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Prepare for Your First 5K Race

The 5k (3.1 miles) is the most popular racing distance in the United States. It's long enough to be a challenge to many, especially for those working on speed, but short enough for anyone to participate and finish. With the advent of spring comes the never-ending list of 5k races. Make it your goal to complete a 5K race this spring!

There are any number of reasons to run a 5K this season: getting in shape, staying in shape, stress relief, participating in a good cause, camaraderie with friends and fellowrunners, and competition. Whatever reason you choose to race, you'll want to be prepared for race day so that you have the best possible experience.

If you have never purchased a pair or running shoes before, now is the time to do it. Sneakers and older athletic cross-trainers will not work. Running shoes are designed specifically to meet the physical demands of runners. Using shoes that aren't designated running shoes could result in injury and general discomfort.

After you have a pair of running shoes, you're ready to develop a training schedule. Make a schedule that works for you. If you are a morning person, get up a little earlier and run; if you're a night owl, hit the streets or treadmill in the evening. If you create a schedule that works around your lifestyle, you will be more likely to stick with it.

Beginning runners should train for about 2 months. If you run every now and again or are in good physical condition, it's possible to train in as little as 6 weeks. The most important part of training is to begin slowly. Starting off too quickly can cause serious injury, which can prevent you from racing all season long. The first few training "runs" can be a walk or jog, depending on your fitness level. Make sure you can walk briskly for at least 30 minutes before you begin running.

Bring a watch and keep track of how long you can run before you are physically fatigued. Increase the length of time you run for each training session or every other session, even if only by a minute or two. Remember to take a day off in between runs. Training for a 5K does not have to take up all your time-you only need to train a minimum of 3 days a week. Before race day, you should be able to run or jog for at least 30 minutes.

On race day, remember to bring water, weather-appropriate clothing (hat, jacket, gloves, etc.) and any registration materials you might need. Although it's almost impossible not to get caught up in the pre-race excitement, try and avoid taking off at top speed with more experienced runners. It's easy to tire yourself out early, so keep a pace that is comfortable for you. Don't worry about time, instead, focus on reaching that finish line!

If you have any questions about your ability to run or feel any discomfort while running, consult your physician before beginning or continuing a training regimen.