Do your research. Carry out an internet search for your local Parkrun, charity races, National Trust – Trust10 trail run, fun-runs or 5k/10k races in your area and the chances are that there will be something within a reasonable distance from you most weekends of the year. Some running magazines and websites include event directories that will make it easier to find your perfect debut event.
Road or trail? This may be dictated by where you are based and how far you are willing to travel but is also down to personal preference and, depending on the time of year, your aversion to mud. If you are a fan of the outdoors then off-road events can be a great way to access routes that may not usually be open to the public.
Bear in mind that the profile (hilliness) of a course will have a significant impact on the scale of the challenge you are setting yourself up for so this is something worth checking.
Preparation is key but be realistic. To be sustainable any training needs to fit in around your lifestyle. If you can fit it in you’ll find that you feel more motivated and confident, and if you’re dedicating your spare time to something then it also needs to be fun!
Find a running buddy. Training with a group of friends can certainly help keep things fun and knowing that you have arranged to meet up with someone can get you out the door when the sofa looks oh-so appealing. Joining a local running club can also be a great motivator and many will have structured learn-to-run courses.
Prioritise general fitness over running. The good news is that at this stage if you are aiming for a distance of up to 10k then the training doesn’t need to be too onerous or scientific. Can you walk briskly over the distance that you are intending to run? If it’s 5k then that’s just over 3 miles. This is your starting point and from here your aim is to progress from a combination of walking and running to being able to run the whole distance.
Mix it up. Aim for two or three runs per week but try to also introduce some cross-training. This could be a circuit class, aerobics, pilates or anything that keeps you active and raises your heart rate. Swimming and cycling are great ways to improve your fitness while giving your body a break from the impact of pounding the streets or trails. Whatever you do remember to always ensure you start with a warm up and incorporate stretching exercises to your post-workout cool down.
A running watch or running app such as Strava or MapMyRun on your smartphone can be really useful at measuring the distance you have run and tracking your progress from the beginning. Run slower until you can run the distance then try and run a bit faster. Seeing for yourself the progress that you’ve made can give a real motivational boost..
Don’t do anything new. You’ve done the training and you know you can run the distance. By now you should know what works for you in terms of pace, pre-run meals and hydration. This is not the day to eat something different for breakfast, try an untested warm up routine or wear a new piece of kit for the first time. Turn up with time to register and warm up then take your place on the line and run just as you have been doing over the previous weeks.
Don’t get carried away. In the first mile or so aim for a steady pace that you feel you can maintain. If you start to struggle then don’t be afraid of dropping your pace right down or try walking until you catch your breath – you won’t be the only one. Anything you have left in the tank can be used for an impressive sprint finish.
Congratulations! You’ve run your first race and set a new PB! Don’t forget what you usually do. Stretch as normal after your race to help prevent any soreness and help with recovery.
The chances are that the adrenalin rush of your first finish will leave you wanting to seek out your next challenge. Now you have set a benchmark this is something you can build upon. This could mean improving your time, running a longer distance, a more challenging route or simply running in a different setting. Whatever you decide will dictate the type of training you need to do. Introducing some interval training (incorporating sprints and recovery periods into your run), hill work, longer runs or heading down to your local running track could help you on your way to running success.