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Running Your First 5K Like a Pro: 4 Helpful Hints to Get Started

If you're reading this, I'm earning money in some way. I was compensated with money and/or product. Thanks for helping to feed my family. I also may have a financial interest in companies named. Please see our disclosure for more information. Also, any advice provided is for informational purposes only. I'm not an accountant, lawyer, doctor, fitness expert, or nutrition specialist. So, talk to a professional before acting on anything you read, watch, or listen to below. Get your own advice and do your own research. Email me at [email protected] with questions.

So, you committed to running your first 5K?  That's a pretty big step.  So, congratulations is in order.  No matter your fitness level, this is a distance anybody can do.  Whether you're running the entire thing or walking a portion, I can help you get to the finish line.

running your first 5kI recall running my first 5K after getting back into running in 2014.  I hadn't run in a competitive race since 2001 during my senior year of high school.  Back then, I was much more fit back then and heck of a lot faster in a trim teenager body.  Let's just say that my overweight 29-year-old body wasn't doing any favors in the quickness department that day.  I wasn't exactly what you call "gazelle-like."

But, dammit, I was back baby.

I don't remember much about that day.  However, it officially signified the beginning of something huge in my life.  I was a runner again -- and I was training for my first half marathon in November of that year.

Like I said -- I was back.  And I was embarking on something that many people only thought about, joked about at parties, or said they would accomplish as another trashed New Year's resolution.

It all started with that 5K race.

OK, a bit of a dramatic entrance.  I know.  But, don't make light of the fact that you decided you're running your first 5K.  Whether you're coming out a long "retirement" like I did or if you're just starting, it doesn't matter.  You can do this and I'm going to help you get there.

Here's a list of the things we will cover:

Running your first 5K race is a great milestone.

I just want to say that I think it’s awesome that you’re going to run your first race.  Whether it’s a 5K or half marathon, making the commitment is half the battle.  Before you lace up your shoes and take the first step, let’s go over a few of the basics.  I don’t care what you’re reading or who you talk to, laying the proper foundation for your running is of the utmost importance.

Read through the list below and let’s get you started the right way!

Start with Why

If you spend enough time on this site, you’re going to learn something about me.  I believe we all need to start with WHY we’re doing something.  We need to understand our purpose behind desiring to achieve this goal.  So, whether it’s sticking to a budget or running your first 5K race, you need to understand and be firmly grounded in your “why” behind it.

For example, maybe you are running your first 5K to get in shape.  Or maybe you're doing it to raise money for a cause you believe in.  You may also be a parent trying to set an example of how to live a healthy lifestyle for your children.  Still, it could be that you’re being challenged by a friend or co-worker to go running your first 5K together.  Whatever it is, make it your mantra.  Make it your modus operandi.  Do I need to keep going with the cliches?

Start with “why” and you will have a constant reminder when things get tough.  Believe me, they will get tough.  If you’re thinking of your kids when it’s 90+ degrees in the middle of summer and you’re only 1.7 miles in to a training run, you will find it in yourself to keep on going.  Trust me, it helps.

Set a Goal and Mark Your Calendar

There is nothing more motivating than putting something on the calendar and setting that goal.  Then, you go out and tell people to hold you accountable.  Since your goal is running your first 5K, you better not let yourself or anybody else down.  That’s not to put any pressure on you, but it should pump you up.  You’re doing something.

Set the date and put it on your calendar.  Then, track your runs.  As I mention in this post, use the Seinfeld method.  What’s the Seinfeld method you ask?  As the story goes, comedian Jerry Seinfeld created a habit of writing at least one joke per day.  Every day he wrote a joke, he got to cross that day off in red marker on a big year-long calendar.  The point was to string as many of those red X’s together without breaking the chain.

How does that relate to your goal of running your first 5K?  Well, however you set your schedule (and we will address that below), mark off your calendar or do something to acknowledge it.  You’re one step closer and, yes, that is definitely a reason for celebration.

Get a Baseline

How fit are you?  Do you workout often or not at all?  Do you play pick-up basketball with the guys or sit on the couch?  You need to know and be honest about where you’re starting from.  Where ever that is, it’s OK.  I don’t care how out of shape you are.  It’s not about that.  It’s about knowing yourself and your body.  Knowing where you are now will make it easier to get where you want to go.


