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How to train for your first 5-K

Heather SchroeringChicago Tribune

The first question Cari Setzler asks at a 5-K orientation meeting is, "How many of you think you don't belong here?"

"Without a doubt, 80 percent of people raise their hands," said Setzler, 35, coaching certification instructor with the Road Runners Club of America (rrca.org). "And I have them look around and say, 'You're in great company.' "

Setzler trains runners of all fitness levels; most of her programs last six to 10 weeks, depending on the runner's fitness goals. She said overcoming mental obstacles is the first step in training for your first 5-K (which is 3.1 miles). It also helps to actually sign up for a race, so you have a goal to reach. Here's what Setzler suggests doing after that.

Get the proper gear: Visit a running specialist to get fitted for the right pair of shoes based on your body and running style. Avoid cotton socks and shirts because they can cause blistering and chafing; opt for polypropylene or moisture-wicking clothing to pull sweat away from your body. Women should get fitted for a sports bra; a bad bra can be painful, damage the tissue and adversely affect running mechanics, Setzler said.

Find a coach or group to train with: That way, she said, beginners "have someone to guide them through that process and understand what they're feeling is normal."

Easy does it: Plan on training three to four times a week for 30 minutes to an hour, including a 10-minute warm-up walk with stretching and 10-minute cool-down walk, Setzler said. Don't skip the warm-up -- your body needs time to adapt, especially as you get older.

Start slowly: Whatever pace you can run for a minute, start at half that speed so you can finish strong. Starting off too fast can discourage beginners; an easy pace gives your body a chance to recover. If you have to, walk.

Break training into chunks: "We don't think about a 5-K, we think about running for one minute," Setzler said. "Then we take a break, and we do that five times in the first practice." The first few weeks, alternate running and walking, with the goal of lengthening the time spent running as you get stronger. For example, in the first week, run one minute, then walk three minutes, repeating that cycle five times each practice. The second week, repeat the same cycle seven times. Consider a mobile app to help you train, like Couch-to-5K (coolrunning.com).

By the second half of the program, work on converting to less walking and more running. For instance, run for two minutes and walk for two minutes, repeating the cycle nine times. Every third or fourth week should be a recovery week, with less walking and running, to let the body rest. The body makes the most improvements during the recovery periods, Setzler said.

Divide training into hard and easy days: On easy days, do something aerobic, such as walking, swimming or working on an elliptical. You should be working out at an easy enough pace so that you're able to talk.

Set short- and long-term goals: Short-term goals can be as basic as completing a workout -- being able to, say, complete five two-minute runs in a practice. "Don't think about where you have to get to, there's nothing worse than running your first mile and a half and then realizing you're only halfway there," she said.

Long-term goals could be finishing a 5-K at the end of a training period, whether you're running it, or running and walking.

The ultimate goal is to work within your fitness level. "You've got to listen to your body," Setzler said, "and make sure you're running within your own limits and not comparing yourself to other people."


By HEATHER SCHROERING
Chicago Tribune