8 Lessons from My First 5K Race

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I am not a runner. I really do not enjoy running. To me, it's more challenging than other cardio activities, and I think it can be boring. So it’s not the kind of thing I do very regularly. I run maybe once a month for 30-40 minutes, and then I don’t feel like doing it again for another few weeks. Needless to say, I don’t really “get better” at running—I pretty much stay the same since I don’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 Cincinnati’s annual Reggae Run.

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, since 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 get hydrated. 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—the Halloween-inspired Run Like Hell, in which all the runners wear costumes and run through a cemetery (yikes)! I hear Forrest Gump won the costume contest last year. Got any ideas for me?

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That's awesome! I am a walker just recently started training to be a runner, I am training for a 10 k run in 4 months......this has really motiviated me to keep going..... Report
I ran 4 races this past year, and enjoyed every minute of it! I never thought it possible, but Spark People really helped me train and push myself!! I never thought of myself as a runner either... but I am hooked!!! Report
vow!!! perfect timing! my running buddy and i are training ourselves for 10k in Jan,,, we are walker turned runners very much in beginning stages of running... am glad that i read your post,, it has got me motivated and excited,, am gonna read it again after few days to keep me going ;) Report
I enjoyed reading this. You are on your way to running in a marathon. All it takes is discpline and determination. You got it! You will be surprise how your body and mind will cooperate. This is how I got started. I have participated in 3 marathons. Each race brought on different challenges for me. Now I race to complete the race not for competition. It is still FUN! Thank you for sharing! Report
In my 'previous life', I made the statement "I'd never run unless being chased by a dog". LOL Now however, I'm hooked on 5Ks. When my knee permits, I do them. I did a Turkey Trot Thanksgiving morning @ about 6:30 LOL

As for your costume....how about going as an Olympic runner? Heck, its easier to run in and the ghosts & goblins won't have much material to grab onto! LOL Report
I just stumbled over this article and its perfect timing! My first 5K is coming up next weekend and I was starting to get a little nervous (the excited kind!) I am running it with a friend who has done several runs (she is training for the NYC marathon also). I keep asking her what to expect and because she's done so many, she can't really say because it all seems normal to her! I started training in June. It was hard at first but then I started being able to run farther and farther and it because about being my own times. Now I'm addicted to running! Great job on your 5K! I hope to finish in under 40 minutes. Thanks again for this article even though is it old. I'm so excited!
~Ang Report
I am running my very first 10K tomorrow, reading your blog has helped ease my mind about alot of things. I know I cannot run it all but the last time I did a practice run it took me 1hr 38min to do 10.9KM, I jog some and walk some. But even if I do come in last, I keep think back to 8 months ago when I could not walk down my own basement steps to the laundry and make it back up without huffing and puffing. I am now 66lbs lighter and looking forward to tomorrow and more running in the future. Report
Thanks for the motivation. I recently started running and found that I like it. I thought about a 5K, but didn't think I could run the complete course. Now I know that I dont have to run the entire time, I can walk and jog it. That's great for me until I can build up to running the entire run. Report
I've always wanted to join a run but didn't have the time to do so. This year I am looking for one in which me, my friends, and family could participate in
Thanks so much for your article and motivation. I recently saw a flyer for a 5K run in my area. I honestly did not know how long that even was but would really like to try something like that. Thanks for the motivation and the tips, now if I ever decide to run, I will have a heads-up. Report
Ran my first 5K last December, and you're right -- races are addictive! I worked my way up to the 8K Shamrock Shuffle in March, and now I'm on track for the 1/2 marathon in just a couple weeks. The daily training runs aren't the MOST fun I've ever had, but I can't wait to be out on the street with all the other runners, pushing myself to the finish! Report
Thanks for the motivation. Just this year I did my first 5K as a charity event I spent many years in the Military and know that I have ran as a group for several miles I think at max 6 at one time. But since the last 6 years or so I have done not to much of anything, but I am back into the swing of things and am looking forward the next one. I walked the first 5K ran towards te end, but now I think I may try to run majority of the next. Report
Jogging is my thing but I am kind of nervous about taking big steps...Thanks for posting nick!!! Report
Nicole, I have run a few 5k's and none of them was I as competitive as you were. I started to run them to get in better shape and because some of my family members run. You did very well and I am curious as to where you placed in your age group and over all? Report
I love hearing about different races around the country and Run Like Hell sounds like great fun! I did my first 5k last year then totally ran out of steam and am now retraining myself. This time I KNOW that I can do it since I did it once before. Once I get back up to speed I'd love to run in some of these different races. 2 of them on my radar for the future: Skirt Chasers ( http://www.skirtchaser5k.com /) and 8k Mud Run ( http://www.asymcamudrun.com /). I think these kinds of runs are fun for those of us who do not consider themselves runners because they pack in some fun and camaraderie along with the run. Report
thanks for the encouragement. i've signed up for my first half marathon, but it's not until dec. thanks for your vision. i think i will do a 5 or 10 k before the half marathon to have that little bit of experience under my belt and to better enjoy the run/walk. Report
i just finished my first 5k and boy, do i agree with all the points u put in ur article. after i crossed my first mile i had to stop and walk and i felt that all the people are going ahead of me , even the ones who were walking. my husband was also running and he told me to focus on the songs on my ipod rather than look around. and i did just the opposite. but when i saw people running/ walking with strollers, with kids, a girl in wheelchair pushed by her mom, and people running with dogs, i said these people are enjoying themselves and so i should enjoy as well. also the most motivating factor was people on the sidelines cheering for complete strangers and people cheering as they drove by.

