Training for Your First 5K? Do NOT Make These Rookie Mistakes

Don’t let these running slip-ups cost you your race.

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First of all, give yourself a round of applause for signing up for a 5K. *insert clapping emoji here* Training for and running an event like this not only gives you a workout goal that you’re more likely to stick to, but once you cross that finish line, you’ll get an awesome feeling of accomplishment that may keep you coming back for more. 10K? Half marathon? OK, OK … let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

To get ready for a 5K run, you may know that you need to train regularly and slowly build up your endurance and running time. But in order to train efficiently and safely, you also need to know what NOT to do before you start, well, doing. Here’s a rundown of common rookie mistakes that people tend to make before running their first 5K.

1. You wear the wrong shoes. Running in your regular old sneakers may seem like a good idea (because, hey, it took years to break those babies in!), but just because your sneaks are comfortable for one sport doesn’t mean they’ll work for all activities. Wearing shoes that aren’t meant for running or high-impact sports can increase your risk of injury, and may also affect your performance. Can’t remember the last time you bought new sneaks? Do your feet a favor, invest in a pair of running shoes from a specialized store, and ask a staff member to help you find the perfect fit.

2. You don’t recover while you train. When you exercise, your body goes through, well, a lot. Especially your muscles. When you train, it causes micro tears in the skeletal muscles (hellooo soreness!). But this breakdown is actually an essential part of what makes muscles bigger and stronger. The other crucial part of that process? Recovery. When you rest, that’s when your muscles repair themselves and prepare for the next (better, faster, stronger) workout. Not recovering properly could increase your risk of strain or injury, so give yourself at least two recovery days in a week.

3. You don’t pace yourself. Slow and steady wins the race? It’s cliche for a reason. As tempting as it may be to sprint as fast as you can while training, or while running on race day, don’t. Doing too much too fast can cause you to get tired faster, increase your risk for injury, and also take you on the road to burnout (aka, I’m never running again!). While training for your 5K, build up your running time gradually, so your body (and muscles!) can keep up with your finish-line crossing mindset.

On race day, feeling that competitive spirit can help keep you going, but remember that it’s also important to go at a pace that’s right for your body. If you need to stop to catch your breath, then stop. If you’re feeling pain, stop. If you’re tired, slow down. Cross that finish line in one piece.

4. You don’t strength- or cross-train. Running is a repetitive impact sport. Every time your feet hit the ground it impacts your muscles, joints, and tissues. If your muscles are not prepared to handle the impact, it can lead to repetitive stress injuries, which include inflammation (pain and swelling), muscle strain, or tissue damage.

Enter: strength- and cross-training. Along with building up your running time slowly, fitting in strength-training workouts (think calf raises) and cross-training (think any aerobic activity besides running, like cycling) will allow you to avoid injury and still build endurance and muscle strength.

5. You don’t hydrate properly. Last, but definitely not least (and quite possibly the most crucial): Drink enough water. Your body can lose several liters of sweat in an hour of running, so if you’re not sipping throughout your workout, you’re at risk for these symptoms of dehydration—especially if it’s warm outside. A good rule of thumb is to have at least two cups of water an hour before a big workout, one up every 20 minutes during, and another cup afterward.