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Things to Know Before Your First 5k

Running your first 5k? Here’s what to know before you go.

Photo: Kevin Morris/Corbis via Getty Images

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Running your first 5K race is exciting but also can be nerve-racking.

However, while some pre-race jitters are likely going to be unavoidable, having a few expert 5K tips up your sleeve may help calm your nerves and help you feel like a pro on the starting line even if it is your first 5K race.

With that in mind, we’ve put together some top tips for running your first 5K and things to know before your first 5K race so that you can be as prepared as possible, feeling confident and excited on the starting line rather than worried and anxious.

Beginner Tips for Your First 5k

Below are some helpful things to know before running your first 5K race. Perhaps not all of these 5K race tips for beginners will apply to you, but hopefully, you will be able to glean some key takeaways to help you have a great first 5K race.

Get to Know the 5k

It may seem silly, but for runners in the United States, understanding how far a 5K race is before running your first 5K is actually an often overlooked component of training and racing your first 5K.

The “K“ in the 5K run distance refers to a kilometer, which is a little more than 0.6 of a mile.

Therefore, a 5K run is just over 3.1 miles.

It’s Ok to Walk

Even if you have been training to run the first 5K without stopping, you should know it is absolutely OK to walk as much or as often in the race as you need to or want to.

In fact, many of the participants in the race will walk the entire thing, while others will deliberately take a walk/run approach in their first 5K, or even 50th 5K!

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Taking a walk/run approach as you build up your fitness will help your musculoskeletal system get used to the impact of running as you gradually build up your aerobic endurance.

If you find that you have gone out too fast in the race and just need to rein it back in and lower your heart rate, a short walking break may be the ticket you need to reset physically and mentally so that you can finish the race as strong as possible.

Don’t Try Anything New Before the Race

The most common mistake that beginners make before running their first 5K is trying something new on race day or the few days leading up to it. Perhaps you go to the race expo and find a new sports drink or sports bra that you would love to debut on race day, or you go to your local running store and buy brand new running shoes so that your feet feel “fresh“ for your first 5K race.

While getting new shoes when you need them and trying new running products is a necessary part of the running journey, you do not want to have your race experience be tainted by suddenly realizing the shoes you bought cause blisters, the sports bra causes chafing under your armpits, or the sports drink or energy bar you tried is giving you terrible diarrhea.

Stick with what you know and with what has been working in training. After your race, you can try experimenting with new running gear when the stakes are lower.

Start Slow

Another common mistake new runners make in their first 5k race is starting out too fast. Between the adrenaline on the starting line and the crowds sprinting when the race gun goes off, it’s easy to get sucked into a running pace that is faster than you have trained for and faster than you are prepared to run for the 3.1 miles.

Deliberately try to hold yourself back and run at a comfortable pace, using your watch or your intuition to stick with your race plan regardless of what is happening around you.

It is far better to run even splits and finish strong than to bolt out at the starting line and find yourself walking in the second half of the race because you’ve run out of steam.

Someone Will Finish Last

In every race, someone has to finish last. It may be you, it may be someone else, but there will be a final finisher.

If your fear is finishing last, rest assured that there’s a good chance you probably will not finish last in your first 5K as most community 5K races have many participants who walk the entire race and if you do any bit of running, or even very slow jogging, you will likely have a faster finish and someone who is leisurely walking the 3.1-mile race.

Even if you are the final finisher, last place is still an incredible accomplishment!

After all, not only did you have the courage and physical and mental strength to finish your first 5K race, but you were also out there the longest, pushing your body longer than anyone else had to endure. Go you!

In almost every race, the crowd rallies for the final finishers and cheers everyone home across the finish line, and you will be just as celebrated and deserving of all of the praise as the runner who wins the race or your friends who finish many minutes ahead of you.

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Thank the Volunteers

There are tons of volunteers at every race who do all sorts of helpful things to make the race possible, such as handing out race numbers before the race, passing cups of water on the course, making sure that street crossings are safe by watching traffic, marking the course, helping you through the finish line, etc.

It is important to be grateful and appreciative of for whom otherwise your first 5K race experience would not be possible.

Smile and say thank you; expressing gratitude can buoy your mood and help you feel connected to the running community and may lift your spirits if you are having a tough time getting through the race.

Arrive Early

Make sure to arrive at the race location at least 45 minutes early so that you can get organized, pick up your race number and T-shirt if necessary, do a little bit of a warm-up, and use the bathroom (there’s always a long line!), so that you can get to the starting line without feeling stressed for time or rushed through your pre-race plan.

Watch the Weather

In the days leading up to race day, keep your eye on the weather forecast so that you can plan your outfit accordingly.

If rain is forecasted, bring trash bags and a change of clothes to try to stay dry between your warm-up and the race, and make sure you have fresh socks and shoes for afterwards so that you don’t have to slap around in wet shoes.

Consider Running Without Music

Although many runners always plug into music, a podcast, or an audiobook while training, consider running without your headphones on race day. You will be able to absorb the energy of the crowd, and many 5K races have music and a loudspeaker with inspiring words of encouragement.

Plus, you’ll be able to converse with other runners who may also be running their first 5K race, and you can pair up on the race course and have support along the way.

Don’t Lie Down When You’re Done

Although you are likely to be feeling exhausted and ready to take a load off right after the race, you should do your best to keep moving and start rehydrating with water or sports drinks and have a light snack with some carbohydrates and protein.

Walking around for at least 15 to 20 minutes after the 5k race will help prevent stiffness and set yourself up for optimal recovery so that you can return to training for your next 5K feeling your best!

You Don’t Need to Carbo Load

While marathon runners often practice “carb loading,“ by enjoying pasta or some other high-carb meal the night before the race, the 5K distance is much shorter, and loading up with carbohydrates is that necessary. In fact, you will feel sluggish and loaded, as the body stores 3 to 4 g of water with every gram of glycogen stored in your muscles and liver.

Stick with your normal diet, and choose a pre-race dinner that settles well in your stomach and it’s relatively low in fiber so that you aren’t running to the bathroom.

On race day morning, have something light that you are accustomed to such as a bowl of oatmeal, a banana, a piece of toast with a little bit of peanut butter, etc. Here again, don’t try anything new on race day.

Are you ready and excited for your first 5K race? We are rooting for you!

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