5 Weeks to your first 5-K

Want to run a race but don't know where to start? Need a kick in the butt to prop up your sagging workout motivation? Training for and running your first 5-K can give you a reason to get out the door and make you feel like you're truly a runner. At least I felt that way when I ran my first 5-K 10 years ago. After running along rolling country roads, total strangers cheered me on as I charged toward the finish. Orange wedges have never tasted as good as they did after that race.

The good news? If you can run for 10 minutes, you can run a 5-K five weeks from now. Chances are, no matter where you live, there's a 5-K nearby soon. It's the most popular race: 8,800-plus 5-Ks held in 2009 drew more than 4 million runners. "For newbies and anyone short on time but wanting to get fit and experience a sense of accomplishment, 5-Ks are perfect," says Susan Paul, an exercise physiologist and coach of Track Shack Fitness Club in Orlando. "There's plenty of time to train, work, take care of family, and race." These three steps will get you up and running.

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1. Sign up-today!

Seriously. Nothing gets you cracking on a goal like making it official. Sign up, then tell everyone you know that you're going to run. Now you have a deadline, and the motivation to train in order to follow through on your goal. "A race keeps runners accountable," says Susan Paul, an exercise physiologist and coach of Track Shack Fitness Club in Orlando. "You're training, not just running for fitness, and you have a plan, a starting point and an end point."

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2. Get Ready To Run

With a little planning and preparation, you can run-comfortably-every step of the way of a 5-K. The slow buildup and easy pacing of this five-week plan will allow your body to adapt to running 3.1 miles continuously, and the three-mile dress rehearsal runs will give you the confidence that you can go the distance on race day, says Paul. (If you haven't been exercising, first spend several weeks running and walking until you can run for 10 minutes.) Keep the pace easy enough to talk. You can do the runs on different days than listed below, just avoid running on consecutive days. Twice a week, cross-train by swimming, cycling, walking briskly, or taking a fitness class.

Week Tuesday Thursday Saturday
1 1.5 miles 1.5 miles 2 miles
2 2 miles 2 miles 2.5 miles
3 2 miles 2.5 miles 3 miles
4 2.5 miles 2.5 miles 3 miles
5 2.5 miles 2 miles Race 3.1 miles!

How to train before your 5-K goal

3. Race Day-Now What?

You've done every workout, cross-trained, and rested well. You've run three miles-twice-and you're confident that running 3.1 continuously is going to be cake. Here are a few things to keep in mind on your journey to the start line.

The night before:
- There's no need to carbo load for a 5-K. Eat a normal portion of your regular healthy dinner.
- Lay out the clothes and shoes you're going to wear-all of which you should have run in before. You don't want blisters or chafing to ruin your race. Not sure how to dress?

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The day of:
- Eat your usual breakfast. Today is not the day to try that new recipe for breakfast burritos.
- Drink 8-16 ounces of water one to two hours before the race.
- Arrive an hour before the start to park, sign in, pin on your race number, and jog for five minutes if you feel like it.

Recipes for running success

When people start buzzing around the starting area, line up in the middle or back of the pack to wait for the starting gun. You may be excited or anxious, but resist the urge to blast off at warp speed-even if others around you do so. If you begin at a comfortable pace where you could easily talk to the person next to you, you're more likely to have a positive experience. "Most first-time racers go out too fast and are miserable by the second mile," says women's running coach Jane Serues.

After the mile one, assess how you're doing. In a rhythm? Legs still working? Good. Focus on maintaining your effort over the second mile. When you hit the second mile marker, you know you've only got a little over a mile to go! If you're feeling good, try to increase your turnover, gradually building up speed. When the finish line is in sight, kick for home and-if you can-smile! Be proud that you just ran 3.1 miles, while most people are still in their pajamas. Go enjoy an orange-or a breakfast burrito.

Who here has run a 5-K? How did it go? What advice would you give someone who's training for their first 3.1-miler?

Susan Rinkunas is an associate editor at Runner's World, a magazine (and website) that informs, advises, and motivates runners of all ages and abilities-and we mean it. Her blog on Yahoo! Shine offers tips on running technique, nutrition and weight loss, shoes and apparel, and balancing fitness and life.

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