First and most importantly, Dr. C, ask your doctor if you’re healthy enough to race. Presuming you are, congratulations! By signing up and taking on the challenge, you’ve already won!
This morning at the gym, I asked a friend who’s a runner how she would recommend someone prepare for a 5k (3.1 miles) or 10k (6.2 miles) race. The key is working your way up to the distance, giving yourself enough time (at least six weeks) to get your body used to running that far.
She said to begin by working up to running a mile, and to do that by starting with a half-mile walk/run. Walk for ten minutes and run for three, until you’ve covered the half-time. Then change the balance between the time you walk and the time you run each time you go out–until you’re running the entire half-mile.
Then walk-run for a mile–doing the same thing until you’re running a full mile.
When you’ve got your base mile down, do at least one “long” run each week. During Week One that might be 1 1/4 mile. Week Two might be 1 3/4 miles and so on until you’re running 3-plus miles!
In between your weekly long runs, train at least two other days–perhaps with shorter runs and body-weight training. (For instance, run a half-mile, then to a series of push-ups, jumping jacks and squats.)
Rest days are important, too. Use those to stretch. Or maybe take an exercise class at a local gym, with a light run on a treadmill as a warm-up.
You’ll want to have run three-plus miles at least twice before race day. The extra adrenaline and excitement you’ll experience will make you run faster than you did during training and perhaps make the distance seem more daunting, at least until you settle into your pace and relax.
There are myriad ways to train for your first race, including another one listed here and at other places on the web.
Here’s might hope: that you look at the race as the beginning, that when you cross the finish line–and you will!–it is the start of a new way of living in which exercise and eating well become your norm, not just something you do to prepare for a race.
In fact, you’re running a race every day. It’s called life.