My life was forever changed when I crossed the finish line of my first 5K. For starters, I never thought I could finish a 5K. And two, the journey to the start line taught me that when I put my mind to something, I can achieve it.
Sign up and get motivated. The key for me was in finding an active group of people that would support me along the way. A group of co-workers inspired me to join them at lunchtime walks, and then suggested I sign up for a 5K later that season for motivation to continue. The rest, they say is history. Although registering for a 5K can be intimidating, once you do, it’s a carrot that serves as motivation to keep you focused on your preparation. There are lots of ways to find races in your neck of the woods like asking at a local fitness store, searching online or visiting Active.com. Pick one that is convenient for your life schedule and an event that inspires you.
Accessorize. It is wise to get fitted at a walking or running specialty store for a pair of walking or running shoes, as they will support your body mile for mile. It’s best to shop at the end of the day when your feet are swollen from the day’s activities and be prepared to try on several pair. The staff should watch you walk and run in the shoes to make sure they work with your foot type. The shoe should feel comfortable. If not, keep looking. While you’re there, ask for a pair of technical and wicking socks as they will aid in pulling the moisture away from your skin and reduce the chances of blisters.
Start from where you are, rather than where you want to be. The key to getting where you want to go fitness-wise, is to take an inventory of where you are now, and then build up slowly. The number one mistake many make on the way to a race is to start with too much training or not allow for a long enough window to prepare. If you are starting from the couch, begin with walking 10-15 minutes 3-4 days per week every other day. If you’re already active, start with 30-40 minutes of walking 2-3 times during the week and one longer walk on the weekends of 3-4 miles. Ease into more walking by increasing your walking time by 5-10 minutes per workout, every 2-3 weeks. Slowly build up to comfortably covering 3-4 miles in one workout two weeks before the 5K. You can download my free 5K walk plan here.
Listen to your body while you train. The body actually grows stronger when you are resting. Training is a process that includes strategically placed workouts and rest days to allow your body to be stimulated by the activity and then recover during the rest. If your body if giving you a yellow flag with a few aches, take an extra day off and adjust your training to allow full recovery. Additional ways to improve recovery is to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night, hydrate with water, and eat well-balanced meals throughout the day.
Take the talk test. The key to walking successfully is to dial in an effort level that is comfortable on the move. A good way to know you are walking at the right pace is by taking the “Talk Test”. If you can talk while you walking, you are at the right pace – also known as the aerobic zone. If you are gasping for air, can’t get a word out and are counting the seconds until you can stop, you are likely going too hard. The secret is to finishing the workout being able to walk a little farther if you had to. When you finish a workout feeling strong, you’ll want to repeat it again and again.
Breathe. Walking briskly requires more oxygen than our needs at rest and efficient breathing is key to getting the needed oxygen to the working muscles. Teach yourself to breath in through your nose and out through your mouth and deeply from the belly. Like dancing to the beat of a good tune, try linking your breathing tempo with your foot strikes, breathing in every few steps and out few steps. You will breath more efficiently and getting more oxygen to the working muscles and mindful breathing aids in getting into a focused zone.
Build a strong foundation. Including total body strength training exercises 2-3 times per week for 1-3 sets builds strength in your musculature, tendons and joints. Developing strength supports your body as you walk mile after mile. It will also improve efficiency and form while decreasing the risk of developing an overuse injury. Mix up your routine and walk one day and strength train or cross-train the next. Variety in your exercise routine works a lot more muscle groups and keeps your workouts fresh and motivating. Alternating a walk day with a low impact cross-training day like cycling or the elliptical machine also allows your body time to adapt and recover from each walk.
How to walk with good form. We all have different strengths, speeds and walking styles and there is no one walking style that fits everyone. You may walk faster than your friend or she may cruise by you. There are some things that can help develop efficient walking form and using a Head-to-Toe inventory is a useful tool to think through your form on the walk.
Head – balanced over your shoulders and focused forward rather than down.
Shoulders – relaxed and swinging like a pendulum.
Arms – at a 90-degree angle, hands in a soft fist, and driving your elbows back.
Hips – in line with your shoulders and rotating right and left and your foot strides underneath.
Feet – Rolling from heel to toe and visualize a bicycle tire.
Keep track, stay motivated and have fun. One of the most successful tools to stay motivated is to track your progress and these days that is easier than ever. You can go old school and use a notebook, or download an app like MyFitnessPal and keep track of your walking mileage, time, your cross-training workouts, fuel, how you felt during the walk, mood and even the mileage on your shoes. The ViaFit Connect system on Horizon Fitness equipment automatically tracks your workout results and progress towards your personal goal. ViaFit also syncs with other activity tracking apps so you can view your cumulative results all in one place.
Every workout is a piece of the puzzle and will guide you in figuring out your training recipe. Train with a buddy and make a commitment to meet them regularly. Walk with a group or train with a team for charity. The more fun it is, the more you will want to do it again.
One thing I can guarantee, you’ll find yourself fit and happy along the way to the 5K.