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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
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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.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • LWPOWELL
    Seriously, well my first 5K was a little demoralizing. I finished in 44:30, and finished in front of a 70 year old guy with a knee brace. There was a huge hill that I was not prepared for and for my first 5K ever at 55 years old, I was a little embarrassed. To me this first race made me realize not only that I had come a long way in two months, and I had so far to go. I want to do a sub 30 minute that is my goal. I don't want to discourage anyone, but don't be fooled, no one walked my race, and I was a little embarrassed I was so slow. - 7/22/2014 2:35:54 PM
  • Wow, amazing!! This one motivated me to try it once myself.. - 3/25/2014 6:32:24 PM
  • I couldn't do a 5K run if my life depended on it!I am doing good just to walk around our little block.I do work out on my elliptical machine everyday except sundays and I consider that to be my primary exercise.Love reading about all the exercises and marathons but will just keep on walking around our little block. - 3/22/2014 12:21:03 PM
  • Walking is just fine. Everyone was thrilled for me, even if I did sit down TWICE. I did fine: bad knees, way over weight, sedentary. Good for me. Good for us all. - 3/21/2014 8:48:45 PM
  • Did my first 5k last week and will be doing another one soon. Met a man who had been running for years and he "walked" me through the whole thing. With his help it was a great experience and I had a great time. I knocked about 30 secs off my best time, so onward and upward. - 3/21/2014 7:37:44 PM
  • CHERRYZMB60
    I've only done 5K's walking and my fastest time is 55min which i must say i'm very happy with the last one has start and ending pictures and all I can say is WOW what a differenece in facial expression - 3/21/2014 11:51:45 AM
  • This is a great article, Nicole. Thank you for the tips and for your honesty. I have done 3 5k's, one each year, and 54 minutes was my fastest time. I have never in my life been a runner, but I love these events. I began training in January. My goal this year 3 more 5k's, jogging the last in its entirety.

    - 3/21/2014 10:46:15 AM
  • I'm training to run my first 5k in May with Couch to 5k/ 5k 101 podcasts. I'm excited! I'm definitely focusing on my training, even the days that seem easy to ease into jogging that far. - 3/21/2014 10:32:37 AM
  • When mentioning "all kinds" you forgot blind. I'm always blown away when I see the blind runners. - 3/21/2014 7:31:16 AM
  • Timely article ... tomorrow morning I am running my first 5K (before turning 60) ... Color Me Rad ... so excited! My mindset is to just go out and enjoy the entire experience. I'm not out to set any PRs tomorrow ... I just want to have fun. Will I run another 5K? Most definitely! : )
    - 3/21/2014 7:23:12 AM
  • Thank you so much for helping ease the nervousness for all of us who are preparing for our first 5K!
    - 3/10/2014 9:18:24 AM
  • I am a new member and one of my goals that I am working towards is doing a 5K Color Run in our area so I found your article very enlightening. Thanks you have helped me to be able to visualize better for my own motivation when I need it. - 3/9/2014 1:07:20 AM
  • After re-evaluating my progress and goals (and actual dates of the race), I think I will register for the Run for Your Lives Zombie 5k that's held in Atlanta in the Spring. I'm a little too late to do so for 2014, so I plan to register for Spring 2015. That gives me plenty of time to get down to my goal weight, body fat % and muscle mass, train and save up for registration. It's interesting, you can register as both a zombie or a runner. I might see what is involved in registering as a zombie so that I can do so in 2014. That way I'll know a bit more about the course and obstacles (yep, there are obstacles) when I register as a runner for 2015.

    Super excited that I've found a lot of articles and advice for mud runs and 5k's combined with an obstacle course so that I can begin mentally preparing. Then I'll research the best ways to train and start training around August of 2014. I've never done anything like this and to be honest I'm a little nervous, but I think it'll be a great experience (and heck, why not train for a better outcome in case of an actual zombie apocalypse?)! - 12/16/2013 3:27:48 PM
  • TOOTHFAERIE
    I am running in my first 5K tomorrow. I have lost 55 pounds so far on Weight Watchers and this has been a goal of mine ever since I started my fitness journey. Tomorrow is also the sixth anniversary of my cancer being in remission. I have been doing lots of cardio and interval circuit training leading up to this as well as some shorter distance runs. I hope I can finish this running although I'm not sure his fast I should pace myself! - 12/6/2013 11:04:42 PM
  • Good for you. - 11/22/2013 6:11:32 AM
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