Training for a 5K can be exciting and rewarding, but you must ensure you are being safe when working towards that goal of completing a 3.1-mile run! The risk of injury is greater when you are starting training from square one, so here are five helpful tips to help make sure you are engaging in safe practices that will lead to success!
Tip #1: Pace Yourself
When beginning your 5K training, remember that you have to learn to walk before you can run-literally! Try alternating between walking and running for 30 minutes each day, gradually increasing your running time while decreasing your walking time until you can run the full span of time without stopping. Once you are comfortable running that long continuously, you can shift your focus onto shortening the amount of time it takes you to complete 3.1 miles.
Fun fact: The average time to complete a 5K is about 25 minutes, but the record time is 12:37-less than half the average!
Tip #2: Listen to Your Body
During your training you may be tempted to push your limits, forcing yourself to go those extra few yards even when you feel like passing out. That kind of determination is awesome, but pushing yourself to the point of pain is not a healthy or effective way to exercise. Listen to your body when you feel a pain that goes beyond the soreness or fatigue that comes with expending so much energy. If you feel pain in your shins, knees, heels, or the arches of your feet, try slowing your pace to a jog or brisk walk, and STOP if the pain persists. Remember: you can’t run a 5K if you’re injured!
Tip #3: Safety is a Matter of Wear and Where
Running is a cheap and easy way to exercise, but it’s also an easy way to get injured. Make sure to wear shoes that fit properly and provide adequate support, and wear clothing that you feel comfortable exercising in. Avoid cotton shirts and socks, as they trap moisture and increase the risk of chafing and blisters; instead, opt for light polyester clothes with synthetic fibers that wick away sweat. To keep your body safe from injury, try running on a treadmill or grass to reduce the impact on your joints and bones, and always make sure to run against the flow of traffic when running on the sidewalk or street shoulder. Make sure to wear reflective shoes and/or clothing when running during darker hours, and try to stay on familiar paths. Bring a friend or dog with you if possible (also a great way to bond!), and always make sure someone knows when and where you are going.
Tip #4: Abs Are Made in The Kitchen, And So Are Runners!
There is a common misconception that people who are in great shape don’t eat a lot; in fact, people who engage in cardiovascular exercise (e.g. running) on a daily basis require a higher caloric intake to maintain a healthy weight than a sedentary person. The only way to really reap the physical benefits of running, however, is to combine exercise with a balanced diet. The rule of thumb when training is to get 55% of your calories from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and 20% from unsaturated (healthy) fats. You don’t have to carry around a notepad and calculator to keep your diet balanced, but DO look at nutrition labels before eating and consider what is really inside the food you are about to consume.
Fun fact: Many foods that seem “healthy” on the surface are actually packed with sugar! A 15oz bottle of Naked Juice has between 48g and 55g of sugar; the recommended daily sugar intake is only 25g!
Tip #5: Run, Stretch, Rest, Repeat
While everything you do leading up to and during your run is important, what you do afterwards is just as crucial to safe training. Going from 0 to 100 is never a good idea, but going from 100 to 0 is just as bad. Never come to a complete stop after running; always finish with a 5-minute cooldown to gradually bring down your heart rate and breathing, which helps prevent blood from pooling and causing you to faint. You can use a muscle roller (or any round sports ball) to help massage your back, shoulders, and legs after a run, and remember to gently stretch out your body to prevent soreness and tight muscles. Also, don’t forget to hydrate! Drink plenty of water and feel free to mix in some sports drinks to replenish electrolytes lost during your workout. Remember, though, that sports drinks tend to be high in sugar and sodium, so drink them in moderation and never use them as a replacement for water!
Fun fact: It is recommended that you do dynamic stretching before a run, and static stretching after. Dynamic stretching involves short, quick movements that wake up the muscles (toy-soldiers, butt-kicks, lunges, etc.), while static stretching loosens the muscles by having you hold positions for a long time (toe-touches, hamstring/quad stretches, butterflies, etc.). To prevent injury, be careful not to interchange the two!