my husband after finishing his run had started walking backwards on the track, thinking that i am stuck somewhere and may need help but he was surprised to find me 5 minutes from finish line.

he never thought i wud do this, hell, i never thought i wud do this. but i did and am very proud of myself
i took 48 minutes to complete the race and am already searching for other 5ks. its addictive!! Report
Two weeks ago I entered a 4 mile race and this weekend I am doing a 5K. I am so excited to be doing these charity races, even if I am walking the majority of the race. I am not interested in running, but I do run for part of the race. The benefits are huge...great exercise...helping charity and showing my daughters how important fitness is! Report
This blog was just what I was looking for! I'm running my first 5k on Sunday and have so many questions about the little things. Thank you!! Report
I'm not much for running, but I'm training for a tri at the end of the summer (something I've always wanted to do) and I'll have to run when I don't get to swim and bike (why does it seem the other tri athletes all hate the swim?) and now I'm intrigued by the idea of the Run Like Hell - how do you find events like that? Report
great job nicole!! :) i ran my first (and second, third, and fourth) 5k last year and have another coming up on may 9th. what's different this year is that it's on my path to training for a half marathon this fall! be careful, once you start you will want to keep pushing farther and farther! Report
I have been doing Charity 5ks for a few years now. My college just had their first for-students-and-alumni-only, for-the-fitness 5k. I decided to run the whole thing. I did have to walk for about 30 seconds, twice. I finished in just over 33 minutes. I will be definitely running some of my future charity 5ks. Report
I just did my first 5k in 36 min and 59 seconds on Sunday. First mile in 10:45 (I have never EVER gone that fast) I hate running but this was fun. Report
I did my first 5k last year for National Police Week in rememberance of fallen officers. I ran it approximately 37 minutes. (One count said 38ish and another said 36ish). I'll run my second one next month. It just feels good when it's over. You are just proud to be there for the cause and not really for you. Report
I am beginning week 8 of Couch 25K. I'm seriously considering signing up for a local 5K on Mother's Day. This article has got me thinking that I just might be able to do it! Thanks Coach Nicole!! Report
Thank you so much for these tips. Ive not done my first 5k and you have helped ease my fears Report
CONGRATULATIONS, Nicole! You trully rocked that race first 5K! I am so proud of you and you have all reasons to be proud of yourself too! WOOHOOOO!!!

Now, pacing yourself is not the easiest thing to do - I have learned the hard way - but with a bit of experience it becomes more natural.

Good luck with your training! I am looking forward to hear about your next race! Report
Congratulations Nicole. I just happened upon your article, so I know I am a few months late. The title intrigued me because I have been trying for the longest to start a regular running regiment and have not been successful. The farthest I have run is 2 miles on a tread mill and that was over 5 years ago. Now I can't even run more than 4 minutes without getting tired. I will keep working at it. The short marathon is a great idea and your tips will certainly help me get motivated to 'just do it'! :) Report
That is the coolest name/idea for a 5k! I recently signed up for the Disney Princess 5k despite the fact that I too despise running. I want to do a triathlon one day and running is my downfall, so I figured I'd start out with a 5k. I'm so excited. Thanks for the tips! Report
I love this! I'm running in my second 5K on Sunday and I'm a little nervous - this reminded me that it's all about the actual race, not about my performance in it! Thanks! Report
Congratulations Nicole! My step daughter just did her first 5 K and I will share your lessons learned with her. I am still trying to run a half mile with out having to walk. i will get there and beyond and will just take it one day at a time! Report
Nicole: I loved your article and it is in My Favorites. I have never run a race of any kind. When younger I ran for exercise, but never truly enjoyed, never got that high that people spoke. Now at 58, I want to prove to myself that I can do this but was quite apprehensive until I joined SP. Your article alleviated many of my concerns about the day of the race. I have started training yesterday for the Tropical 5K MiniMarathon in Miami where I live and I am trying to motivate MiamiSpark members to join me. I have posted the SP article on how to train for a 5K and I am hoping that others will join us (MiamiSpark co-leaders) in the experience. Report
I also learned the importance of training outdoors. I had been training on the treadmill and felt very prepared and then I got to the race and things were a bit different. You have to contend with hills and banked roads and no assisted propulsion from the ground!!
So if you can't get outdoors to train, I suggest at least adding some hills to your treadmill training!! And most important, JUST HAVE FUN!! Report
Maybe you could go as a Spark plug ;) Report
Great Job Nichole! I ran my first 5K this February. I had never run even a mile until I was 46 last year. The atmosphere there with all the cheering and fun got me addicted to it. The Run Like Hell Race last Friday night was my 11th 5K this year. I have not really improved my time very much, but I don't mind that. I just enjoy the exercise and the atmosphere. Report
Great blog Nicole!!! I myself just signed up yesterday for my first 5k. My 5k will benefit kids sports at a local highschool. They have been cutting back sports for quite some time and what better way to earn some money to keep them going and to keep the kids active.

