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Do You Really Need to Train for a 5k?

by Sara on September 7, 2012

Someone actually asked me this over the weekend, and I’ll be honest I was a little shocked/confused.  What do you mean do you really need to train?  How could you not train? What’s the point of running race if you are not ready?  I was so surprised by the question I wasn’t really sure what kind of answer to give.

Recently a good friend of mine decided to commit to running her first 5k after going out for a run after work and loving how it made her feel afterwards.  She had been looking for some kind of activity to do in her free time and what better than something that is exercise and a hobby all in one?  Of course I could barely contain my excitement and started rattling off tips and advise including my #1 MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE for all new runners.

Go to a REAL running store (not Foot locker) and get fitted for running shoes.  

Get fitted for shoes. Then put sweet colored laces in them.

And then I got to work creating a training plan for her to be ready for race day.

But does she really need a plan? I mean she can run almost 3 miles already, why does she need to train?


If you have never run before, than of course you need to train! You need to get your body accustomed to moving.  The couch 2 5k program wasn’t based on the fact that people can just go out one Saturday morning and run 3 miles non stop.  If you have never run before that is A LOT.  It takes time work up to the distance slowly and safely, so you don’t end up injured or burnt out.

However, let’s say you are someone who goes for the occasional run every now and then, or hops on the treadmill for some cardio and completes 1-2 miles.  Why should you train for a 5k if you can almost run 3.1 miles? Why can’t I just sign up and go run it.  I really want that cool T-shirt and it would be something fun to do.

Well I suppose you could.

I guess the thing that confuses me the most is why you wouldn’t want to train.  I mean let’s say you pick a race that is two months away.  What do you do with that time between now and the race?  Do you go out and run 3 miles four times a week and try to get faster every time?  Again, I suppose you could, it would be a little odd, not exactly what I would reccomend, but isn’t that in and of itself a form of training?  Isn’t training just getting ready for the event in question?

If you don’t train, what DO you do instead?  And if you don’t want to train, why do you want to run in the first place?  I would assume people that don’t want to train shouldn’t be running a road race and are better off finding some other kind of fitness goal instead.

Maybe you’ve run a few miles before and you see a local 5k that raises money for a charity close to you.  Now that may be one case I could see just signing up and running.

For me personally, in the land of running and racing that I surround myself with, the answer is always of course I want to train, because I want to do my best.  Or yes, I want to train because I am working up to a distance that I don’t run often, or haven’t run in a while.  There aren’t many races that I would just jump into for fun, because of #1 the cost, and #2 if I am not going to be at my best time I would rather just go for a free run on my own.  Much more enjoyable, less crowded, and can be whenever and where ever I want.

Maybe the issue with people questioning the need to train, is that “training” seems like too serious a word for something as your first 5k.   If you don’t really feel like a runner, or you are just going out and walking 30 minutes a day and working up to jogging, how can you be training for something.  Training is what serious athlets do.  What Olympians do.  And those tall gangly teenagers at the front of the race who are going to run it in something crazy like 9 seconds.

That couldn’t be more false.  If you are making the commitment to get your butt out the door more than half the days of the week and go for a run you are runner.  If you have a race that you have set your sights on and are working up to that distance, or working up to being faster at that distance, then you are training.

So go out there and train for your first 5k.  And be really proud of yourself for doing so.

(But first get the right shoes!)

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