Understand that what you do off the road, track, or trail is just as important (maybe more) that when your feet are pounding the terrain.  In my opinion, the most important things is being properly hydrated.  When attempting to run a 5K, or partaking in any physical activity for that matter, making sure you have enough water or Gatorade is so crucial.  The worst thing you can do is get sick during or after a run with dehydration problems.  It can be scary and kill your motivation. To prevent irregular heartbeat and disturbances, consult a doctor beforehand and get a prescription for cheap Multaq which is an effective drug for heart issues.

If 9 to 13 cups is the directive from places like the Mayo Clinic, you then need to be drinking more because you’re sweating all of that out during your training runs.  Drink before your runs, during your runs, and after your runs.  Keep hydrated throughout the day and especially make sure you’re re-hydrating yourself after training.  It will help keep you healthy and happy.


You’re going to want to eat well as you train.  Don’t fall into the trap that some runners do (like yours truly) who think they can eat anything because they’re running a lot now.  You need to fuel your body with proper food filled with nutrients, vitamins, and protein.  Things like eggs, whole wheat pasta, mixed green salad, chicken, salmon, berries, and nuts are a great start.  Plus, all of this food will keep you healthy, thin, and provide plenty of energy as you increase your mileage totals.


Many people skip this step before they run and after they run.  I’m better at it before I run because I tend to get shin splints.  I usually do a warm-up quarter mile to full mile and stretch.  Here is a list of the 3 key stretches I do:

  • Calf stretch: Place one hand on a wall for support and bend over with your right foot pointed upward.  Use your right to gently pull your foot toward you and you should feel the stretch in your calf muscle.  Hold this for 10 to 20 seconds and perform the same stretch for the left calf.  Do this stretch 2 or 3 times before your run and at least once after your run.
  • Quad stretch: Place one hand on a wall for support and bend your right knee up toward your butt.  Use your right hand to pull your leg tighter toward your back.  You should feel this stretching out your quad muscles.  Hold for 20 seconds and perform the same stretch on your left quad.  Do this stretch at least once before your run and once afterward.
  • Groin stretch: Sit on the ground and place the bottoms of your feet together.  Point your toes up and pull them toward you as you lean forward.  Hold this for 20 seconds.  Do this one also at least once before and after your run.

Don't underestimate the importance of a solid training plan when running your first 5K.

The schedule I want you to start with will actually allow you to run 3 miles a few times before your 5K race day.  You will see you have walk days and rest days each sprinkled in each week as you increase your run time and mileage.  This will give your body the rest it needs as you begin your journey to run your first 5K.  You will be able to recover and ease into your training.

If you need to adjust the days, that is just fine.  Re-create the schedule as you need to.  This schedule is a guide.  As I trained for half marathons and my first marathon, I adjusted the training program to work for me.  It is more than OK.  But, you need to make sure you get the runs in.  If you need to miss a day, make sure you make it up or else you will be behind.  You want to go into to race day at your best.

If you have any questions, please email me.

Download your Run The Money 5K training plan!

Make sure to scope out 5K races in your area.

Congratulations!  You’ve decided to run in an actual race.  You should be proud of yourself for making this commitment and embarking on a rewarding path.  Now, it’s time to choose the race.

You may be able to find a race in your area.  There are always charity or community 5Ks and 1-mile fun runs, 10Ks, and half marathons being put on.  But, in case you don’t learn about one or you can’t find one that works with your schedule, here are a few places you can find a local run:

When running your first 5K, you need to have the right gear.

If you're running your first 5K, you have to have the proper attire.  No, I'm not suggesting you go out and spend hundreds of dollars on running gear.  After all, this is also a personal finance site and that would be dishonest.  However, I do believe you should make a small investment in a good pair of running shoes and socks.  I know it sounds crazy, but making sure you have socks that don't lose their tightness and shape is very important.  The last thing you want are blisters to derail your training progress.

I put together a list of the best gear based on my own knowledge, Amazon rankings, and other running blogs.  Check them out, read reviews, and find the items that fit you best.  (I do want to add that the following links are affiliate links).


Best Men's Running Shoe for Beginners: ASICS Venture 5

So, I picked these ASICS shoes as a recommendation because they are a top seller on Amazon.  I have not personally used them, but they do have 4.5/5 stars with over 4,800 reviews.  Of those reviews, 60% are 5 stars.  Seems like a solid shoe all in all.  Price is pretty reasonable too and starts at around $40.  Pros are that people use it for a variety of reasons and it holds up -- from logging the running miles to using them as a delivery man to using them for yard work.  So, the shoe holds up for most people and one gentleman mentioned how it helped his plantar fasciitis.

