Seniors, here’s how to start training for a 5K

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Marathons aren’t just for the young. More and more adults over the age of 50 are joining in and training for a 5K, taking part in races for charity, fitness building, and fun.

After all, running is a great way to burn calories, lower blood pressure, and strengthen the heart. It can help people relax, sleep better, and eat better. It can even provide a “runner’s high” – feelings of intense exhilaration and happiness, triggered by the release of endorphins in the body.

If you are new to running, take your first steps toward mastering a marathon by tackling a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) race. Learn how to train while maintaining motivation from start to finish.

Getting started

Although running is safe for many people, it may not be suitable for everyone. Before you start training, talk to your doctor about your fitness goals and find out if running is a good fit for you.

Once you get the green light from your physician, check the bulletin board at your local fitness center or look online for upcoming races. Keep your eyes peeled for group training classes and running clubs too. Having a supportive group of training buddies helps along the way.

If you can’t find a running class or club, invite some friends to join you for training and the race. Look for people with a similar skill level and running pace.

For your first marathon, start small with a 5 kilometer race – and leave yourself three months or more to get ready.

Putting one foot in front of the other

Training for a 5K and preparing for your first race takes time and focus. Follow these tried-and-true tips for success, while building your speed and endurance gradually:

  • Start slowly. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury and frustration. Start slowly by alternating short spurts of running with walking. As you get stronger and faster, increase the time you spend running.
  • Mix up your fitness routine. Keep your workouts fun and safe by alternating days of running and rest with cross-training activities, such as swimming or cycling. Include at least two weekly sessions of muscle-strengthening exercises, such as calisthenics or pilates, suggest the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Take breaks. Rest days are crucial for safe and sustainable workouts. Schedule at least one day off from exercise every week to give your muscles time to recover, suggest the Mayo Clinic and Olympian Jeff Galloway. And forget the adage “no pain, no gain” – you don’t have to overexert yourself to see results.
  • Warm up and stretch. Before each workout, take a brisk walk around the block and then pause to stretch your major muscle groups. Finish each workout in the same way to cool down, increase your flexibility, and reduce your risk of injury.
  • Prepare for the weather. You never know what race day will bring. Prepare for the unpredictable by training in different weather conditions, suggests fitness instructor Janell Maxa in the Mayo Clinic Hometown Health Blog. Lace on a pair of supportive running shoes and wear comfortable clothing. Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses!
  • Stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the day and pack some for workouts. Sport drinks can help to replenish lost electrolytes. Watermelon juice may also help to hydrate the body and soothe sore muscles, suggest researchers in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Get the food you need to fuel your fitness by following the United States Department of Agriculture’s recommendations for a well-balanced diet. Enjoy a light meal or snack an hour or two before each workout, eating foods that are high in carbohydrates and easy to digest. Pack an energy booster, such as edible sport gels, for long training sessions.

Maintaining motivation

Push your way through slow days and sluggish workouts using these motivational methods:

  • Partner up. Training with a friend is more fun than going it alone. Plus, knowing that someone is waiting for you will help you get out the door, even when you feel like staying in bed or crashing on the couch.
  • Adopt a mantra. When you feel stuck, repeat a power phrase in your mind to get you moving. Choose a short, personal mantra that sums up your reasons for running, such as “getting stronger,” “dream big,” or “I’m worth it.” The chant will inspire renewed energy with every step you take.
  • Pump up the volume. Listening to music while you exercise can help you get more out of your workout – without even noticing it. Research shows that listening to music that fits the pace of your activity can help improve endurance while reducing perceptions of exertion. In layman’s terms, once you start flowing to the beat, you may be able to run longer and faster without even realizing it. Want to create the perfect running music? Check out for customized playlists.
  • Track your progress. A workout log or tracking app can build focus and highlight progress. After each training session, mark down what you did and how you felt. Don’t be discouraged by slow days. Instead, keep your eye on the big picture and celebrate the progress you’ve made.
  • Reward yourself. Mark training milestones with a special dinner, new workout gear, or trip to the beach. Recognize how hard you’ve been working and celebrate success along the way.

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