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Running Your First 5K: 8 Tips for Beginning Runners

Crystal Toll, PT, MPT, CSCS, CMTPT

The days are getting longer, and warm temperatures are calling us outdoors. This year, given the recent closures and time spent at home, many of us are even more eager to start moving. Whether you’re new to the sport of running or thinking of taking it up again, it’s a great, simple way to exercise outdoors.

But how do you stay motivated to lace up your sneakers? Signing up to run your first 5K is an ideal way to stay driven and dedicated to a running goal. Many in-person running events are on pause, but there are plenty of virtual 5K races that still offer you an objective to aim for. While running your first 5K alone (or with a few pals) might not have the same excitement as a typical race day, it’s still a powerful motivator, especially if you find a virtual race for a cause you feel passionate about. 

If you’re aiming towards running your first 5K, you’ll want to set a training plan to pace yourself and avoid common runner’s injuries that can come from overtraining. Crystal Toll, PT, CMTPT, CSCS, a physical therapist at the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, offers these 8 tips to improve the running experience for beginners. As a marathon runner and Ironman triathlete, Crystal enjoys working with endurance athletes of all abilities to help them reach their goals. Here she offers advice for beginning runners working towards running a first 5K.


There are so many great local running events for beginners and seasoned runners. Running in the USA is a comprehensive website to find a race that is best for you. You can choose from themed runs, races for charity, and more. 

On the website, search your area for 5K races, which are a great distance for beginning runners—not too far to be overwhelming (3.1 miles), but far enough to offer a challenge. Once you have found the right beginning 5K, be sure to sign up right away. Take the plunge and commit to running your first race. Having something on the calendar keeps you accountable.


For any beginning athlete, proper gear is essential for injury prevention, and running is no exception. Crystal says, “I strongly recommend wearing shoes in good condition, designed for running. Worn shoes and footwear not made for running will increase your risk of injury.”

To maximize the life of your shoe, make sure your running shoes are only worn when you run, not for errands or yard work. Seek out a local running store (Crystal’s favorite is Performance Running Outfitters) and work with one of their running gurus to get you in the pair of shoes that is best for you. A running store should assess your gait and advise you on the best shoes for a beginning runner. Most running stores provide running assessment services and advice both in-store or virtually.


Having a 5K training schedule is essential for building up your endurance and getting your running started on the right foot. A training schedule will help you pace your training while pushing you appropriately. Best of all, following a training plan keeps you accountable.

How do you select a training plan? A well-developed plan will ensure you make appropriate adjustments in your running routine, which are essential for reducing your risk of injury. Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway both offer excellent training programs for runners and walkers, covering the full spectrum of fitness levels. 


Do you need the accountability of answering to others? Are you motivated by a (little) friendly competition? Consider joining a local running group. There are plenty of groups to help you connect with other runners in your community.

Even if you prefer a solo run, connecting with a running group can be helpful as you’re working towards running your first 5K. Running clubs and groups typically offer in-person training and social events, as well as online resources and social media guidance. Road Runners Club of America’s website allows you to search for a running club near you. Your local running store can also provide you with information on running groups, activities, and events in your area.


Once you’ve signed up to run your first 5K, geared up with the right shoes, and set up your training plan, it’s time to assess your rest. Beginner runners should remember that balance is an essential part of the sport. 

During your 5K training, rest days are just as important as workout days. Even if you feel extra motivated by your increased running stamina, sneaking in extra workouts is risky. For runners, pain is often triggered by overuse during training and ignoring your body’s signals to rest. Beginner runners need to take at least one day off a week. If you want to stay active on a rest day, easy walking, yoga, or additional stretching are all just fine. Take your rest days and enjoy them!


Like rest, stretching is also an essential component of running. Stretching can help to reduce muscle tension and soreness, especially as you train for running your first 5K. Stretching after your workout is most effective, and stretching is a great way to “cool down” post-run.

Listen to your body as you do post-run stretching. Your stretches should feel strong and tolerable—they should not hurt. If you experience discomfort during your post-run stretching, reduce your intensity. If you continue to experience pain, stop! Your physical therapist should evaluate ongoing pain. It’s crucial not to “push through” the pain and exacerbate an injury. 


When training for a 5K sleep, hydration, and nutrition are just as important as training, yet easily get overlooked. Sleep is an essential part of running recovery. It is important to establish a routine, get 7-9 hours per night, and sleep in total darkness to heal your muscles. Whenever possible, go to bed no later than 10 pm.

Staying hydrated is essential during any activity. When it comes to hydration during your 5K training, aim to drink one half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, a 160-pound woman should aim for 80 ounces of water per day. In addition to water, remember that your food is your fuel. When you start a new training program, examine your eating habits and revamp any weak spots. Proper nutrition will help you feel your best while training. The US Department of Health and Human Services website has excellent guidance on building a healthy eating pattern.


You’ve followed your 5K training plan and completed your first race. Congratulations! Like many runners, you may find yourself asking, “now what?” First, celebrate the success of running your first 5K. New workout apparel, a movie night, or a special dessert are all great ways to reward yourself for your accomplishment. 

Before you jump into committing to another event, take time to rest and recover. A few days after a 5K or a few weeks after a marathon are reasonable rest periods. During your rest time, review your recent training. Identify what went well and what you would like to adjust when running in the future. Crossing the finish line is a worthy goal for first-time runners. After completing their first 5K race, many runners set time-based goals. Realistic, measurable goals help you stay motivated and measure your fitness gains.

After confirming your 5K training plan and establishing a new goal, pick another event to keep the excitement going! Running is an excellent fitness activity. With the right approach, you can set yourself up for running success for years to come.  

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