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So, you don’t think you can run a 5k (3.1 mile) race? It’s really quite remarkable how many accomplished runners I know who started out saying, “I could never run a 5k.” These are folks who now run marathons (and further) like it’s second nature. The 5k is the most popular running race distance around, especially this time of year when it seems like there‘s a different event being held nearly every weekend. I hear a lot of folks talk about how they’d love to run one, but aren’t sure if they can, or if they can find the time to train, or if they even should.

Well, I’m here to tell you that yes, you most certainly can. Yes, you can easily find the time to train. And yes, if it’s something that you want to do? Than you definitely should! If you’re looking to get back in shape on a busy schedule and on a budget than a 5k is easily one of the best places to start. Why? Because, for starters, it’s free to train for. Simply put on some running shoes and head out the door. Two, it doesn’t require an unbelievable time commitment. Three, the 5k distance is short enough to be very easily doable with a bit of training, but long enough that you can’t fake your way through it; it will show you what you‘re made of. And, lastly, they’re accessible. Most every community has 5k races going on year round, so you won’t have an excuse not to sign up for one.

So, if you’ve been itching to try your hand at a 5k? Now’s the time! It’s late spring, it’s getting warm, the days are getting longer. Make this year your year to take the plunge! How? Here are a few pointers on getting out there and making it happen!

TRAINING SCHEDULE: Let’s start with the most basic “how much time is this going to take?“ question. Well, if you use the standard “Couch-to-5k” training plan, than it will take you 25-30 minutes, three times each week. That’s something the vast majority of people can fit into their schedule. And the beauty of this 9-week plan is that it will ease you into things. You’ll start with a brisk, 5-minute walk followed by alternating running and walking for progressively longer intervals as the weeks go by. Before you know it you’ll be running a mile, two miles, three+ miles comfortably. As you’re training, don’t stress about speed. Take things slow and steady as you gain confidence. The first week or two may be hard, because it will be unfamiliar territory, but don’t stress. Stick with it – it will get easier! And for some added accountability, it never hurts to rope a friend (or a group of friends) into tackling the challenge as well!

CLOTHING & SHOES: Everyone wants to know what they should wear when they start running. The answer is to wear what’s comfortable for you. Shorts, t-shirt, comfortable socks, comfortable running shoes. Maybe a cap. Sure, you can spend a bundle on all sorts of fancy performance gear, but if you’re just starting out? Just wear what you’ve got around that you think will be comfortable to run in. Also, there’s a lot of hype out there about whether you should wear highly supportive running shoes, or more stripped-down “minimalist” shoes. I certainly have my own opinions based on my experiences, but, again, do what works for you. If the shoes are comfortable and you like them? Use them.

WATER & FOOD: Although it may feel like it at first, a 5k is not a terribly long race in the grand scheme of things. You may want to bring a small water bottle with you while running (especially in the hot summer months), but your life isn’t going to depend on it; the same goes for energy bars. Make sure you hydrate and eat properly throughout the day and following a workout; if you do that than you’ll be fine. Listen to your body and experiment with what works best for you.

PICKING A RACE: Go online, search for a 5k running race in your area in the next 2 or 3 months, sign up, pay, and put it on your calendar. Pick a race you’ll have fun with. Either a scenic route, or as a fundraiser for a great cause. If you have fun than you’ll do it again. Racing with friends makes an event more enjoyable as well.
HAVE FUN: On race day? Don’t stress. Have fun. Don’t worry about your time. Have fun. You trained hard for this, so be proud. Cross the finish line and enjoy your accomplishment!

This is the latest installment (for the week of 5/5/2013) of my weekly syndicated column “THE PARENT ATHLETE” – a Health & Wellness Column for Busy Parents – published in over 20 print and online locations each week. If you are interested in carrying my column in your own paper or website, please contact me at

Image by US Navy, Flickr. Used by Permission Under Creative Commons License.

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