However, for the cons, some people have found that the shoe wasn't quite as durable.  It may not be a great trail running shoe it appears.  That said, at 4.5 stars and $40, it is a reasonably-priced beginner's running shoe.  Even one guy who complained about the durability was happy with the comfort.  Overall, 89% of the reviews the shoe received gave it a 4 and up.  So, it looks to me like a good bet and a solid choice to use when running your first 5K.

Best Woman's Running Shoe for Beginners: ASICS Venture 5

The women's version of these ASICS shoes received similar reviews as the men's.  Overall, we still see a 4.5/5 stars with over 2,500 reviews.  Of those reviews, 66% are 5 star reviews.  One woman praised the shoe for help with her plantar fasciitis, citing the shoe's support and beautiful design.  Another loved the toe space, comfort, and the fact that it doesn't cake in mud/dirt.  All very positive features as she uses these ASICS to run trails.

However, not everyone had a remarkable experience.  Cons include one woman who actually believed these shoes are not for running.  She explained that the arch support was subpar and caused her to have shin splints.  Others didn't believe the shoes were not very comfortable, specifically the toe box and the shoe being too narrow.  That said, 85% of the rating for this shoe come in at 4 stars or more and it starts at $40.  It could be worth a try for you when running your first 5K.

What I Wear: Men's Brooks Transcend

I can't tell you how much I love these shoes by Brooks.  I used these shoes to train and run for the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon.  Since I logged hundreds of miles training for that race, I actually purchased a second pair of these as race day drew closer.  I wanted to make sure I had enough support.  These shoes are incredibly durable.  From what I remember, they were immediately comfortable and helped alleviate much of my pain from shin splints.  They have 4.2/5 stars on Amazon.  The reason I didn't have them as the top running shoe for men despite my love for them is because they start at $110.

Personally, if you're running your first 5K, I don't want you spending a lot of money on shoes.  These are affiliate links, so I do make a portion on the sale if you buy from them.  But, I am not telling you to drop a ton of money on your first pair of running shoes.  Since this is also a personal finance blog, I would be irresponsible to tell you to do so.  That said, Brooks really does make quality running shoes for men and women.


Best Pair of Running Socks for Men & Women: Feetures! High Performance Socks

These socks by Feetures! are incredible.  First off, when running, the last thing you want are socks that lose their integrity / shape and become too loose.  When that happens, the sock becomes uncomfortable, especially when you tighten your shoes.  Plus, the sock will oftentimes fall down in the shoe and that's the last thing you want when you're trying to concentrate on your mileage.

The Feetures! socks are very comfortable and fit tightly against your foot.  But, not in an uncomfortable way, more like "form fitting".  This makes it so you don't have to worry about the sock stretching out and losing its integrity.  Furthermore, they wick away moisture to keep you feet cool and dry.  My wife and I love them so much that we wear them even when we're not working out.  They are comfortable enough for every day use.  I highly recommend Feetures! socks.  If you're running your first 5K and looking for a good pair of socks, go with these.  You will not be sorry.


Best Selling Headphones: TaoTronics Bluetooth Wireless Earphones

Ok, seriously, these TaoTronics headphones are a great deal.  They are only $26.  And, yes, they are marketed as the Top Seller for Bike Headsets, but runners can use them as well.  One reviewer explained how he runs between 3 and 10 miles per week, 3 times per week.  He cites how the blades fit in his ears and don't move around.  Trust me, the last thing you want as a runner is to have the headphones constantly popping out.

Overall, 87% of the reviews for these TaoTronics headphones come in at 4 stars or more.  But, of course, not everyone loves them.  In fact, for what the runner above says are a plus, another person cited how the headphones don't fit in the ear well.  Go figure.  To be honest, with a lot of running gear as with anything, it comes down to the person.  It comes down to individual preferences.  What works for me or for you, will not work for other runners.  You have to find what works best for you.

What I Wear: Mailiya Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

I purchased my Mailiya headphones after another pair of Bluetooth headphones suddenly stopped working.  So far, I have little to complain about when these.  They fit fairly comfortably in my ear with great sound.  However, the loop part that goes over my ear can get annoying.  I sometimes find that the ear buds fall out and I'm constantly re-adjusting them.

But, overall, I do like the Mailiya headphones.  I'm not the type to drop $100 to $250 on incredibly expensive pairs of sunglasses or headphones.  That's just not my style.  Plus, I think Anna would kill me.  After all, this is a personal finance site too!  I really like the fact that these headphones are water resistant.  It helps me because I sweat a lot!  These are fine for beginners too and have a good volume range to go with great sound quality.

