Ready for your first 5k?

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I remember my pre-running days. Driving along, spotting a runner from the comfort of my car… all that perspiration, blinking into the sun, teeth-baring concentration, heavy breathing. Why in the world would anyone want to do that? I’d see that runner running in my city neighborhood, running in all kinds of weather, running at least three times a week, and I’d wonder why someone would do something so often that looked, well, so un-fun. She became so familiar, running past our home like clockwork, my husband and I called her Running Lady. And for something so un-fun, why was it that she and so many others seemed so committed? Until finally, in a moment of clarity (and after much superiority from the driver’s seat), I wondered if I could do it, too? Maybe there was some great payoff? I mean, a lot of people run. How hard could it be?

I’d like to say that after my first mile, everything got better. In my driver’s-seat fantasy, my body felt better than ever and I reached a state of nirvana shortly thereafter. But in reality, I didn’t even make a mile my first time out. In fact, I barely made a minute. I couldn’t believe how difficult everything was. My body betrayed me. I was a legend only in my mind—graceful, lungs full of oxygen with some to spare, quick legs, enjoying the view and waving hello to those I sprinted past. But mostly, I just tried not to throw up. I walked home with a new-found respect for Running Lady—a real runner. By the time I got home, I decided two things: 1) At the very least, I should be able to run a mile on my own two legs, and 2) I was going to get some good advice on how to do it. Darn it.

So, flash forward to the end of the story. It’s all worth it. Really. There is nothing like your first mile or your first 5k race. It might seem silly to some people (non-runners), but for most runners these are epic moments. Personal triumphs. Here are a few tips:

1) Take an honest inventory of your current physical fitness.
If you have never run before, and do not engage in regular fitness activities, begin with a walking program. Take this opportunity to support your walking or running program with healthful nutritional choices and regular exercise.

2) Assess how much time you have available for training. Do you have a fairly consistent weekly schedule? Can you carve out one hour, 3 times per week or more? Or is your schedule (or personal commitments) constantly changing? Be realistic. Choosing a program that doesn’t fit your lifestyle almost always backfires.

3) Allow at least 8-12 weeks to prepare for your first 5k. There a number of “boilerplate” training programs that can be very useful for first time runners. They vary in intensity, training sessions per week, experience and fitness levels. They also vary in training techniques: Hard/Easy cycles, Interval training, Run/Walk and so on. Based on your inventories above, there is probably a best fit for you. (Check out some of the following: Hal Higdon at:, The Running Clinic of Canada, Info for Runners at:, The Galloway Method at:

4) Commit to a Performance Outcome—Not a Competitive Outcome. Don’t focus on how long it will take you to run your race. Focus instead on finishing within your ability—feeling strong, in control, and enjoying your experience. You will have worked hard for it. Enjoy it!

5) Train like a Running Ambassador.
Run safely. Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) Etiquette for Runners is a valuable guide.


Run against traffic if running on the road. If running on the sidewalk or multi-use trails, travel on the right and pass on the left.
Never run more than two abreast if you are running in a group. Don’t be a road or trail hog.
Don’t run down the middle of the road or trail.
If you are running an out-and-back route, don’t just make a sudden u-turn at your turn around point. Stop, step to the right to allow oncoming traffic the opportunity to pass. Ensure the road or trail is clear of oncoming traffic (runners, cyclists, in-line skaters, etc.) then make your u-turn. Making a sudden u-turn without looking over your shoulder is a good way to get hit.
Alert pedestrians when you are passing them—don’t assume they are aware of their surroundings. A simple “on your left” warning will suffice.
Be alert on blind curves.
Stop at stop signs and ensure oncoming traffic yields to you before proceeding across a road. Don’t assume cars will stop if you are entering a cross walk.
Respect private property along your route. Don’t relieve yourself in the neighbor’s bushes. Don’t litter. If you can’t find a trash can, carry your trash home.

6) You’re a Runner Now. And it’s a Big Club.
It’s not hard to find information, support, education, and events. Milwaukee is a bustling running community. With one of the largest organizations in the country, Badgerland Striders offers fun runs, race/events, educational meetings, fellowship and more to runners of all abilities. Check it out at:

7) Ask a Professional.
Questions about what type of program would work best for you? Concerns about your current physical abilities or old injuries? Are you interested in learning basic running techniques? Consult your Vita team of professionals. We are happy to provide evaluative and/or coaching services to get you to the finish line.

8) Listen to Your Body.
One of the most important tips of all! Physical adaptation takes time—and everyone adapts at a different rate. Training schedules generally do a good job of establishing base strength, but over-training is considered the number one cause of injury. Be prepared to adapt your schedule as needed.

9) Pick out a Race.
Plan your work & work your plan. Put your race on your calendar. Transfer your training schedule to your personal calendar, too. (If it’s not written down, something else will always sneak in.) While it’s great to look forward to your long-range race goal, keep your training vision short-term. Focus and enjoy each training run. Single runs turn into weekly accomplishments. Weeks become months. Try not to focus on long-term outcome—especially early in your training. Acknowledge your accomplishments.

10) Enjoy Your Moment!
And after you cross the finish line, stay to applaud the epic moment of those who finish after you. Enough said. 🙂

Julie Willis, Personal Trainer
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