Training For Your First 5K, Part 1: Making the Time to Train

Hey everyone! Welcome to my very first blog post on the RunBuzz site. I’m so excited to be here and to have the opportunity to present this 5-part series on training for your first 5K. Each week, I’ll cover a common challenge for beginning runners and review some strategies for staying on track throughout the process.

When it comes to training for races, I’ve been around the block a few times, from signing up for a 10-miler and then not training AT ALL (spoiler alert, it takes a long time to walk 10 miles) to over-preparing for a race and getting really injured along the way. With this series, it’s my intention to share my experiences in the hope that you can avoid making some of the spectacular mistakes I’ve made along my own running journey.

Running Today

Running has become insanely popular in the last decade. People of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities are heading to the starting line in droves, and running a race seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. There’s a niche race for everyone – mud runs, color runs, hot chocolate runs, beer & wine runs (right up my alley!), electric runs, a whole slew of Disney-themed half and full marathons (definitely on my wish list), and just last week I actually saw a flyer for a 5K where you run through bubbles. BUBBLES!

 All of these events are starting to make the regular races seem kinda tame by comparison. I mean, why do a measly neighborhood 5K when you can run at Midnight! Through Central Park! With Glowsticks! I’m just waiting for the Harry Potter themed runs to start – seems like the logical next step.


All kidding aside, I think the proliferation of these types of races around the world is a wonderful development. Everyone has different motivations for running, and if the promise of completing a race side-by-side with your favorite Disney character is what it takes to get you involved in the sport, then I’m totally on board. Personally, I’m hoping to score an entry for the Nike San Francisco Women’s Half Marathon in 2015. Rumor has it that there are firemen dressed in tuxedos at the finish line handing out Tiffany necklaces(!!!!!). Rumor also has it that the race sells out almost instantly every year. Go figure.

What to Consider Before Signing up for Your First Race


With all of these fabulous events available, it’s easy to sign up for your first race on impulse. Everyone seems to be doing it, and the vision of yourself charging across the finish line, arms raised victoriously in the air, can be somewhat intoxicating. “What the heck,” you think. “Let’s do this.

Here’s the catch: what nobody tells you is that the actual race day is the easy part, a fun reward for all of the hard work you put in over the preceding weeks and months. The real accomplishment is sticking with your training plan day in and day out, even when it’s inconvenient, you’re tired, or you just plain don’t want to. Mickey and Goofy or studly tuxedo-clad firemen might be there on race day to cheer you on…but during your training period, you’re kind of on your own.

Training for a race is sort of like being pregnant (except when it’s all over you get a cheesy medal instead of a miraculous little baby – so maybe it’s not really a fair comparison, but just bear with me here). It’s uncomfortable at times. There are moments you wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea. The final weeks are really tough, you’re tired and your feet hurt.

 Then, after it’s all over, you forget about the pain because you’re so happy and proud of what you accomplished. The memory of all those training runs, everything you gave up to stick to your schedule, the times you ran in the rain – it all pales in comparison to the joy of crossing the finish line. So…you end up signing up for another one because you had so much fun the first time. It becomes an addiction.

 Most first-timers (and to be honest, even experienced athletes) can run headlong into some common issues:

  • Making time to train
  • Staying motivated
  • Picking an appropriate training plan
  • Managing expectations
  • Dealing with injuries

The good news? There’s a lot you can do to overcome these challenges and get to the start line of your race in great shape. Your enjoyment of your first 5K – and quite possibly the decision to participate in another – depends heavily upon your training. If you show up on race day without having done more than a few training runs, you might be disappointed in your performance. Signing up for the race is the easy part, but with careful planning and execution, the training will be fun and enjoyable – which means race day will be a blast.

Making Time for Training


Let’s get started by talking about making the time to train. We all have busy lives. Jobs, families, school, homes, and tons of other things. In fact, almost everyone I know is scheduled to the max, multi-tasking all the time, and struggling to fit in some much-needed leisure time in the midst of everything else. Who has time for another commitment?

