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How to train for your first 5k

Pam LeBlanc, Venture Out

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Thinking about running your first 5K, but not sure how to prepare?

Plan on six weeks to whip yourself into 5K shape. If you start today, you can be ready for the Jingle Bell 5K on Dec. 4.

We checked with Jack Wilkinson, 68, a longtime member of the Austin Runners Club, who's been racing since 1983. All that runner mumbo jumbo about fartleks, tempo and pace? If you're a beginner, forget it, he says. Just start moving. It's good for your health, it's social and it's inexpensive.

Running is as much mental as it is physical. Here are Wilkinson's tips for making it to the start line:

1. Set an achievable goal, whether it's running all the way, mixing in some walking or finishing in a certain time.

2. Visualize success.

3. Pick a local race; it reduces the variables, and you sleep in your own bed.

4. Recognize the difference between discomfort and pain; move through discomfort, stop for pain.

5. Find a training partner with the same goals.

6. Don't worry about how fast others are going.

7. Recognize that not every run will be great.

8. Try not to miss a run. If you do, don't give up, and don't double up to make up for it.

9. Recognize that you will go a little farther and faster each week and it might feel even easier as you get into running shape.

10. Knowing you have run 3.5 miles gives you the confidence to do 3.1 miles on race day. Say that again to yourself.

Running is physical, too, of course, and time on your feet moving forward is key, Wilkinson says.

It doesn't matter if you train on a track or on streets. Run, jog, walk or do all three, but keep heading toward the finish, in your training and in your race. Try not to stop.

The first day, warm up by walking. Stay off grass and trails; your race will be on the roads. "Then just run, even jog, until you feel uncomfortable," Wilkinson says. "Record your time and distance."

If you're on a street, use a landmark, like "to the corner" or "to the school driveway." Rest and do it again. Walk some more. End of workout.

The second day, do the same thing but go a little farther or faster. Ditto for the third day and the next five weeks. If you start by running half a mile, pick up half a mile or a little more each week and you'll make your 5K goal.

"Walking is fine, too," he says. "As long as you're moving toward the finish line, you're making progress."

Remember to rest between sessions, too. Wilkinson runs just three days a week.

Wear good running shoes that aren't new or worn out. "If you get a new pair at the beginning of this training cycle, you will have a comfortable pair for your race," he says.

Come race day, dress for the weather. A footrace is not a fashion show. "Most beginners overdress," he says. "If you feel comfortable in the first half-mile, you are overdressed."

Stay hydrated, but don't slosh.

One final bit of advice? "Don't get caught up in the energy and speed of the race. Start near the back so you don't get in the faster runners' way and don't feel like the world is passing you and you must speed up," he says. "This is a frequent cause of fly-and-die syndrome."

Run your own race and have fun. When it's done, you'll want to run another.

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994

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