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5K for Beginners

The second Wednesday of each month we meet for a practice 5K at Waterford Lakes Gazebo on Mark Twain Blvd, at 7pm. Runners and walkers of all levels are welcome to this free training event.

“Couch to 5K” is a common expression in the running world, and although it is a worthy program, it seems a bit complicated in some ways and leaves out some things that may not be obvious.

Running may be a good exercise of choice for many people. It also may not be. It is a high impact sport and can cause damage and pain in joints, particularly knees, ankles and lower back. Please do not continue running if you feel you are damaging yourself in these areas. A consultation with a sports doctor may be in order.

Making the right choices in clothing, nutrition, exercise patterns and events can enhance your running experience.

This article will discuss some basics of outdoor running, including:

  • What to wear
  • Selection of shoes / sneakers
  • Proper Running Form
  • Proper diet, including,
  • When to eat/drink before a run
  • What to eat/drink during a run
  • What to eat/drink after a run
  • How to get started
  • How to build up to a 5k or further

What to Wear:
This depends greatly on the weather conditions. Here in Florida one can usually get by with shorts, a t-shirt, socks and sneakers. There are special socks and shirts that are tailor-made for running and other outdoor sports. They are made of trademarked named materials but mostly they are special blends of polyester. They feel like cotton without the unwanted side effects, like retaining water. On a shorter run, like a 5K, you may be able to get away with cotton socks but for the longer runs you want a custom made sock for running, to prevent chafing and blisters.

Of course depending on the time of day, perhaps a hat, sunglasses and certainly sunscreen may be appropriate.

In the winter months one may want to add sweats but remember, it is going to get warmer during the work out, and it’s no fun carrying along extra clothing.

It might be a good idea to carry water or an equivalent drink mix of some kind, too. See below for ideas on carrying water / hydration mix.

Selection of Shoes / Sneakers
For a short run like a 5K any pair of sneakers that “feel good” on your feet will do to get started. For longer runs, a consultation with a reputable athletic store salesperson can be very helpful. They will try to put you in the best shoe for your goals, so be honest about how far and how long you want to run, whether you are going for speed, distance, or just general health. Remember, on runs of 10 miles or longer your feet swell up. Marathon runners have reported needing a shoe up to three sizes larger than normal.

There are stores that will let you try the shoes on a treadmill, or even a small indoor track (at Florida Mall for example). It is very important to get a comfortable shoe with proper arch support. The pain of improperly fitting shoes goes well beyond the feet, and can cause pain or discomfort all the way up to ankles, knees, hips and even the back.

Your running mechanics are determined by the strength and flexibility of certain muscles and how your body is built. Here are a few basics to help you maintain proper running form on any terrain from exercise physiologist Adam St. Pierre and Christy Barth, a physical therapist and strength and conditioning specialist, both of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine:

  • Maintain a short, quick stride. Do not try to lengthen your stride; avoid reaching forward with your foot, which can lead to overstriding and will set you up for injury.
  • Keep your knee in line. Make sure your foot strikes under your knee, not in front of it, which can lead to injury. It doesn’t matter whether the heel or forefoot hits the ground first, as long as your foot is not in front of your knee. This is especially important when running downhill.
  • Push up and off. Focus on pushing up and off the ground behind you.
  • Watch your elbows. Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees or less.
  • Relax your hands. Keep hands loose and below your chest. Make sure your hands don’t cross your midline and your hands don’t punch forward, both of which can throw off your gait. Pay careful attention to this when you’re carrying something like a music player or a dog leash. Switch hands halfway through the workout if possible.
  • Work your core. When starting a running program, it is also a great time to start working on your core strength, particularly your glutes and abdominal muscles. A strong core makes it easier to stay upright—even when you’re tired—and avoid leaning too far forward from your hip, which can lead to injury.

Here are some special considerations to make when you’re climbing a hill or making a descent:

GOING UP

  • Keep your head and chest up
  • Look straight ahead
  • Visualize the road rising to meet you
  • Keep your shoulders back
  • Push up and off the hill, springing from your toes
  • Don’t bend at the waist and hunch over
  • Keep your hands and fists loose

GOING DOWN

  • Keep your torso upright
  • Look straight ahead
  • Visualize “controlled falling”
  • Keep your nose over your toes
  • Step softly; don’t let your feet slap the pavement

Proper Running Form
There are a lot of articles to be found on proper running form. The sidebar to the right is taken from Runners World.

Proper Diet: Before the workout
It is not easy or advisable to run on a full stomach nor a completely empty stomach. The proper amount of “fuel” can only be determined by experimentation.

Most runners have a light meal, snack or a food bar (protein maybe) two to three hours before their run. It is important to stay hydrated though. Make sure you drink plenty of water the day of the run, and if possible, the day before. If you are a morning runner then drinking a lot of fluids the day before is very important. Carrying water with you may seem like a pain, but it is worth it. There are waist and back mounted water carrying units available if you want to keep your hands free.

Proper Diet: During the workout
Most runners carry a water bottle at least. Some have a “mix” in the bottle, of a supplement designed for athletes or something similar. There are a lot of good products out there but remember, they all claim to be the best.

While it is desirable to eat something during a long run, such as a marathon, most runners find it very uncomfortable to eat while running and nausea can result. A running stomach may not cooperate well with solid food. However, a liquid mix of athletic supplements is an option. It’s an individual choice based on taste and personal diet. Some runners like “Gels” and/or “Shot Blocks”.

Proper Diet: Recovery – After the workout
Running is a high impact exercise and does considerable tissue damage to leg muscles and other muscle groups. The body repairs this damage and if properly fueled can actually restore more lean muscle mass than prior to the damage. A recovery meal or snack should include a lot or protein and metabolites designed for muscle and tissue repair. Look for something with a high Glucosamine concentration, Chondroitin Sulfate and branch chain amino acids. These minerals greatly facilitate tissue repair. Here is an independent study discussing the effectiveness of these supplements.

Time to start running: Walk First!
It is not advisable to get off the couch and go run a long distance right away. Certainly, every run should start with some sort of warmup session. A little stretching, some body twisting, or even some lunges are helpful. Do not begin your run with a run. Walk first. Walking as a part of running has proven to be effective – see The Galloway Method.

Time to start running: Intervals!
The easiest and safest way to begin running is in small intervals. A typical interval session would start with 5 to 10 minutes of warmup (which may include some minor stretching), walk for 5 minutes, and start to run for 30 seconds to a minute, then walk again. Continue to do this until running seems easier. Then try running longer, and so on. The goal is to extend the running interval a little bit each time until the legs and lungs can handle the extra stress if extended running.

At some point, you will want to go try a 5K or even longer event. Remember, you do not have to run the entire event! All 5K promoters realize that all levels of runners will be present, and they allow for the extra time that walk / run entrants may need. Most people have no problem finishing a walk / run 5K in well under an hour.

Anyone who can complete a 5K without stopping (or walking) can most likely do a longer event such as a 10K or even a half-marathon (13.1 miles). The key thing is to remember you aren’t racing the people around you, you are only racing yourself. Your personal goal on the clock is all that should matter … for now anyway …

Kathleen and Patrick after finishing a 5K in Avalon Park

Kathleen and Patrick after finishing a 5K in Avalon Park