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Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - August 2008

Go The Distance
Not an athlete? Not a problem. Here¿s how to get ready for your first 5K.

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Go The Distance

For Stephanie Schaknowski, signing up for a 5K was a life-changing moment. At the time, she was an overweight couch potato. “I got married and I let myself go,” says the 28-year-old from Sugar Hill, Georgia. “I gained about 20 pounds a year, and I didn’t work out.”

Then her brother suggested that the recently divorced Schaknowski register for a local 5K (3.1 miles) walk/run as a motivator to become more active. “At the time, I was not ready to do anything like that,” says Schaknowski. “I was 70 pounds heavier, and the thought of running—I knew it was going to hurt.” So what swayed her? “I needed to find myself again,” she says. She chose a local event about three months away and started walking. After a few weeks of 15-minute walks around her neighborhood, she joined a gym and started using a treadmill. Over the next three months, she gradually increased her distance to more than two miles. And as she grew fitter, she interspersed short periods of running.

During her first month of training, Schaknowski lost 15 pounds and gained energy. By the day of the 5K she was much fitter but still wasn’t sure she could finish the race.

“I was extremely nervous because I’d never done anything like that,” she says. But after three months of training and swept up in the enthusiasm of a thousand other 5K participants, she made it across the finish line. Here’s how you can do the same.

Sign Up for a Walk/Run
If you’re trying to jump-start your fitness routine, a 5K may be just what you need. Most people can prepare in three to four months, says Roy Benson, a private running coach in Atlanta. And since many 5Ks are fund-raisers for charities, you can support a worthy cause as you get back in shape.

Registering for a 5K often provides the motivation to get you out the door, says Tom Holland, sports performance coach and author of The Marathon Method (Fair Winds, 2007). “It helps keep you consistent with your workouts. Having a goal just makes it that much easier to train for 12 weeks.”

Before signing up, get clearance from your doctor if you have a chronic medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes. Also get an OK if you have cardiac risk factors, such as being overweight or having been sedentary for a long period—especially if you’re over 40 or have a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or are short of breath upon slight exertion.

Start a Training Program

You don’t need much equipment to launch your walking/running program, but one essential is a pair of comfortable, supportive, well-cushioned shoes. A running or sporting goods store can help fit you with the proper pair.

If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start by walking at a comfortable pace. That will help strengthen your muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues and reduce your risk of injury before the event, says Benson.

As you get stronger, you can set goals by distance (for example, walking a mile at a time) or time (walking for 20 minutes). Begin each workout by walking slowly for about five minutes to warm up. Then gradually increase your speed until you’re walking fast. Run for a little bit if you want, then resume walking as you tire. Repeat this pattern of sandwiching short intervals of running between bouts of walking throughout your workout. It’s that simple. If you plan to walk your 5K, simply alternate intervals of walking briskly with walking at an easier pace.

According to Holland, a typical 12-week training program includes three sessions of walking/running each week. Two sessions should be about the same length; the third, a little longer. For example, you might do a mile on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a half-mile more on Saturdays. Or you could do 20 minutes on Mondays and Wednesdays and 30 on Saturdays.

Use the talk test to gauge your effort. You should be able to speak in short sentences. If you’re too winded to talk at all, you’re pushing yourself too hard.

Increase the Challenge

Walking 3.1 miles is challenging enough for some of us, so don’t feel you have to run. Instead, pump up the intensity by spending more time walking briskly. If you decide to run, gradually spend more time running and less time walking.

Holland suggests you might spend the first month running 1 minute and walking 3. In the second month you could run 2 minutes and walk 2, then in the third month run 3 minutes and walk 1. Keep in mind these are guidelines. The key to successfully training for a 5K is to listen to your body and slow down whenever you need to.

Start the Day Off Right

Allow yourself plenty of time on the big day to eat a light breakfast, get dressed and travel to the 5K site. Wear shoes and clothing you’ve worn before. This is no time to experiment.

Arrive an hour ahead of time to register and pick up your event number. Lace your car key to a shoe or put it in your shorts pocket where it won’t be lost. Then go for a very slow jog or easy walk for 10 to 15 minutes to loosen up, says Benson.

Find a place in the middle or back of the crowd at the starting line; the faster runners start at the front of the pack. Jog in place or move about to stay warm as you wait. And get ready to enjoy the experience. “You’ve done the work—this is going to be the fun,” says Holland. “Everyone’s nervous. Everyone’s running the same course. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, like the weather.”

Ready, Set, Go!
Once the 5K starts, ease into your pace slowly. You may want to walk some distance at the beginning. Take small steps and be mindful of other participants. Gradually increase your pace to a comfortable one you can sustain, just as you did during training. Don’t try to walk or run as fast as you can—your excitement and adrenaline may make you go faster than you realize. “It’s much better to go out slow and have a big kick and look great at the finish than go out too fast,” says Benson.

Some people like to talk to those around them, while others prefer to focus or just enjoy the course and spectators. Near the end, pick up your pace and finish strong. Walk around afterward to cool down. Stretch, drink plenty of water, have a carb snack—and don’t forget to bask in the glow of your accomplishment.

Once you finish your first 5K, you may discover you’re hooked. Since Schaknowski’s first event in October 2006, she’s lost 79 pounds and has trained for and run other events, including the 2007 Chicago Marathon (26.2 miles). “To cross the finish line [the first time] was the best feeling,” she says today. “You feel that you did that—and you can do so much more!”

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