Going from the couch to a 5K can be a daunting goal, but with some determination and dedication to your goal you can achieve it! Picking a particular race to focus on, such as the Turkey Trot 5K at PWC on Thanksgiving Day, provides a great goal and timeline to keep you accountable.  

If you are starting from scratch on completing a 5K, or any fitness goal, the key to success (and staying injury-free) is taking small but steady steps. Plan on giving yourself at least 6-10 weeks to go from couch to 5K and know that walking the race, or walk/running, is perfectly acceptable. You don’t have to “run” the entire race to be a success — crossing the finish line is the name of game.

Ready to take your first step? Here are four tips for a great 5K experience.

Assemble your support team. Before you begin any exercise program you should check with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any health issues prior to starting. Identifying your support system, such as a friend, training partner, or personal trainer can help make your goal less intimidating and more rewarding. All beginners can have doubts and your support team can provide encouragement.

Plan your training. If you’d like to run the race, start with brisk walking for 30 minutes. Then progress to run/walking combinations; for example, walk 3 minutes and run 1 minute several times for a total of 30 minutes. Gradually run more, and walk less, until you can run longer than you are walking. Walk briskly but run at an easy pace. When you start to feel stronger and more comfortable, you can work on your running speed.

If your preference is to walk the race, you can choose to follow a similar training routine, gradually adding to the length of time you walk. Start with 10, 20, or 30 minutes of walking depending on your fitness level and gradually add to that time. You might also alternating brisk walking with easy walking. Continue to add to the time you can walk until you can walk for about an hour because that’s approximately how long it will take most people to walk a 5K (at about a 20 minute per mile pace).   

Try not to overdo it. New exercisers are excited and usually want to do too much, too soon. But doing too much, too soon is the main reason people either quit training altogether or get injured. Slow and steady wins the race!

Enjoy the benefits. Any first steps toward regular physical activity and aerobic exercise include a host of benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health, reduced stress, more energy, and a better sense of overall well-being. So, lace up those sneakers and get started!

These tips were contributed by Sarah Mahoney, a personal trainer and fitness instructor at PWC. Sarah has competed in various running events such as 5Ks, 10Ks, half and full marathons, as well as triathlons and open water swimming events. Sarah is available at PWC for personal training for anyone who would like to meet their fitness goals. She can be reached at smahoney@culpeperwellness.org