UPDATED January 12th, 2018

The first time I ran a 5K, I was a freshman in high school and I had just decided to sign up for the cross-country team. It was a curious choice. I had never run a day in my life. Being on the cross-country team meant I would be logging countless miles during after-school practices and competing in a 3.2 mile race at least twice a week. I still don’t know what possessed me to do it (perhaps it was that cute senior boy).But I will never forget the very first 5K. I had only trained for a week, ate a burger for lunch instead of the recommended bagel, and didn’t drink nearly enough water. Oh yes, I was impossibly slow. And I ran so far off the course (I was so far behind that there was nobody in front of me to follow) that they had to send out a search party and a race official picked me up in a car. I made every possible mistake and every possible wrong turn. But I learned quickly from embarrassment, experience, and determination. Are there any greater coaches? I have since run three marathons, a handful of half marathons, and countless 5Ks. But there’s nothing like your first…

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5 Tips for Running a 5K:

1. Train Smart: For your first 5K (3.2 mile race), it is recommended that you train for at least six weeks leading up to it, especially if you are not a runner. There are elaborate training programs, but don’t be afraid to keep it simple. Three or four moderate runs a week is enough. No need to drive yourself crazy or burn yourself out. Vary your distances. For example, if you plan to run on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, make the Wednesday run 5-6 miles, and make the Monday and Friday runs 3-4 miles. Go easy on yourself during the final week of training. Two days before the race, give your legs a rest. The day before, go on a short, easy run to keep your legs loose.

2. Eat Right: A huge part of running is meal planning—and not just what you eat, but when you eat. For example, I cannot eat within two hours of a race or I will get nauseous. However, my friend needs to scarf a protein bar 10 minutes before the start. Everybody is different, so use the six weeks to nail down what works best for you. The night before the race, carbo-load. This is the time when you get to choose pasta over protein. The day of the race, fuel up with a bagel or bread (for the carbs, which provide energy) and a banana (for the potassium, which prevents cramping).

3. Drink Enough Water: This cannot be stressed enough. Aim for 8 glasses a day everyday, but especially during the week leading up to the race. Take it from me, dehydration cramps in the middle of a 5K are not fun. However, we careful not to drink too much right before the race. Having to go to the bathroom in the middle of a 5K is not really an option.

4. Sleep: In the days leading up the race, you should try to get 8 hours of sleep a night. For many of us, this is an impossible dream. But hey, why not use this 5K as an excuse to get to bed early, no matter what anybody else is demanding of you? Go ahead, give yourself permission.

5. Map out the Course (aka Don’t Get Lost): The week before the race, run the course so you familiarize yourself with each mile marker, each pothole, each hidden turn. This will help you to shave seconds off your time and save you the embarrassment of a search party.