Completing a 5K race—3.1 miles—is a doable and rewarding fitness goal for almost anyone. Running coach Debbie Blair of the Greater Long Island Running Club has successfully prepared hundreds of Long Islanders for dozens of races. Her beginner-friendly 5K training plan focuses on workouts that alternate between timed bouts of running and walking to ensure a solid base and a good performance on race day—most workouts total about half an hour. A local track is a good spot for some workouts, especially the first ones, but it’s smart to also utilize roads and trails to acclimate to varying terrains, like hills. Follow her advice and six-week schedule right to the finish line.
Pre- and Post-Workout Pointers
Always warm up with a brisk five- minute walk and some dynamic stretching. Stand tall and alternate pulling each knee into the chest to shake out the hip flexors. Try toy-soldier walking: Kicking legs straight out and reaching for the toes with the opposite hands. This primes the hamstrings (left, right, left…). After a run, take a few minutes to stretch again, holding each position for 20 to 30 seconds.
The Body Mechanics of Running
During a run, keep shoulders down and relaxed. “Upper-body tension can affect the diaphragm and breathing,” Blair said. Lean slightly forward, but don’t slouch. Use the arms to match the legs, swinging them forward and back, but not crossing in front of the chest. “Imagine wearing a holster with guns and taking a gun out, from the hip forward, with each stride,” Blair said.
As for legs and feet, keep a comfortable stride—shorter is better than overstretched—and land lightly with each footfall. To soften a heavy step, Blair suggests envisioning the ground is a bed of eggs. “Strike with a full foot if you can, rather than landing hard on the heels or ball,” she said.
Finally, too-shallow or too-rapid breathing is both exhausting and inefficient. Practice taking longer breaths and even try yoga to get a feel for slow, rhythmic inhalations and exhalations.
Some Food for Thought
Have a bite to eat and a large glass of water about an hour and a half before a workout. An apple, banana, yogurt, nuts, nutrition bar or oatmeal are smart choices for long-lasting energy.
Skipping breakfast before a morning workout could cause dizziness—at the very least, sip some juice if eating isn’t appealing. Have water on hand during the workout and afterward, hydrate some more and eat something that contains both carbohydrates and protein. Chocolate milk, made with 1 percent milk, is Blair’s personal favorite recovery drink.
A Note on Footwear
Running shoes should be comfortable—not too loose or too tight. Typically, this means going up a half size from usual. “I would suggest going to a specialty running store to make sure your shoes fit correctly,” said Blair. “You don’t want to wind up with blisters due to an incorrect fit.” A running shoe, designed to move the runner forward, is better than a cross-trainer intended for multi-directional movement.
Race Day Dos
Eat breakfast as usual and build in pre-race time for a warm-up. The excitement at the start can make it tempting to go out too fast at the gun, but resist. Keep a steady pace and breathe evenly. If you’re feeling good, try a final kick on the approach to the finish line.
A DAY AT THE RACES
Mark your calendar and sign up early for an upcoming local race. Come for the run and stay for the festivities, including age-group awards, raffles and more. A few are just a little more than six weeks away (depending on when you’re reading this), meaning there’s time to qualify.
Ellen’s Run Parrish Memorial Hall at Southampton Hospital, ellensrun.org Benefits breast cancer awareness
2014 Sarcoidosis Awareness 5K and Fun Run McCarthy’s Pub, Centereach, sarcoidosisofli.com Fundraiser for research on the rare inflammatory disease
Airborne 5K Run Gillette Park, Sayville, airborne5krun.com Supports the Wounded Warrior Project
Empire National Bank Smith Point Bridge 5K Run for Literacy Shirley, 5kbridgerun.communitylibrary.org Fundraiser for literacy services at the community library
Mary Napolitano Memorial Festival of Races Jericho, angelsraces.com Aids programs that provide health care for children
Six-Week Run/Walk 5K Plan
On the schedule below, R = run and W = walk. The number after R and W is how many minutes to do it. In most cases, the pattern should be repeated, as indicated by the “x [number]”. So for Week 1, Day 1, run for five minutes then walk for two minutes and repeat three times. And don’t skip a workout due to bad weather. After all, it could rain on race day, Blair says.
For cross-training days (Xtrain), go for a bike ride, swim, take yoga or Pilates, or strength train for a half hour to 45 minutes.