Skip to content

How to Prepare for Your First 5k Race

Each year, more and more people take on physical fitness as a New Year’s resolution. For some it may mean hitting the gym more and lifting weights or taking that hip new spin-Jazzersize-cardio box fusion class. In any case, as you walk through your new gym you may notice the treadmills too. Its an easy place to start. Step up, press go, and the speed starts out nice and slow. It may start out as just a warm up for you but eventually you start to increase your time, distance and speed. Now you are running!

It’s spring time and you may be thinking about your first 5K. If this is you, read on. If this is not you, here are six reasons you should consider running:


Lower high blood pressure: aerobic activity such as running, cycling and swimming have been shown to lower blood pressure.


Improve immunity: many theories exist as to why running can improve immunity and reduce your chances of getting sick. According to Running Magazine some experts believe the reason is sweating out toxins and some believe you clear your lungs of bacteria when breathing heavy. Some experts also believe that the increased blood flow kills viruses.


Stronger knees: what you’ve heard about running destroying your knees is false. As long as you are wearing the right shoes, stretching and refueling properly exercising your knees will make them stronger like anything else.


Improve memory: science has yet to figure out why running boosts ability when it comes to memory recall, but they know it happens. There is some belief that it has to do with a rise in blood protein while running.


Lower cancer risk: study after study since the rise of cancer as the number one killer of Americans under the age of 85 have shown that physical activity reduces your chance for cancer by 40-70%.


More me time: this is a no-brainer! Run alone and have more time with your thoughts or to clear your mind of everything.


Tips from A Professional

Sean Clark is one the top runners in the La Grange area and we are proud to have him as a trainer on staff at Momentum Fitness and Health in Berwyn. He consistently places first through third in local 5K races and here he shares his top tips for your first 5K:


Know your shoes

A good pair of shoes is the foundation of your training program. The best pair of shoes is the one that gets you to the starting line without injury. Bad shoes can cause blisters, feet, ankle, knee, and hip problems. Terms like outsole, midsole, upper, stack height, and heel to toe drop are all important components of your shoe purchase. Ask a salesperson about these terms or do some research online.


Every run shouldn’t be your hardest

New runners have a tendency to try to make every run their fastest. This is a huge mistake. Hard efforts should be done only 1 or 2 times per week and on race day. The majority of your runs should be at a relaxed pace or even walking. Don’t push every run. 


Take your recovery days

Any good training plan should include recovery days. For some people this includes not running at all, for others, some other type of cardio work like swimming or biking. These days are just as important as your work days. There’s really no such thing as “overtraining” there is only “under-recovering.”


Don’t neglect your tissue work, especially your feet

Tissue work has many different names, foam rolling, smashing, massage therapy, trigger point, myo-fascial release. Whatever you or someone else calls it, the important thing is to do it. Running is repetitive and hard on your bones, joints, and muscles and tissue work can help offset those effects and get you to race day feeling healthy and ready.


Supplement with strength training

Finally, a good training program should include strength training. Running, as I said, is very repetitive and hard on your body and strength training can help fix imbalances and improve weak areas that lead to injury. Body weight exercises should be sufficient for most people or resistance bands, dumbbells, or suspension straps are an accessible and portable type of equipment.


Where to Start

It’s Gotta Be the Shoes

Step one relates back to the benefit of creating stronger knees and expounds on Sean’s tips about finding the right shoe. It is and is not a matter of comfort. It is also a matter of injury prevention. You do want a shoe that is comfortable, but you also want a shoe that supports your foot properly. Everyone runs differently and has a different shape to their foot (arch height, wide, narrow, etc.…). Going to a forum or Facebook group and asking what the best running shoe is will not be of much help.

In years past you would need to go to a specialty running store to find someone qualified to assess your gait. A store employee would see if you over or under pronate, if your hips drop and look at the shape of your foot and then provide you with the right shoe. This is still suggested for your first running shoe. Once you have all this information, some big box stores, like Dick’s, are getting better at hiring knowledgeable employees. Do not buy cheap shoes to save money because you will pay more in medical bills fixing muscles strains and ligaments.

Lastly, buy your shoes at the beginning of your training program (approximately 8 weeks) or sooner. You want to break them in on your shorter runs and have them completely broken in by race day. Once they have reached 400-500 miles they need to be replaced. Minimalist shoes can be worn longer since they provide little support to begin with.

Reduce Injuries/Increase Speed with Flexibility

Also, to Sean’s point, it’s extremely important that your muscles are pliable when running. Tight muscles end up being pulled muscles. You can also avoid problems like plantar fasciitis (tightening of the foot muscles) and shin splints (tightening of the muscles around the shin bone). These two “injuries” alone sideline most new runners. If you do experience shin splints or are starting to feel its onset you can check out this video from our studio.

