Running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise: Lace up your sneakers and go. And 5Ks are one of the easiest options for toeing your way into the racing world. The thing is, you can run 3 miles a day for weeks — even months — and still be surprised on race day. I sure was.
While I was an elite athlete, I was a skier and had to avoid running in general when I was training since all of the pounding can be a little rough on already-sensitive knees. But now that I’ve retired from competitive skiing, I can run all I want — and I do.
I recently ran my first 5K. And while I’ve been writing about training for these kinds of races for years, and was fit enough to finish, there was a lot about the experience I didn’t expect.
Here are six surprises I wish someone had told me about:
1. YOU’LL RUN FAST
When the gun pops, and the crowd strides over the start line, you’ll feel a rush of adrenaline. Running surrounded by hundreds of people is much more exciting than daily jogs on your lonesome — and that rush could push you to run faster. You’ll notice that when you arrive at the 3-mile marker, you’ll probably feel more tired than you expected. I did. Because I was running hard.
You’ll also want to sprint to the finish. I’ll admit, seeing I had run nearly a minute under my expected pace felt like a good pat on the back, but I was pretty sore the next day.
Know that the rush of the race could propel you to push yourself — possibly harder than you thought possible.
2. YOU WON’T RUN STRAIGHT
This might sound like a no-brainer to most, but one thing I didn’t expect was to pass people. Usually when I run, it’s straight ahead, save for dodging the errant puddle in the road. But during my first race, I sometimes scooted around people, which meant quick lateral movements — and a swollen knee post-run. If you’ve never had a knee injury, you could be just fine. But my experience reminded me I should be training for lateral leg stability to protect my joints. Include moves like lateral lunges in your workouts or dynamic warmups, and if you have inline skates, use them! They’re an excellent way to nab a no-impact workout while strengthening muscles responsible for lateral stability in your hips and knees.
READ MORE > 10 EXERCISES TO PREVENT RUNNER’S KNEE
3. YOU’LL ENCOUNTER BODILY FLUIDS
Not sure how to put this nicely, but I was shocked by how many people were spitting around me. It was gross. Perhaps this was one aspect that motivated me to run faster — and pass people. Know that you’ll be in a crowd, and people won’t necessarily stop to gingerly clear themselves out.
4. YOU’LL NEED A ZIPPERED POCKET
Perhaps another no-brainer, but if you attend the race alone, you’ll need to carry your car or house key because there won’t be anyone to hold it for you. Many race shorts, tights and tops include small, zippered pockets to hold a key or phone. Wear one!
5. YOUR PHONE MIGHT DIE
If you plan to bring your phone for photos or to listen to your favorite playlist, be sure to fully charge it, and switch it to low-battery mode. I posted videos to Instagram before the start, and my phone (and music) cut out before I’d run half a mile.
6. YOU’LL MAKE FRIENDS
This was the last thing I expected. I was only focused on running, and before the race even started, I’d made new friends and running partners. During the race we’d high-five each other, and we cheered each other at the finish. We also made plans to connect at future races. Expect to connect with others — and be motivated for more!
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN