You like the idea of a 5K: the thrill of the start, passing other racers and the joy of crossing the finish line. But, then it hits you -- running is just not your thing. Whether you can't run, or you choose not to, you can still complete a 5K race. Walkers are welcome to compete in most races and will still get the satisfaction of finishing along with all the panting runners. With proper training, you can power walk the race to an impressive finish.
The 5K you choose should be about eight weeks away so you have ample time to train. Be prepared to work out at least four times per week during the weeks of training. You can walk every day if you prefer, but give your body a rest from formal workouts once a week if you feel fatigued or burned out. Obtain a quality pair of walking shoes that work with your particular stride -- most running stores offer gait analyses for free and will help you determine the best fit. As you walk farther and with more intensity, your joints and muscles will thank you for caring for them with proper footwear.
During your training, plan for two 15- to 30-minute power walks on non-consecutive days mid-week. Start with the short 15-minute duration and add five minutes each week until you have reached 30 minutes. On the weekends, make one walk a measured distance -- starting with 1.5 miles and working your mileage up each week so that in the week prior to the race, you go a full 3 miles. All of these workouts should be done at power-walk pace -- 4.0 mph or faster -- so you grow accustomed to going fast for increasingly longer periods of time. On the other weekend day, take a walk that has no particular distance goal. Don't worry about your speed on this walk -- just enjoy the experience. By the end of the training plan, a 60-minute walk, even at a slow pace, should be manageable.
Proper form while power walking can help you conserve energy while increasing speed. When walking, keep your gaze forward rather than tilted down to the ground. Swing your arms and use them to help you go faster. Your elbows should be bent at a 90-degree angle as you pump from the shoulders. Avoid tight fists, which put undue tension on your shoulders and neck -- wasting energy. Engage your stomach muscles slightly and focus on standing upright so your back is straight. Land heel to toe to propel yourself forward.
If you walk at a 4.0 mph pace for the whole race, you'll finish in about 46 minutes. Amp up your speed to 4.5 mph and shave 5 minutes off that finish time. Be patient and work your way up to faster speeds over the course of your training. It may even take a few 5K races -- and complete training protocols -- to see improvements in your speed, but if you stay consistent and determined, your power walking skills will improve.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.