Most running sites will enthusiastically tell you to just schedule your runs on your calendar or go to bed on time so you can get up early and run before work. Um, yeah. That all sounds great in theory, but often it’s just not that easy. Seriously. If it were, there would be a lot more people running at 5 am. With everything the modern family has going on, it can feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to get it all done. Yes, you want to make your training a priority, but how?

It really starts with taking a brutally honest look at your schedule, being realistic about what you can fit in, and then setting yourself up for success by planning ahead of time.

First, take a close look at your daily calendar and decide which items are mandatory and which are optional. If your diary seems to be fully booked, decide whether there’s something you can eliminate or delegate.

One thing that my husband and I have done is to hire someone to cut the lawn. That frees up a lot of time during spring and summer (added bonus: neither of us complains about having to cut the lawn). I’ve also relaxed my standards about how tidy the house needs to be. It’s waaaay more important to me to get my run therapy in than to have an immaculate kitchen. Or perhaps I’m just so blissed out on endorphins that I don’t care that my house is a little messy. Either way, when I make my training more important than other tasks, it’s much easier to get it done.

Here’s an extreme example, but a successful one: A client of mine was finding herself sleep-deprived, stressed, frustrated, and always missing her workouts because other things got in the way. At her wits end, she made a spreadsheet showing all of the household, work, family, and leisure activities that she and her husband and their two small children were trying to fit into their schedule and assigned a duration to each item. Then she added everything up and found that they were overbooked – they literally had more on their to-do lists than hours in the week.

After a loooong discussion and negotiation, they agreed to prioritize, eliminate, cut back, hire, and delegate until there was enough time in the schedule to get everything done that was most important to them. The rest got chucked out the window. This meant that everyone had to give up some things they liked, but with the reward of fitting in other things that they enjoyed even more (in the case of my client, this meant getting her daily workouts done).

Once you’ve cleared some time, start working on the logistics. Most beginner 5K training plans require 3-4 runs a week, at about 30-40 minutes long. When you’re assessing your schedule, be realistic about how much time it will take to accommodate these workouts – this includes driving, post-workout shower, packing bags, etc. If you’re going to run on a local trail that’s 15 minutes away, your workout time is going to be a minimum of 60-70 minutes, and that’s not counting getting dressed, finding all your gear, and showering afterward. Make sure you take all of this into account.

Here are some other considerations:

  • Will you eat before you run?
  • Will you run at home or somewhere else?
  • Pack your bag the night before, double-check everything you need, and put it in your car to avoid any last-minute scrambles for your stuff in a dark bedroom.
  • Keep spares of the important things (socks, headphones, sports bra, hairband, etc) in your car or at work, just in case you forget something. Don’t be the girl that runs a 5K in her pushup bra because she forgot her sports bra. When this happened to me, I don’t know which was worse – the discomfort of running without proper support or the horrified looks on the spectators’ faces…
  • Take advantage of your children’s scheduled activity – music lessons, soccer practice, etc – and claim that time for yourself. Come prepared to run while they’re busy.
  • If your spouse is going to cover child care while you run, make sure he/she has planned your runs into his or her schedule too!
  • Find a running buddy or a group to run with at least once a week. There’s just something about knowing that someone else is counting on you to be there that can make the difference. It can be tough to make yourself a priority, but most of us have no problem showing up for others. It’s human nature, use it to your advantage.

Of course, all of the above assumes that your only barrier to running is simply a lack of time and that if you had an extra hour in every day you’d either spend it at the gym or running happily around your neighborhood. Obviously, that’s not the case for most of us, so next week, we’ll cover another common training challenge: motivation.

Feel free to share your experiences with making the time to train in the comments. If you have a secret, tell us! And, if you need some help with your time and scheduling challenges, let us know – I’m sure there’s someone else with the same issue that can tell you how they’ve solved the problem. It takes a village, right?

In the meantime, run fabulous & run happy!