Things to Know Before Running Your First 5K

When you first start running, it's easy to get excited about the thought of completing a race, such as 5K. But you may have some questions or concerns before you get started. Here some things to consider before taking on your first 5K.

You don't have to run 5K (3.1 miles) before the actual race

Yellow Dog Productions/Getty

Many beginner runners assume that they need to run at least the race distance or beyond to be ready for the race. To be physically prepared for the race, you don't have to run 3.1 miles before race day. If you can run or run/walk for 30 minutes, you should be able to safely and comfortably complete a 5K.

You should practice running outside.


It's fine to do some of your training on the treadmill, but make sure that you also do some runs outside. You use different muscles when you run outdoors so, if you run exclusively on a treadmill running, you may have a hard time adjusting to a different surface during the race. While there are some benefits of treadmill running, doing some of your miles outside will help get you more physically and mentally prepared for the race.

If you're doing a local 5K and have access to the course map, try running part of the course during your training. You'll feel more prepared -- both physically and mentally -- if you're familiar with the race course.

Also see:  Tips for Running Safely Outside

You don't need to carbo-load for a 5K.

Peanut Butter on Toast

Some people hear about runners eating lots of carbs before a big race and they think it applies before running any race. You really only need extra carbs if you're running a longer distance race such as a half or full marathon. If you're running a 5K, you don't need to load up on carbs the day before the race. Just eat what you would normally eat the day before the race, but try to avoid foods fatty or greasy foods that might lead to gastrointestinal issues.

The morning of the race, you don't want to stuff yourself, but you also don't want to have a totally empty stomach. It's not a good idea to eat immediately before running because it may lead to cramping or side stitches. Skipping breakfast altogether may cause you to run out of energy. Your best bet is to eat a snack or light meal about 90 minutes before the race starts.

Try to eat something that's high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Some examples of good pre-5K fuel include: a bagel with peanut butter; turkey and cheese on whole wheat bread; a banana and an energy bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk.

Also see: Best and Worst Pre-Run Foods

You don't have to run through the water stop.

Yellow Dog Productions/Getty

Most 5Ks have at least one water stop on the course and it's something that causes anxiety for some first-time 5K racers. "What if I drop the cup? Do I have to keep running?"

It's not necessary to keep running through the water stop, although some runners choose to do that. Some race participants will take a walk break through the water stop so that they can carefully take the cup from the race volunteer and sip it, without spilling the water or having to gulp it down. There are no rules about exactly how you take the water. If the race conditions are very cool, some 5K racers find that they don't even need water and they opt to skip the water stop. Others carry their own water bottle so that they can sip water when they need it.

Also see:

How to Take Water from Aid Stations in Races

Your race number goes on the front of your shirt.

Race bib
Gary John Norman

Before the race, you'll pick up your race packet, which will include your race number (also called a race bib), race T-shirt, and possibly some other race swag. When you put on your race number, make sure you put it on the front of your shirt, not the back. You can use safety pins on all four corners of the bib to keep it in place. Often race organizers give out safety pins when you get your race number.  Make sure you get them so you're not scrambling around looking for safety pins right before your race starts.

It's important to wear your bib to let race officials know you're part of the race. Also, if there are official race photographers on the course, they'll use your bib number to identify your race photos. So make sure your number is clearly visible when you see photographers on the course and especially at the finish line. If there's a B-Tag timing device on the back of your race bib, make sure it's not bent or covered with clothing or a running belt.

Also see: Etiquette for Running Races

You won't get disqualified for walking.

Walkers in race
Yellow Dog Productions

Some beginners worry about having to take a walk break during a race because they think they'll look or feel like a failure. They equate waking with throwing in the towel. There's no shame in taking a walking break!  In fact, using a run/walk approach can be a very smart race strategy because it may help you avoid the muscle fatigue that often happens towards the end of races. Some race participants find that taking short walk breaks actually helps them achieve an overall faster race pace than if they tried to run the entire distance.

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