommend some carbs and protein, even if it is simply a banana and a glass of milk. You’ve pushed yourself hard, so don’t destroy the rest of the day by waiting to eat something healthy. And drink water!

Other than that, it all depends on what you want to do! Check your time, find out how you placed in your age group, give high fives to all your buddies and maybe some strangers, go home and take a nap…it is your choice! Just remember, regardless of how long it takes you or where you place, you did it! You ran a 5k! That is a wonderful accomplishment and you should be proud of yourself.


Running a 5k is wonderfully rewarding experience. I hope that as you have read this that you have been in no way discouraged. I am not an exercise guru or an athlete. I’m a stay-at-home mom trying to get into shape and set an example of healthy living for her baby boy. I hope that running this race is a step forward for you on the way to a healthier, happier you. It is worth it! And, if you are anything like me, this first 5k will not be your last. Congratulations on this journey into a new life and a new experience!

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