How To Train For Your First 5k Run

Why you should set a running goal this summer, and how to get started.
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Simone Olivero
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Why you should set a running goal this summer, and how to get started.

Some of you followed along with me in my journey to get fit last winter, and now, the warmer weather means it’s time to take our workouts outdoors. 

They say that summer bodies are made in winter, and if you ask me, the best way to keep that body going strong all through bathing suit season is to train for a running race! 

I’ve been running for maybe six years now. Prior to that, I hadn’t done it since I was in my elementary school’s Kilometre Club. 

Everything changed a few years back, when a friend of mine was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer while she was training for a marathon. It’s a long and beautiful story (which you can read about here, if you’re interested), but that year, when it became apparent that she wasn’t going to make it to race day, some friends and I decided to run on her behalf. (Don’t worry—I didn’t attempt a marathon my first time lacing up, but I did end up doing a half.)

Team Sarah half marathon

Looking strong going into kilometre number one!

A half marathon is 21 kilometres, and I'll be honest, it's a LONG distance. Even if you are a runner, working your way up to this goal is a massive feat, and one that I definitely didn’t prepare for. 

What I learned after that race—and the long and brutal recovery that followed—was that although it's possible for me to run such a ridiculous distance, had I done the right preparation and training, I might have actually enjoyed it.

Now that I have a few more years of experience under my belt, I know exactly what I'd do differently. If you're thinking about running your first 5k or 10k race, here's how to get started:

Step 1: Set a Goal

Sure, you can just get out there and run, but I’ll let you in on a little secret—you won’t enjoy it. Running is HARD. I used to watch people running along the waterfront in Toronto and think that it looked so liberating. When I tried it myself, I gave up within the first 10 minutes.

The running part, especially when you’re first starting out, can be a real challenge. One of the easiest ways to get motivated is to give your running some purpose by signing up for a race. You don’t have to turn this into a competitive thing, but having a distance to work toward will give you some foundation, so you can focus on the steps necessary to achieve your goal.

Parkdale Road Runners cheer squad

Having a cheer squad is the best part of any race.

If you’ve never run a race, start with a short distance like 5k, and work your way up from there to a 10k, 15k, half marathon and so on. Make sure you give yourself some time to train—10 weeks is a good starting point. So, if you’re looking to get started right now, a race in the late summer or fall would be ideal.

Here’s a list of some of the runs happening in Canada (though there are tons happening all across the globe):

Now that you’ve picked one, REGISTER so you can move on to step two.

Step 2: Get the Gear

One of the best things about running is that it’s cheap! Okay, shoes can be expensive, but otherwise, there isn’t a lot of gear, so you don’t have to make a heavy investment right from day one. Like I said, it’s all about the shoes.

There are a few options for finding the perfect shoe. One of the quickest ways is to pay a visit to your local Running Room store. They do a three-part test to help determine what shoe is the right fit for you. Here’s a video that walks you through the process:

If you can’t make it into a store, there’s also an online quiz, which makes suggestions.

For those of you living in Toronto, New York and I believe, Chicago, select Nike stores are offering a free run analysis where a running expert will watch how you perform on a treadmill to determine what kind of shoe you need. 

Nike run analysis

Getting my Nike Run Analysis done.

This will obviously be biased towards Nike brand shoes, but they’ll also provide guidance on what qualities you should be looking for in a shoe in general, such as structure, cushion and so on—should you decide to shop elsewhere.

Oh, and you get this fun video as a keepsake:

Ultimately, your feet will tell you what works best for you. I’ve worn a variety of brands over the years, but find that the most important quality for me is cushion.

Asics Gel Nimbus 15 Running Shoes

I’ve been going strong with these Asics Gel Nimbus 15 shoes since November.

Step 3: Get Support

Like most things, training for a run is best done with others. If you can’t wrestle up a few friends to join you in this mission (or even if you can), I recommend joining a run club/group/crew. This was a total game-changer for me, and has really improved my speed, distance and attitude toward running in general. 

Running club

Running with the same girls every Saturday morning, rain or shine.

If it's been a really long time since you've laced up, and you're freaked out about the idea of hitting the streets, you might want to join a ‘Learn to Run’ clinic. For example, the Running Room offers a 10-week program that will take you through everything from biomechanics and pacing to injury prevention and nutrition. There are other options out there, too, so do a quick Google search and see what’s available in your area. 

While you’re learning about what to do with your feet, you’ll also meet other runners who will quickly become your support group throughout this whole process. 

Once you’ve got the hang of things, it’s time to find a group to run with regularly.

Parkdale Road Runners

The ladies from Parkdale Roadrunners in Toronto kept me motivated all winter long.

I’m not much of a joiner, so the idea of going out to meet a bunch of strangers who I then had to sweat in front of was sort of terrifying. But, I promise you won’t regret it. Ask around to find out about local running groups, clubs and crews in your city and join them for a run. Even if you still run on your own, meeting up with a group will give you a regular scheduled run in your week, and the social aspect will make you actually look forward to it. Most groups meet up a few times a week and run a variety of distances, so figure out what works best for you and head out. It’s really that easy. 

Here are just a few that I’m aware of—but trust me, there are so many!

Toronto:

Montreal:

Calgary:

Vancouver:

*I currently run with/have personally tried these groups.

Have Your Say

Have you ever done a running race? Are you training for one this summer? What has helped you to get started?