Your First 5K
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/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Your First 5K

In nature, humans are relatively slow and defenseless, but we can outrun almost all other animals over long distances. The human body has multiple physiological adaptations that provide an advantage when running distance. For example, with over 2 million sweat glands and very little fur/hair, we sweat like crazy, which gives us a cooling advantage over other animals, and many of our tendons and joints are arranged in such a way that they store energy when running, which increases efficiency. There are many other ways in which we are built for running, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Running or walking distance improves heart and lung function, requires little equipment or skill, builds confidence and self-esteem, and can help reduce or maintain body weight. If you want to begin running, getting involved in a race is a great way to start, and competing in a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) race is an excellent way to get the ball rolling. The excitement of race day is also a lot of fun! You will be getting the benefits of a more active lifestyle in a fun and fulfilling way, but check with your physician if you have any concerns.

Here are steps to accomplishing the worthy goal of completing your first 5K race.

Sign up: It’s hard to believe that signing up for a race is the first step to getting in shape, but signing up early can be a great motivator. Find a race that is 7 to 10 weeks away and sign up to run. Short-distance races happen frequently, so you are likely to find one that works for you. Pro tip: To find races near you, Google search “5K + the name of your town.”

Start where you are: Keeping your expectations realistic will make the experience more fun and help prevent injury. If you're just beginning to exercise, make sure you start slowly with short periods of exercise such as walking; then, work your way up to moving faster and for longer periods as your body adjusts. Begin the 5K training schedule once you are able to exercise for 30 minutes at a time. Pro Tip: Check with your physician if you have any questions or concerns regarding exercise.

Training: It is important to start slow and build. There are many introductory training schedules available on line and as apps. If you use a smartphone, try downloading a free Couch-to-5K app. Pro Tip: The best training programs have three main attributes in common: 1. Time, rather than distance, as a way to indicate how long/far to run while training. 2. Exercise in intervals, which means alternating walking and running, especially when starting. The running times get longer and the walking times shorter as training progresses. 3. Balance workouts, usually 3 days a week with rest days between.

Make the time: This step might be the most important of all. Get your calendar out and schedule your trainings. Many people find it useful to train first thing in the morning while others prefer training in the evening. Many like training with a friend. Pro Tip: Make it fun.

When race day arrives, it’s okay if you don’t feel ready; just show up. If you need to, you can alternate walking and running or simply powerwalk. You’ll have fun either way. Keep in mind that there will be people of all ages, shapes, and sizes competing, and you are all there for the same reason. Don’t worry about how quickly you finish. Just get out there, do your own thing at your own pace, and enjoy the challenge of your first race. Remember: You are made for this!

Glenn Chaney, MS, PT, is a physical therapist at SVMC Deerfield Valley Campus in Wilmington and SVMC Outpatient Rehabilitation in Bennington. Both practices are a part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.

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