Six tips to run your first 5K

Hit the ground running

By Yon Yilma, WAC Running Coach

WAC Running Coach Yon YilmaThe 5K is the most popular distance run in America, and most people run it for fun or as part of an event with family and friends. To address common mistakes beginners make, I have put together six tips to not only help you successfully run your first 5K but also help you build a proper foundation as you continue your running journey.

1. Warm up properly and thoroughly.

Tendons and ligaments have very little blood flow when at rest, which results in a lack of range of motion. When we run fast at the beginning of a run, we force an increased range of motion before there is sufficient blood flow for our body to safely handle the increase in activity, resulting in an increased risk of injury. By starting your runs slowly for the first 15 minutes, you significantly increase your body’s blood flow without forcing your body’s range of motion, resulting in your body safely handling an increase in activity later in the run.

2. Run for effort, not time.

Because your body recognizes how hard you ran, not how long you ran for, it is important to always train by effort and not pace. Focusing too much on time rather than listening to your body can be detrimental to your training, and ultimately your performance in your 5K. Your stopwatch won’t get you across the finish line, your body and mind will. When you learn to listen to your body, you will always train at the optimum level for your body on that day and that workout.

3. Re-evaluate your training plan.

The most common mistakes with beginner training programs are increasing the mileage too quickly and doing too much anaerobic training without proper recovery. Your body needs time to slowly adapt to the stresses of running, so it is necessary to give your body ample time to increase mileage and intensity safely. Instead of gradually increasing your mileage each week, try gradually increasing your mileage every two weeks. With anaerobic work, you are again putting a large amount of stress on the body, so allow yourself a few days of easy running or cross-training in between anaerobic workouts to allow your body to recover. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself a day of recovery for every mile you push yourself to ensure proper recovery.

4. Implement tempo runs once a week for speed.

A tempo run is a sustained effort run that builds up your body’s ability to run faster for longer periods of time. Some tempo runs are performed in succession, while others are broken up into shorter intervals. Either way, the goal of a tempo run is to run at a challenging, yet maintainable pace for an extended time. This increases your stamina and tolerance when on prolonged runs. Tempo runs should feel like an eight on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being your maximum effort.

5. Consider this when running in the heat.

This summer has seen unprecedented heat in Seattle. Keep this in mind as you prepare for your runs. Dress in breathable, lightweight, non-cotton clothing and make sure you are well hydrated before your workout. Be sure to carry water or an electrolyte drink if you are going to be out for more than an hour. Run slower than your normal pace. Your body has to work harder through heat and humidity, so running at a slower pace will allow you to complete your training session without feeling wiped out.

6. Choose the right footwear.

Shoes are your most important piece of equipment and can be the difference between an injury or staying healthy. Make sure you run in proper footwear, preferably from a store that specializes in running gear.

Follow these simple steps to not only help you smash your first 5K but all your future runs!

—Yon Yilma is a WAC member and the WAC Running Coach. He is a past winner of the Rock ’n’ Roll Seattle Marathon. Reach him at Let him know you’re a WAC member.

—Posted August 18, 2021; JC.

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