You may not consider yourself a "runner" now, but after you run your first 5K you'll have earned the title. If you have a moderate level of fitness gained from cycling or regular group exercise, shaking your tail to the latest Latin dance tunes, you can probably pull off running a 5K without any special training. If, however, shopping is the most action your feet have seen in the past few months, or if you just want to make a decent showing with minimal soreness the next day, start training at least a few weeks before attempting to race 3.1 miles.
Getting the Gear
Non-runners may not own a pair of quality running shoes that fit their particular gait. The shoes you wear for another sport, such as basketball, or the fashion sneakers you picked up on sale at the mall won't cut it. Visit a running store to have your gait analyzed and get recommendations for what shoes are best for you. You'll want comfortable athletic clothes that don't rub or chafe in sensitive areas. Do your training runs in these shoes and in running clothes to make sure they'll work for your debut on race day.
Training for New Exercisers
If you are brand new to exercise, consider giving yourself at least eight weeks to train for the race. New exercisers should start out doing three or four brisk walks lasting about 20 to 40 minutes for the first few weeks. Gradually add in short intervals of running during these walks over the course of the next several weeks. You might run for 30 seconds and then walk for 2 minutes; over time, decrease the amount of time spent walking and increase the amount of time spent running.
Training for Those Who Already Exercise
If you are physically active but just avoid the treadmill and trails, you may be ready for your 5K in as soon as six weeks. You can train three times per week so that your non-running body can spend time doing the other activities you prefer. In the first week, do just two 2-mile runs and one 1.5-mile run. Increase the distance of these runs by 1/4 to 1/2 mile each week until you are running two 3-mile runs and one 2-mile run in the last full week of your training. Don't worry about the tempo runs and speed drills your running gal pals talk about -- you just need to cover the miles so you finish.
Race Week and Day
In the week leading up to the race, plan for just two running or run-walk workouts that last no more than 2 to 3 miles each. Rest completely from all formal exercise the day before the race. Lay out your clothes and bib the night before the race so that you don't have to focus on anything but running on race day. Let the fast and serious runners line up at the start and allow anyone super eager to get past you through. Have no shame in walking during the race -- sometimes this will happen through a water stop or just when you feel tired. Walking can give you a second wind. Cross the finish line with pride, accept your shirt and medal, pose for pics and enjoy the after-race goodies. Even non-runners can appreciate this fun part of the race.
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.