If you’ve never run a road race before but would like to compete in a 5K or 10K, then it’s time to lace up your running shoes!
Finishing one of these races may be easier than you think, and with a little bit of training, you could be crossing the finish line in just a few months’ time.
Choose your race
If you haven’t competed before, the first step is picking how long a course you’d like to run. Among the best races to consider as a beginner are a one-mile race, a 5K (just over three miles), or a 10K (a little more than six miles). Even if you haven’t run a race before, you could still prepare for a 5K within two months and a 10K in two to three months; just be sure to give yourself the time you’ll need to build up enough strength and endurance for it. For your first race, pick one that will be held locally so you won’t have to invest a lot of time and money to get to it.
Get your gear
The good news is that the only specialty gear you’ll need to run in a road race is a pair of running shoes. Even if you already have a set, you might want to invest in ones that are more supportive and can protect your feet and joints from the high impact of running. Ask a staff member at a local sporting goods store to help you pick out a pair that fits you well; the type of cushioning your feet need will depend on your running style, where you plan to run, and what injuries you are prone to. Also, be sure to consider fit. Your shoes shouldn’t be too tight, too big, or too small—otherwise, you may end up with an unexpected injury.
While high-quality shoes are the most important piece of gear, you’ll also want to wear comfortable clothes that are easy to run in. Ones made from moisture-wicking materials can prevent you from getting too hot. Also, make sure your attire is relatively loose so it doesn’t create friction and cause chafing. This condition is common among runners and can be painful; you could also use an anti-chafing balm to prevent it.
The next step is to get moving! If you don’t currently jog or run, you could ease yourself into it by implementing a walk/run program in which you jog for thirty to sixty seconds, walk for one to two minutes, and then repeat. If you need time to catch your breath, extend the amount of time you spend walking until you feel rested enough to jog again. In the beginning, aim to walk/jog like this for about thirty minutes a day, two to three times a week, giving yourself a day or two of rest in between. What you don’t want to do is go for a run every day—rest days are important to give your body time to recover from your training. If you need more help structuring your runs, there are plenty of 5K and 10K prep programs online you can consult, or you could use an app like Couch to 5K.
Gradually run more
As you become more comfortable jogging, you can slowly start to decrease your walking time and increase your running time, extending the length of your route until you can consistently run the full distance of your race. To avoid injury, don’t push yourself to go longer or faster than you can handle. On your rest days, you could try doing gentle forms of exercise, such as yoga or light swimming, for extra conditioning and to soothe and stretch sore muscles.
Get some support
It might be easier to prep for your race if you train with others. Janice Fuld, a member of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Track Club who has completed many 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and marathons, suggests finding a friend or group to train with to help you stay motivated and make the task more fun. Other runners might be able to help you with other important considerations, too, including how to pace yourself during your runs and build a healthy mindset for race day.
Prep for race day
About a week before your first competition, you will want to taper down your training to give your body the rest it needs for the big day. Avoid overexerting yourself, keeping your runs light and easy instead. Get plenty of sleep during the nights leading up to your race, and only eat light, easy-to-digest foods the morning of your event. Drink enough water before your race and along the route to stay hydrated; you may be able to bring your own water bottle. “Also, don’t try anything new on race day, such as foods you haven’t eaten before or clothes you haven’t worn before, including your race-day shirt,” Fuld says. can handle. On your rest days, you could try doing gentle forms of exercise, such as yoga or light swimming, for extra conditioning and to soothe and stretch sore muscles.
Remember that you don’t have to push yourself too hard—it’s your first race, after all. It’s not about how fast you run or how long it takes you to cross the finish line. “You don’t have to run the whole race—it’s perfectly acceptable to walk some or all of it,” Fuld says. “Some experienced runners incorporate intervals of running and walking into their races.” Only after you complete your first race should you focus on reaching other goals, such as running the entire race or finishing it in a set amount of time. Before you know it, you’ll be a veteran runner with several personal records under your belt. You may even trade up to a longer race next time!