Running Watches & Wearable Tech

Top Running Watches: Casio W800H-1AV Classic Sport 

This particular Casio watch is #1 in Men's Sports Watches on Amazon.  It comes in at 4.5/5 stars with over 2,000 reviews.  Now, I used to wear a Nike watch when I ran.  But, after it died, I went the cell phone and armband route.  It's worked for me ever since.  I ran the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon and 3 half marathons between 2015-2016 that way.  So, I didn't miss the watch.

That said, if don't want all that stuff on your arm, go with a cheap watch to start.  This one is less than $13.  You can't really beat that.  Let's be honest, though, cheaper things have a tendency to be made, well, cheaply.  So, people do mention that in the reviews.  But, 74% of the reviews for this watch are 5 star and 16% are 4 star.  That's a lot of happy people.  If you want to go with a watch and you're running your first 5K, start here.  Save yourself some money.

Handheld GPS Unit: Garmin vívoactive Black

So, this thing seems pretty cool and it's the top seller on Amazon in the Handheld GPS Unit category.  It has 4/5 stars and over 1,900 reviews.  Garmin vívoactive comes with Sports apps for Running, Biking, Swimming, Golfing, and Walking.  Many people seem to love it and gave it some pretty good reviews.  However, it's $136.  Certainly a lot to lay out for a watch.

It's unfortunate to see that people had issues with the technology, particularly sync problems, screen dimness, charging failures, and not being able to use when swimming.  How can you track swimming but not submerge it in water?  Overall, the Garmin vívoactive received 55% 5-star ratings and 18% 4-star ratings.  Not bad, but not overwhelmingly great either.

Cell Phone Armbands

Best Selling Armband: Tribe AB37 Water Resistant Sports Armband

I'll be honest with you.  I wouldn't worry too much about cell phone armbands.  Find one that fits the phone you have and be done.  They are all pretty much the same.  This one here is a Best Seller on Amazon.  It has 4.5/5 stars and over 10,500 reviews.  Plus, it's on sale right now for under $10.  One person complained about the armband sliding up and down their and the plastic getting foggy.

Honestly, the same thing happens with mine.  Many of the newer phones are water resistant anyway.  So, it shouldn't be a problem.  Another person said this armband didn't fit iPhone 6S despite it being advertised.  Overall, the armband got reviews of 4 or above 85% of the time.

What I Wear: Iwotou Armband for Samsung Galaxy

Yes, I still have a Samsung Galaxy S5.  As I said above, I do run into the armband slipping down my arm and the plastic fogging up.  But, you just need to tighten it a bit more.  It's usually no big deal.  As for the moisture on the inside of the plastic, it's from me sweating.  It doesn't hurt the phone as the phone is more or less water resistant.  I'll say that it's a good product.


If you run long enough, you will get a ton of t-shirts and swag from races.  Trust me, when you running your first 5K, you will get a shirt.  Run more and you'll get plenty of them.  Don't toss them.  Use the heck out of those shirts.  As runners, we go through lots of shirts.  Have mostly cheap ones, but invest in a few nice sweat resistant ones.  You will be glad you did!


I don't get too fancy with running shorts.  Hell, I even get stuff at Walmart.  I could care less.  Plus, I ran track and cross country in high school.  I will never be caught dead in that underwear they call running shorts.  No thank you.  Nobody needs to see my milky white thighs.  OK, TMI.  Sorry for that.

Winter Gear

I personally own Nike and Under Armor winter gear, particular wind breakers, running pants, sweat pants, and gloves.  You could always start out and go "Rocky" style in the beginning.  Nothing wrong with a cheap hoodie and sweat pants combo.

Please don't feel like you need to purchase everything on this page when running your first 5K.  In fact, I am telling you right now not to break the bank as a beginning runner.  I truly don't want you to do that.  Get the essentials.  To me, that's a good pair of running shoes and good socks.  You want your feet to be comfortable during these runs and you don't want cheap socks that slide around and don't absorb sweat.  That's how you get blisters.  So, take my advice and get out there!  Happy trails!

Think about this as you approach your 5K race day

Yes, I know it's a lot to consider as you embark on running your first 5K.  But, trust me.  It gets easier.  And if you learn to love it, you will see that runners have a real sense of community.  You will learn where to find the best 5K races, the best running groups, and the best shoes.  Plus, you will have the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal.  When you cross the finish line and receive your medal, you will know you did something.  That, my friends, is worth every training mile.

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