If you’re new to running, you’ve probably considered signing up for a race to keep you motivated. When doing so, you probably thought a 5K was your only option, right? Though the 5K is more often than not the first race people do, it doesn’t have to be. Have your eye on a local 10K? Want to go straight to the half marathon? Go for it!
“The 5K is the most common first race chosen by other runners, so many people think, Why change from what most people do,” explains Daniel Love, PT, DPT, head coach at Running With Doc, LLC. “I would say it is kind of an approach and mentality that ‘it worked for so-and-so, so it should work for me.’”
Love also notes a 5K is considered a manageable distance for most individuals — it requires training without seeming too daunting — but if there isn’t an accessible 3.1-mile race near you or you are hoping to push yourself further, here’s what you need to know about tackling a longer distance.
BUILD YOUR BASE
Before you start training for that first race, it is best to build up your ‘base’ so your body adjusts to running a few times per week. Taking the time to build a solid base will also make your training go much more smoothly.
“Base fitness can mean different things to different levels of runners,” admits Jeremy Hammer, owner and running coach at KC Endurance, “but generally for a beginning runner I would recommend they get in about a month of running — or a combination of running and walking — three days a week for 30 minutes at a time.”
In the beginning, running for time is a great way to hold yourself accountable and gradually increase your fitness. As your speed increases, your distance run will, too. Love shares that the most important thing is to focus on regular running over the course of several weeks, regardless of the distance. Once you begin your training, then you can focus on running for distance.
CHOOSE YOUR DISTANCE
Once you’ve decided to tackle something longer than a 5K, the first thing to consider is how long you have to train. Choosing a marathon two months away won’t give you enough training time, for example, but a 10K would be completely doable. Staying realistic about how long you have to prepare is the best place to start.
Next you’ll want to prioritize what is most important to you in training. Setting smaller goals that serve as benchmarks to your race is a great way to do that and, yet again, staying realistic is important.
“If a beginner chose to do a longer race, it might be most important to finish the race healthy and having fun versus finish the race with a certain time goal in mind,” notes Love. “On the flip side, if choosing a shorter race, you might be able to focus a little more on increasing your speed.”
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Taking into consideration how long you will be on your feet during the race is important and, according to Hammer, being able to visualize yourself out on course for a certain amount of time — such as more than an hour for a 10K — helps when choosing a race. For example, if being on your feet for five hours sounds impossible but being on course for two and a half sounds manageable, choosing the half marathon instead of a marathon is best.
To make sure you train properly without pushing yourself too far or too fast, hiring a coach or finding a running group is the best way to go. Not only will you have someone there to answer the common questions new runners have, but you’ll also have another form of accountability in the mix.
“With the longer distances, the stakes are higher due to the need for more time, energy and planning, and a coach certainly should be able to help with providing valuable feedback and a solid plan,” confirms Love. “One could argue successfully that it is easy to find training plans anywhere online these days, and this is a true statement! That being said, a coach should provide much more than a generic training plan; the value of working with a coach is to receive truly individualized guidance to help you meet your very individualized goals.”
Hammer echoes that statement, adding that even coaches need coaches. Having someone there who can switch up your training if needed is crucial to making sure you are ready at the start line on race day. Additionally, they can help prepare you for the time commitment involved in training and will be there every step of the way.
If you do decide to run a race longer than a 5K as your first, getting in the habit of consistently running is a great way to make sure it is a lifelong commitment, instead of just a fleeting hobby.