Top tips for training for a 5K or obstacle race

As I think about my college campus, now would be a perfect time to train for a 5K or obstacle course as a college student. My campus is a hilly, forested one, great for walking around (and developing good calves without even trying). Hills and trails are great for training for a 5K, and if you’re thinking of developing your own DIY exercise plan on campus, running is a great way to build your cardiovascular health without spending any money.

Even if you’re on an urban campus, you can find places to run or hit the school gym or track. If you’re socially minded, you can set a goal to race for a charity you believe in. For tips on developing your own 5K or 5K obstacle course work out, keep reading—but always check with your doctor or health services before you start a new exercise regimen!

Training for your 5K

For me, running is the hardest part of any race. I know that sounds kind of obvious, but one of the reasons I run obstacle courses is because it involves breaks from running. Some of my marathoner friends can’t get behind that—if you only have a one mile stretch, they say, you can never get into that mythical runner’s groove. (Okay, it’s probably not mythical, but they’re right that I’ve never gotten there!)

When I started running, I took a Couch to 5K class with a running group. Having a social net for your runs can be a big help, so if you can grab a couple of friends to run with you, you’ll be better able to keep yourself from getting bored or turning back on your runs. If you’d rather go solo, you can download one of the many free 5K apps for your phone, which track your distance and help you pace yourself. If you’re running for the very first time, it’s a good idea to alternate running and walking. A lot of the apps will do that for you, increasing from a 30 second/30 second alternating to a 3 minute run/30 second walk, until you’re running the whole time.

A few other tips about running:

  • Make sure your shoes fit your running stride. If you’re a heel-toe stride with weak knees (like me), you want a thick heeled sneaker. If you’re a trail runner with a mid-foot stride, you might like minimalist shoes.
  • Drink water and stretch. Because these aren’t part of “running” they can be easy to forget, but your body will thank you for being hydrated and remembering to stretch those muscles after your run! Selene Yeager put together “5 Key Stretches for Runners” on Active.com that are worth checking out.
  • Don’t worry about your speed, your age or your body type. If you’re worried about not being a good runner, go watch the finish line at a 5K. You’ll see all types of people, from kids to grandparents in all shapes and sizes, cross that finish line. You can do it!
  • Pick a race. If you have a date and a goal set, you’re more likely to push yourself to finish your training. And don’t worry about setting any records on your first race. Who needs that pressure? When you’re just starting, finishing is a goal on its own.

Training for obstacles

If you love climbing over stuff, jumping off of things and crawling through mud, obstacle course races are definitely your thing! When I’m training for obstacles, I do a lot of strength building to alternate with the running. In one class I took, we did a lot with flipping tires, carrying 2×4 boards above our heads while we ran, and generally using our own body weight in lots of squats, tricep dips and pushups to build strength. The great thing about all of those exercises is that you don’t need fancy equipment, and you don’t have to hit the gym.

Another great thing about using your own body weight? There’s a lot you can do right in your own dorm room. Lorraine Savage of CengageBrain wrote up some tips in “Aerobic exercise in dorm rooms improves student health” on December 13, 2013, about how you can use your desk chair, wall and the floor of your room for a workout. Take a break from studying and strengthen up your body.

The best thing about training for a 5K, obstacle course or not, is that you’re setting an achievable goal. You probably walk 3 miles around campus on a daily basis; you’re just taking it up a level. You can do it!

Have you ever run a 5K? What tips would you offer?

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