Hibernation to 5K

The uber-beginner’s experience



Warmer weather for many means for many Midwesterners that we get outside a bit more, and become more inspired with our physical activity. It seems every week there is a 5k within driving distance in a few directions, and many, including myself this year, will use it as a personal challenge to keep themselves motivated.

Having had lots of friends my entire life who swear by running, whether to keep their weight in check, their stress down, or just to have some time to themselves, I knew there had to be a reason people do it and a place to start. On the other hand, I have almost always hated the activity. Where to begin?

Running Apps

I have used apps on my smartphone off and on to keep myself active and accountable. The Zen Labs Fitness C25K (Count to 5K) program that prompts you when to walk and run, in intervals, until the intervals get longer and longer and suddenly, supposedly: you’re running a 5k. I know many who have had success with the program.

If simply being prompted to run isn’t enough to light a fire, there is Six to Start’s “Zombies, Run!” app.  A friend pointed me this direction as it gives you a reason to move. The app is an immersive game where you must avoid zombie hoards and gather supplies, and you have to run in real life to avoid pitfalls in the game. If ever there was a reason to run, that’s it, right?

Group Training

If you’re walking into a real-world training scenario, it’s always a little daunting. Especially with the hardcore training videos advertised on television, the massive people flipping tires outside of crossfit studios…what does it take to start this? I wanted to find out.

Joining up on Mishawaka’s Riverwalk in Beutter Park on a Wednesday evening, the Fleet Feet No Boundaries 5K session is abuzz with conversation. They move locations for different settings and challenges. People seem to have brought friends or recognize those showing up and welcoming them. The couple at the center of the group, Kristin and Brett Albers, owners of Fleet Feet in Mishawaka, IN, are friendly and approachable, and making sure that everyone they have registered is staying accountable.

Walking into this, I wasn’t sure that I’d measure up: I am brand new to running myself, a little softer around the edges than I’d like, and run out of breath even easier with spring pollen in the air. But I showed up. This has to be half of the battle, right?

Kristin and Brett rally the group and they lead us over to a clearing start warm-ups. There’s an explanation for each warm up, including one alternating walking on one’s toes and walking predominately on one’s heels: to prevent injury, strengthen joints, and guard against shin splints.

Another nugget of wisdom that was given to the group was that when you’re jogging up hills, it might feel like you are running slower than you can walk, and that’s OK as long as you keep pushing yourself. The couple also emphasizes to not look down at your feet while scaling hills, and to push yourself up the hill, not pull.

The group splits into two, “the runners” and “the run/walk group.” There is emphasis on starting where you’re comfortable pushing yourself. The groups start out with a warm-up, and then the runners take off for their timed run, and the run/walk group listens for their cues for alternating activities. Everyone in the groups are friendly and encourage one another.

Susan, who is doing the No Boundaries 5K training program for the second time, gives me a little wisdom about setting your personal pace that I missed from the past training sessions: “They say you should be able to talk while you run, but not sing.”

Others have started the program to stay social and accountable, motivated, and for health reasons.

“I’d been sort of running for three years,” said Phyllis, who joined the group last year. She said that she enjoyed training with others and with coaches because they both kept the group moving but also taught the runners how to be safe.

She also had signs of osteopenia, or bone loss, prior to running. Osteopenia is a step before osteoporosis. After pounding the pavement for a dedicated time, Phyllis has had her bone density increase.

Sharon’s motivation was her health, after a cardiovascular wake-up call, and has been running for two years in July. She has done six 5Ks and finished a 10K last October.

“I didn’t think I could do it at all, maybe I’ll just go with this group and walk. Then I decided to at least try and run,” she said.

“I didn’t hurt at all after my 10k,” Sharon said, “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

She likes to be social with her workout, and that’s a motivation to keep showing up.

Another reason to start? Low startup cost.

“I just started running because all you had to do was buy shoes,” said Nancy. She bought shoes at Fleet Feet and was told about the group, so she decided to make her investment work for her.

Having proper footwear is important, and finding the proper fit is something that Fleet Feet provides its customers. They have running mentors and training groups available, and more information can be found at FleetFeetMishawaka.com.

Quick tips:

  • Staying hydrated is very important when beginning any physical activity, including training for a 5k. Try not to down a bottle of water all at once before running, but rather drink it throughout the day or make sure to drink a bit before and more after a morning workout, to stay comfortable while moving.
  • Fancy clothes you can Instagram not required. Wearing something comfortable and breathable is important. After wrestling with what I thought were some cute running leggings on a treadmill, that kept slipping down every time I sped up, I decided my best bet was some ugly drawstring pants for now. They stay up when I move and I don’t worry about how I look: I worry about moving forward.
  • Start out slow. Walk a pace fast enough to warm your body up and increase your heartrate. I’ve now trained with fast and slow runners, and the ones who have run marathons tell me the same thing: run your pace. It might be slow. You might be able to walk as fast as you can run, and that’s OK. Just commit to the form, and the speed will follow.
  • Register for that 5K! Keep yourself accountable by investing the registration fee. Make sure you give yourself enough time to confidently train, and get friends on board with you! Make it a fun event. If it’s more motivating, start some friendly competition with friends, or just set your sights on finishing! 

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