Your First 5K

Since I’ve been coaching Ben to his first 5K I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Couch to 5K for new runners. Here are some tips if you are wondering where to start?

You start right here Smile Lace up your shoes and get ready to run!

Susan and Monica at race

What is it? A 5K race is 3.1 miles. It is the most common short distance road race and very popular. Most runners who go on to do longer races start here.

People of all ages and abilities complete 5K races. If you don’t believe me, go watch a local 5K – you’ll be pleasantly surprised that you can jump right in with that crowd and be a runner too!

Training: There are a ton of “Couch to 5K” or “C25K” training programs online.

Here is the Cool Running C25K program.

Here is the From Couch to 5K site.

These programs use the Walk/Run method where you walk x minutes and then run x minutes. It’s a great way to start.

The program you choose should be based on your current ability and goals. If you do not currently run at all then I would suggest picking a reputable program and sticking with it. As training goes on you may  be tempted to challenge yourself and do more, but for your first race I say stick with a program that has been proven to work.

Most of these programs call for you to run 3 days a week. Yes, that is plenty of training to get you to the finish line.

If you are in shape and want to do more you can add cross training or strength exercises on a couple of the days you don’t run. Just be sure to take Rest Days every week. Rest days help prevent physical and mental fatigue. Trust.

As with anything else, you should consult a doctor before starting a new exercise program. Safety first.

Running Clothes: What do I wear to run?

Well, you can wear whatever you want. Even this… banana runner


But, you should try and stick with comfortable sweat wicking fabrics to avoid chafing.

Shoes are the most important part of your gear. If you are prone to injury or have the cash to spend on a good pair of running shoes I suggest going to a Running specific store and getting properly fitted and the correct shoe for your type.

Other Running Gear: If you’ve been paying attention to other runners or running blogs you know that runners LOVE their gear. There’s everything from the high tech stuff like – heart rate monitors, GPS watches, ipods, magic shoes  to the usual suspects like hand-held water bottles and visors – you  name it we go it.

But, what do you NEED?

Well, you don’t NEED any of it. The great thing about running is you just need to lace up your shoes and go!

But if you WANT any of that fancy gear I would suggest running for a while to be aware of exactly you gotta have and then reading reviews and shopping around.

Running can be as expensive or as cheap as you make it.

Fueling: You don’t need to eat Gu or other energy foods during training or racing for a 5K. But you should make sure to be properly fueled for your training and refuel after.

Everyone is different in terms of what their body can handle before and after a run, so you have to figure out what is best for your belly.

The suggested post-run meal / snack is a ratio of carbs to protein 4:1.

monica full mary

Sign Up: There are many online resources for finding races. Most of the “big” races are available online at You can also find about smaller local races in your city’s newspaper or through area running groups.

The smaller races are often cheaper and less hectic in terms of crowds, so that might be a good place to start casually.

Tips for your First 5K Race Day:

1. Get your gear ready the night before. Lay out your clothes, breakfast, sunblock and anything else you need.

2. Look up directions and know where you’re going, where to park and where the START is located.

3. Get there early on race day and get in the Porta Potty line. Even if you don’t have to go, try.

4. Have fun! Running is a hobby, it’s supposed to be fun. You’re not getting paid to run, so enjoy it.

Last thoughts: You don’t have to run to be fit or happy or healthy or cool.  Most of my friends do not run and they’re some of my favorite people in the world Smile  These are just some tips I put together because I get a lot of questions about starting out.

Just like some bloggers eat meat, are vegan, hate swimming, eat raw, drink iced coffee, don’t touch caffeine, do yoga… We are all different. And that’s okay. Do your own thing because it’s the only way you’ll make yourself happy.

Question: Do you have any tips for first time 5k-ers?


  1. says

    I would suggest signing up for one before you can run a whole one. Why wait? Walk parts of it. It will get you familiar with the official distance, with how a race feels, with how YOU feel on a race day, so when you’re reading to RUN your first 5k, you feel a little bit more comfortable doing it.

    Also, bring someone with you to stand on the sidelines and take tons of pictures. Not all 5ks have photographers at the finish line, but for your first 5k, you’ll want that (free) picture. Make sure you bring someone who can scream your name AND take 20 pictures during those last five seconds of the race. It will be totally worth it.

  2. says

    My tip learned from my first 5k…don’t expect much. It will be hard–even if you train for a 5k–because there’s no way to really train for what a race is like. It’s easy to get sucked into “Race Day excitement” and run too fast too soon!

  3. Gretchen says

    If you’re nervous about your first 5K, find a holiday-themed race. It’s super fun to dress up in heart-patterned tights or a Santa hat & takes the edge off. I have more holiday-themed knee-high socks than I know what to do with, and it’s great!

    Friends are good, too – even if you don’t stay together for the running, having a buddy for the pre-race chaos and the post-race breakfast is awesome. :)

  4. says

    For your first 5k – just have FUN with it! Don’t worry about any arbitrary time – its your first race so you will definitely PR no matter what. And you just might surprise yourself at how well you did without the extra pressure

  5. says

    there are some really cool couch to 5k playlists on itunes. i found that this helped me figure out when to start running and when to walk…

  6. says

    My first 5k was a Doggie Dash event so after I ran my race, I did a half mile jog with my dog! It was a lot of fun. I agree with the “just have fun” tip -that’s really all it should be for!

    I almost started out too fast on the first mile, but I was able to keep up a good pace and not stop to walk. By the end though I thought I was going to throw up! I got second place for my age group which was a pleasant surprise. Now I am training to run my third 5k and do it barefoot! (eee! So excited/nervous/scared)

  7. says

    I don’t think there’s really be any tips besides- just get out there and do it! XP
    Ha, seriously, the best way is to JUST DO IT *insert Nike check here*.
    That and just not to go out too fast.
    Trial and error..

  8. says

    Great advice! One of my goals for 2011 is to run a 5K race. I am not a runner…yet. So the pointers you gave are great…I didn’t know about the 4:1 carb to protein ratio for race fuel.

  9. says

    I ran my first 5k in December 2010 (and am running my 2nd in a couple of months!) but the one thing I really wanted to know was: is it ok if I walk some of the time? The answer is a resounding yes. I’ve been told that during some of the more hardcore races people don’t walk much but there are always some and its your race!

    I had an amazing time during my 1st 5k and finished in 39 min. Not a great time for people who run 5ks all the time but for a first one I’ve heard under 40 is actually pretty good. My goal was under 45 min so I was thrilled 😛

  10. says

    Big shout out to you again Monica… remember it was your blog post a little over a year ago that had me look at the Couch To 5K running program.. ran my first 5K in the 2010 Surf City (they don’t do a 5K any more)… then built up to running my first Half Marathon at Disney in September 2010.. and now I am training for the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in June with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program (the “purple people” you see at the races). Thank you… Thank you.. for all the inspiration!

  11. says

    I just thought I might mention that if you are looking for some additional information on how to get started with your couch to 5k training then you can find some good stuff here at this site, they will even email you a weekly C25k training program each week.

    Check it out here…

    Hope you enjoy it.


  12. Kirsten says

    I am not a runner at all but my bf has asked me to do a 10k for charity in 3 months. I know it’s very unlikely that I could run that, however I am starting the couch to 5k training programme on Monday. Am I being unrealistic in thinking that I’d be ok to run/walk the 10k? I’ve been reading a lot about 5k races being difficult so I’m feeling that I may have bitten off more than I can chew :(

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