Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Succeed at Your First 5K Race

I ran my first EVER 5K this past Saturday. Generally, 5K's are fundraisers, and this was for domestic violence. I paid $25 to run, although people could walk as well. People volunteered their time and companies like the local Subway and Abbott's offered coupons for free products. Tim Horton's gave out free coffee and smoothies. So not only did I monetarily help out a charity, but I received amazing perks as well!

Okay, let me first say that I know people who really prepare for this sort of thing. They run almost daily. They time their speed. They get fitted for special sneakers. This is not me. I did none of that. I would've run every other day if I didn't have that stupid heel pain that makes it impossible to walk for the next couple days thereafter. (I am seeing a podiatrist soon, so I will have more great advice for runners after my appointment, once I know what I'm doing wrong.)

So, in other words, my lungs were not conditioned to the point I would've liked them to be. I'm going to assume many of you reading this are in the same boat. What I have to tell you will be invaluable. First of all, make your you exercise a good couple months (at least) prior to the race. You will want to build up your endurance, even if you aren't a runner. I cannot stress this enough: do weight training. Prepare your legs for a long run. 5K equals 3.1 miles. Driving 3.1 miles in a car is a blip in time. It doesn't seem very far. I'm here to tell you that 3.1 miles is no blip. It's more of a (bleep).

Okay. Second of all, even brisk walking will help condition your lungs, but the best conditioning is interval training. Run as fast as you can as far as you can. Stop, gasp, and walk. When your breath has regulated, run as fast as you can again. Continue until you are a blob on your lawn, hoping for rain. You have now begun to condition your lungs for running. You should work on this gradually, of course, and consult your physician to make sure you're a good candidate for this type of training. It can be hard on the heart.

If you can slowly train yourself to run three miles (and for me, it's four), you will be able to handle a 5K, no problem. If you're looking for first place, though, don't be 5 foot 3, racing against women who are 6 feet tall and have the legs of a gazelle. I speak from personal experience, here. But if you are short and still want to do well, here is practical advice from someone who used to be clueless until her very first race.

1) Wear comfortable clothes. Sweat + tight clothes and underwear = uncomfortable chafing. Don't let this be you! Placing Band-Aids in places the sun don't shine is not a great way to end a race.

2) Do not start off going too fast. I had started the race toward the back, and ended up passing 90% of the people right off the bat thinking, "Ha! Suckers." A mile later I was thinking, "I'm the worst sucker of all. I'm a Dum-Dum!" (Disclaimer: Dum Dum is a trademark name.)

3) If you want to win, don't stop for water. But if you're mouth tastes like dried spit, grab a water, suck it down, throw the cup to the pavement. Yes, they told me I could drop the cup. I had hesitated, wondering what to do, which took, like, an extra ten seconds off my time. And seconds are important in a race, gosh darn it! Next time, I'll know better.

4) Look for the signs that tell you where you are mile-wise in the race. They can help you slow or speed your pacing. Me? I was just hoping to keep going without collapsing. When I saw the sign for 2 miles I was like, really? That's all? I turned to the man walking beside me (this tells you how much I'd slowed down by then) and I gasped, "There's no end in sight!"

5) The man beside me was walking AND running his way to the finish line. Not a bad plan, especially if you've conditioned your lungs to deal with fast sprints. Consider this option. He finished the race right after I did, and I ran the whole freaking way!

6) When you see the finish sign, decide (quickly) whether or not you can charge at it without passing out. I did this, and cut a few seconds off my time, plus got the dang race over with just that much quicker.

7) Do NOT stop moving after you've run. Walk it out for at LEAST five minutes to slow your heart rate gradually. Then STRETCH, or you will be sorry the next day.

I had a great time, despite the fact I didn't pace myself and was winded way too soon. But I managed to push myself, something I'm used to doing, and guess what? I ran the entire thing in 26:28. I came in at 21st place, and as the 7th female, despite my short stature. (Gazelle-leg woman came in at 20:00, beating out even the teen boys! I was quite impressed.) My friend (and neighbor), Kari, beat her old time, coming in at 27:58, the 10th female. She did great, too. (I'm always happy to give kudos to hard-working runners.)

So if you're considering a 5K, my advice in a nutshell: train ahead of time with weights and with practice runs. Wear comfy clothes that don't bind. Find a good pace and stick with it...don't start off too fast. If you need water, grab, drink, toss. Don't stop. Charge the finish line. Stretch afterward. Oh, and my best piece of advice? Use the bathroom before you race. After the race, I heard a few horror stories about marathon racers and how they sometimes mess their pants, if you know what I mean.

And number one? Have fun! It goes fast, despite being more a (bleep) than a blip.


  1. Hi Kim,
    I enjoyed your advice column about the 5K run. If you care to hear from my experience, I do the following to prepare for a race:
    1) Wear tight-fitting clothing like Spandex (a registered brand but reprinted here without permission)
    2) Smear Vaseline (another registered brand, yaddha yaddha) or some other lubrication on parts of your body that likely rub together during your run. Note: only rub the substance on your body and refrain from rubbing it on others' bodies. This will avoid possible lawsuits in the future. If you are feeling competitive, cover your entire body in the substance in cases where other runners try to hold you back from charging the finish line.
    3) Shave your head to reduce drag.

    Hope this helps... John W

  2. Ha! Love it, John! Vaseline...great idea! All great ideas, really. Er...except I won't shave my head. (No offense to those who use this tactic, but my vanity comes before winning.)