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8 Lessons from My First 5K Race

The Most Fun You'll Have Running
  -- By Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
I never considered myself a runner. I ran maybe once a week for 30 or 40 minutes, and then I wouldn’t feel like doing it again for a few days. Needless to say, I never really “get better” at running—I pretty much stayed the same because I didn’t put time into it. But after I read a recent SparkPeople article about the benefits of taking part in charity races, I was really motivated to try one myself. I thought that maybe running for a cause would make running less boring—maybe even fun—and encourage me to do it more often. So this past weekend I laced up my new running shoes for my first 5K race.

Now, I really didn’t train properly for this 5K (3.1 miles), but I figured I was in good enough shape to handle it, as I do cardio regularly and run my occasional 3 miles without any problems. Here’s what I learned along the course:

1. Don’t be nervous. I'll admit that I was nervous once I arrived! I was having flashbacks to high school track meets, which always put butterflies in my stomach. I mentioned to a friend that I felt nervous and he said to me, “Don’t be. There will always be people who finish before you and people who finish after you.” And he was right. I knew that I wouldn’t finish in last place and I knew that I wasn’t competing against the other runners—I was there for me.

2. Pace yourself. I am no good at this. I started out running faster than I’ve ever run in my life. I think the adrenaline got me going! But I was also near the front pack of people who are really, really fast. So I sort of stayed with them the best I could, even though their pace was much faster than what I could handle. I finished my first mile in under 7 minutes (believe me, I am as shocked as you are), but lost steam along the way and each mile thereafter was slower. I liked that the fast runners really pushed me to work harder, but if I were to do it again, I’d try to find people closer to the pace I could keep up with more comfortably.

3. There is no shame in walking. Some people run; some people walk. Others do a little of both. Even the fastest runners pulled over to the sidewalk to take walking breaks along the way, and I was one of them! I wouldn’t have thought that I would need to walk, but the combination of a fast pace and steep hills (and maybe the lack of training) made it necessary for me. I took walking breaks four times throughout the short race. Once I got my heart rate down, I’d start jogging again.

4. Enjoy the moment. The whole experience was unlike anything else. Along the way, you hear the collective pounding of sneakers on the pavement all around you. People sit in their front yards and gather on the sidewalks just to cheer on complete strangers. When you look around, you see people who are all there for one common goal. I listened to some rockin’ songs on my iPod (without which I might have lost motivation when it got really tough). And when you see the finish line approaching, no matter how tired you feel, somehow you dig down deep and give it everything you’ve got left. It's the most fun you'll ever have running.

5. Keep moving. Don’t stop moving just because you cross the finish line. Keep walking for several minutes to cool down, and visit the water station to rehydrate. Stay on your feet as much as possible—this will help you avoid cramps and post-workout soreness. Spend several minutes stretching, too, focusing on the calves, quads and hips, which are likely to be sore in the coming days.

6. Be proud. I never thought that a 5K was really a big deal—I mean, it’s no marathon, right? But it was a challenge and I was glad that I had pushed myself to the end! I crossed the finish line in 27 minutes and 58 seconds. I couldn’t believe it! Never would I have expected to have done so well or have been so proud of myself.

7. You CAN do it. I saw children under 10, seniors over 60, pregnant women, dads pushing strollers, tall, short—every size, shape and age imaginable. Everyone was there and they all did it! Don’t let the fear of coming in last deter you—it’s still better than all the people who never try.

8. Try again. I am 100% motivated to try again! I want to get a better time and I want to run the whole course without taking a break. These goals are enough to inspire me to finally take up a regular running program (never saw that one coming!). In fact, there’s another race in a couple weeks that I think I might try. I never thought running could be so enjoyable and motivational until I ran my first 5K. It's worth the try. What have you got to lose?