I have been running 3.5 miles since May and I think I am ready. I couldn't have read your blog at a better time. All my thoughts were answered!!

Keep up the good work Report
LOL! I know how you feel.. I tried the swimming part of a triathlon this year :D It was exciting.. and exhausting.. and inspiring :)

For the "run like hell" I think you should go as a spark!! haha.. You could wear a white track suit with reflective fabric/tape cut in the shape of sparks :D that'd be cute and a nice nod to sparkpeople. Report
Way to go! I have always thought that I hated running. But just recently I have found myself slowly beginning to get into it and I think I'm starting to love it! I really want to run a 5K for a cause! I think it would be an awesome self-accomplishment for something that I never thought I'd see myself even wanting to do! I'm working on it and hopefully I will soon be able to make my first attempt.

Thanks for sharing!!
Monica Report
Great blog. i wish there was a way to save these. Your article was very motivational. One of my goals is to run a 5K before I'm 50. Report
Hiya Coach Nicole. Great article. I ran my first 5K (since college - over a decade ago) about a month ago. I had many of the same feelings you did, being nervous, being excited, feeling the adrenaline, hearing the many foot pounds and breaths all around me. I actually did train and ran a 30:14 (I think our course was 3.12 miles). I was inspired, like you, to train more for a better time next time, and look forward to the next race.

One thing you forgot to mention that I enjoyed... FREE GOODIES! There was a breakfast station with water, Powerade, fruit and bagels before and after the race, free post-race massages from the local massage school, music, and an overall party atmosphere. Plus it was for a good cause (Hospice). I found a new hobby!

Thanks for posting interesting and useful articles. Looking forward to the next one.

ZJ Report
I did my first 5K at age 55, and came in first place in my age group. I ejoyed it so much I did it again when I was 57! Now that I'm a couple years older I still want to do it, again, and again! Report
I will be running the annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning and I am feeling both nervous and excited! I run to work everyday(2 miles) and back home in the evenings, but a 5K is next to people who are fast runners! I am feeling a little intimidated, but I know I should start to focus on the how much fun it will be.Thank you for the tips! Report
Isn't is addictive?! Especially when it's for charity. Check out www.active.com for all the local running events. Report
Thank you so much for this blog! I'm doing my first 5K this Saturday, and I've been so nervous, and trying to convince myself to not do it. Your blog has helped me to realize that making excuses and not doing it will only hurt me in the long run. So even if I have to walk most of it, I'll be there on Saturday morning! Report
I have never liked running either. I played soccer in high school and hated it! But the past few months it has been on my mind. I think I may start. Who knows, maybe I will run a 5K too. Thanks for the great, and congrats. Report
The advice you gave is good. I wish I had had that before my first race in Sept. In my second race, the WPAFB 5k , I took 2 minutes off my time. Really amazed myself. I am looking for at least one more for this year and I am working toward a 10K for Spring. I now know that starting too far back is also bad. Not having the confidence in myself, I started at the back of the pack and had trouble getting around walkers, strollers, etc. I jogged both races, 1st one: 35:43 and 2nd one: 33:20.

I am now addicted and will continue to try more races. Now, if I could only stop smoking.............. Report
this gave me a lot of encouragement to go ahead and run a 5k marathon. i'll be walking in the columbus half marathon next weekend, but this makes me feel like i can do 5k. Report
That's awesome that you gave it a try!

This past weekend I ran the Army Ten Miler in Kosovo. I'm right there with you that I didn't train properly. I set a goal for myself and met that goal by finishing before the 2 hour mark. I hadn't ran 10 miles since 1999 and thought I'd gave it a try.

I do cardio 5 times a week and can easily knock out 4-6 miles on the elliptical and 10-15 miles on the bike. I hate running but the Army tells me that I have to do it. Report
I am totally in awe! You did this with NO training? Amazing. I'm afraid I'll never be a runner for numerous physical reasons, but I love to participate in charity events at a walker. And that's okay. I still can raise money AND awareness by just being there and doing my best. Thanks for posting this....it was a wonderful read!

Sorry, no costume ideas. You can't have mine! Report
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