If you like working out, you’ve likely felt the temptation to keep trying new, cool—and increasingly extreme—fitness trends. But this year, we’re calling it: marathons and Crossfit aren’t the only way to work out. Here’s why we’re embracing more moderate workouts, like the 5K run, instead.
“Why am I doing this again?”
It’s just shy of 5:30 a.m. on one of those blisteringly cold and dark mornings and I’m getting ready to go out for a run. Problem is, I don’t feel like it. At all. I deliberately take longer to tie up my shoelaces, get my gear on and even somehow try to convince myself that, hey, it’s not optimal for me to run in these frigid temps. Not good for my lungs. Right?
The truth is, I do love to run and I’ve been doing it since I was an awkward 13-year-old trying to keep pace with my marathon-running mother. My life in fitness has been a barrage of different challenges from half-marathons to half Ironmans, extreme adventure racing, biathlon and duathlon. Pushing my personal boundaries excites me, but with these goals invariably comes higher and higher expectations, even though I should be happy being able to run what’s known as a beginner race—a 5K.
There is a major trend in the fitness industry to champion workouts as an all-or-nothing, often brutal, exercise on the body: More pain, more gains. Some refer to it as the “militarization” of fitness, which rings true in the military-inspired CrossFit classes, ultra-marathons and high-intensity interval-training (HIIT) sessions that leave you spent beyond reproach. These pulse-pounding pursuits promise results, but can come with a fair share of injuries—exercisers simply don’t allow for enough recovery time between these “killer” workouts. Safety should always be the priority over the struggle, so any fitness program should be tailored to the individuals’ goals and abilities, not to an unreachable standard.
That’s why when I had the opportunity to go to Barbados to join the Barbados Marathon in celebration of their 50th Anniversary of Independence, I jumped at the chance. Not to run the marathon, but to run a 5-km race. This race length isn’t about pushing yourself to extremes, to injury or inconsolable fatigue, the way some other exercises or races leave you feeling; it’s about feeling good and accomplishing something awesome.
I ran the race slow in scorching temperatures, knowing it wasn’t about time or performance, but about the experience. It wasn’t about bragging rights, or that quintessential Instagram opp. This was about doing something good for me.
If you’ve been thinking about doing your first 5K this year, get training—as long as you start slowly, pace yourself and follow a few general guidelines, you’ll get plenty of great exercise and you just might surprise yourself. Here’s what to you need to know before you tie your laces. See you at the start line!
Clock Z’s, not just kilometres
Feeling well-rested is equally as important for a runner as their food and exercise choices. “Sleep is when your body repairs and regenerates damaged tissue from your workouts, while also rebuilding bone and muscle to be ready for the road the next day,” says Helen Lescoat, personal trainer and class instructor at Totum Life Science in Toronto. Eight to nine hours is optimal, but if you can’t get it, try a simple tweak to your regular routine: get into bed 30 to 60 minutes earlier than the time that’s typical for you. It may seem small potatoes, but this time accumulates over a week and it will make a difference on how you feel during those training runs.
Know when to taper
It’s important to taper, or reduce your exercise, in the week leading up to the 5K. Consistent training is going to leave you fatigued, so the taper is specifically designed to let you replenish your body and your mind in anticipation of the big race. Decrease your mileage by 25 percent and include two to three short runs to keep your legs fresh. Two days out from the race, take a day off for total rest, and the day before the race do a short, 20-minute run to wake up your legs.
Scope out the course
If possible, drive the course before the big day. It will give you a sense of what to expect in terms of terrain, while also mentally preparing you for any unexpected hill climbs. “There are a lot of nerves associated with standing at that start line,” says Lescoat. “Knowing the lay of the land ahead of time will ultimately help you feel more confident and assured of what you’re about to do.”
Take it easy on the carbs
We can always get behind bagels and pasta, but heavy carbo-loading isn’t ideal for a 5-km race. “You run the risk of absorbing too many calories and feeling ‘heavy’ on the course,” warns Lescoat. Instead, your meal should come from whole, unprocessed carbs. Think an English muffin with one tablespoon of peanut butter, or a bowl of oatmeal topped with a banana.
Consume 16 to 20 ounces of fluids two hours before the race and another 10 ounces 30 minutes before the race begins.
Get in a good warmup
You have pre-race jitters and your heart is pumping harder than usual. The best way to overcome your nerves is to focus on your warmup. About 25 to 30 minutes prior to the race, take a 10-minute light jog and then build your pace for about five minutes to get limber. Gently stretch any muscles that feel tight and focus on long, deliberate breaths filling your lungs with as much oxygen as possible, then exhale nice and slowly.
You trained hard to make it to that finish line, and you will. Run your race and don’t be disappointed in yourself if it wasn’t as fast as you wanted, or even if you had to walk a part of it. “The beauty of running is that it is an ever-evolving thing,” says Lescoat. “There is always another day, another race and another road to conquer!”
Planning your own fitness vacation to Barbados? Check out these tips on where to stay, eat and play.