The most important muscles to stretch are hamstrings, adductors, calves and low back. You will want to spend some time here, maybe even two weeks before running, to reduce your chance for injury in addition to doing some corrective exercise that we will discuss further down the page. Below are a few stretches to address those muscle groups:

Hamstring Stretch – this is perhaps the most synonymous stretch associated with running. Seated on the floor you place your legs either in front of you or out to the sides at a 45-degree angle and reach for your toes. The problem most people encounter with this stretch is they can’t reach their toes without bending their knees. The stretch is less effective if you bend your knee so grab a strap, belt or even a shirt to wrap around toes and pull. This allows you to stretch and keep your leg flat on the ground. (Figure A)

Frog Pose (adductors) – start out on all fours on a soft surface such as a yoga mat or blanket. Slide your knees out the side, push your glutes back and arms forward. (Figure B)

Dancer’s Stretch (low back) – extend one leg forward and place the foot of the opposite leg behind the knee of the down leg. Twist towards your “up” up knee and hook your opposite elbow against the outside of your knee. (Figure C)

Figure A











Figure B

figure b









Figure C

figure c









Here are three foam roll techniques:

Foam rolling for adductors – similar to the frog pose in (Figure B), you will start with one leg out. Place the foam roll perpendicular to that leg and roll one inch at a time until you find “the spot”. It should hurt a little but be more of a releasing pain. Hold this spot for thirty seconds. Do not roll back and forth, let it press on the knot. If it hurts too much, stop and continue with frog pose only. (Figure 1).

Foam rolling for IT Band – your Iliotibial Band or “IT” Band runs along the outside of your leg and tightens up on runners, walkers and sitters. This is most often the tightest muscle in the body and foam rolling it will prove itself to you. Lie on your side and place the foam roll just below your hip roll slowly toward your knee but do not roll onto the actual knee. If you’ve never done this before you will find many tight spots along the IT Band. Pick one for now and hold for thirty seconds (Figure2). Make sure you do both legs.

Foam rolling for calves – start as you would for the hamstring stretch (Figure A) without the towel. Place the foam roll under one leg at about mid-calf. Lift your glutes off the ground and roll slowly up and down until you find your spot and hold it for thirty seconds (Figure 3). If you cannot find a “sore” spot, place one leg on top of the other (Figure 3a). Repeat on the other leg.

Figure 1

figure 1











Figure 2

figure 2








Figure 3    

figure 3                                                                           








Figure 3a

figure 3a







Want more instruction on foam rolling? Check out our video!

Do You Ever Get to Run?

Of course, you do but you have to build the car properly before you race it. As Sean mentioned above you should seek out a trainer, preferably with a Corrective Exercise and/or Sports Performance certification and have them perform an assessment on you. They will provide you with a training program that will consist of strength training, stretches and running that will benefit you specifically. Everybody has different muscle imbalances and if not corrected this can lead to injury. At Momentum we encourage anyone starting a new fitness program or anyone who has taken a long lay off start the process there to reduce injuries and time back on the couch feeling defeated. Trust me, we’ve been there.

What Else Can You Do?

Get Adjusted – The Benefit of Chiropractic

The Wellness Path’s very own Dr. Vic Manzo  shared the top reasons chiropractic can help improve your running experience:

1. Improved breathing and diaphragm involvement (easier to oxygenate the body)

2. Improved recovery time

3. Decrease in injuries

4. Decrease healing time of an injury

5. Improve biomechanics for runner’s stride

6. Improve overall performance


This could perhaps be the most important part of your training plan. If you plan to run well and keep going you need the right fuel just like your car does. Don’t pour sugar in your gas tank! At least not processed sugar. There are many different nutritional paths out there and just about all of them want you to cut out/down processed sugar. We agree! The best nutritional path that works best is the one that works best for you. Keto/Paleo may work well for Susan at the office, but Vegan/Vegetarian may work better for Bill. What about you? Maybe something in the middle. As long as you are including more fresh, whole food into your nutrition plan and eating less processed items like chips, cookies, commercially made breads, lunch meats and American cheese product you are likely to experience better recovery after long workouts.

Do not forget hydration. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after your workouts. If you prefer something with flavor, the market is flooded with tons of sports drinks full of added sugar, sugar substitutes colors and dyes. Some people will use straight coconut water as well. Coconut water is great but not everyone likes the taste and it does not have a complete electrolyte profile. For that, we refer you to our previous article about Regain!

Our Final Tip – nothing new on race day! Use your broken in shoes and do not change your nutrition from what you trained with.

Good luck on your next race!

If you would like to hire Sean as your trainer/running coach you can visit our website at and fill out our contact form.


Add Your Comment (Get a Gravatar)

Your Name


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.