Training for Your First 5K; Things to Consider

One of the best things about The Devils Dash 5K is that it's open to everyone; all body types, ages, and abilities. And you can rack up your 3.1 miles any way you choose; walking, running, treadmill, even getting steps in at work if you have a physical job. If moving this much is new to you (I personally feel like I've been stuck to my couch for the last six months), or if you're looking to challenge yourself, you'll want to do some training to condition your body. If you enjoy this experience it may even motivate you to sign up for a 10K or half marathon. But let's start where we are today before we get ahead of ourselves.

5K Training

Where do I start? The first step in training is to determine where you are now. Think about how many steps you take in an average day. Just about any smart phone should have an app installed for basic step counting. And think about how much you exercise in a given week, if at all. Also consider if the exercise you do is more strength based (e.g. lifting weights or body weight supported exercises), or endurance based (e.g. swimming or cycling). You will also want to consider your age, general health, and any medical conditions you may have (Very important: It is always recommended to consult with your physician or other qualified medical professional before starting a new exercise program. This article is not intended to replace medical advice from your doctor regarding your specific health concerns.)

Goal Setting & Training Schedules: The next step is to set some realistic goals and map out a training schedule. A good start is to think of three smaller goals that will work towards your larger goal of completing the 5K. Here are some examples:

  • Example Goal #1: I will commit to 15 minutes of stretching daily at least five days per week over the next three weeks.
  • Example Goal #2: I will walk briskly in my neighborhood for 30 minutes or greater, at least four days per week, over the next two weeks.
  • Example Goal #3: I will jog two miles in less than 20 minutes by two weeks from today.

Your goals can be just about anything you'd like as long as they are realistic, specific, and have a deadline or timeframe for completion. Write these down somewhere you'll see them daily so they stay at the front of your mind. Next, set your weekly training schedule. Your training schedule should be a reflection of where you are today and should include three to four days of endurance training which includes your walking, jogging, or running, two to three days of strength straining, and one to two days of rest. Progress time and mileage very gradually; no more than 10% increase from one week to the next. This will help prevent injury. For more information about creating a training schedule and avoiding burn out read our next article, How to Create a Training Schedule and Avoid Burn Out.

Equipment: Arguably the most important piece of equipment you need is a quality running shoe. If you’ve never shopped for a running shoe before you should consider going into a quality store that specializes in running shoes. (Stores may have a phone or Zoom consultation option due to COVID, so call first.) The type of shoe you need depends on several factors including your foot type. Most people will benefit from a stability shoe, as they have a moderate level of arch support, but if you have high rigid arches or flat feet with collapsed arches you should consider cushioned and motion control shoes respectively. For more information about footwear read our article, Choosing the Right Shoe for Your 5K.

Other equipment you need includes athletic clothing made of light, sweat wicking fabric, including quality socks that will help keep your feet dry and, for women, a good quality sports bra. Sun protection is equally important so be sure to have sunglasses and a hat, and apply sunscreen 15 minutes before heading outside.

Nutrition & Hydration: Proper diet and hydration will keep you strong and performing your best. The rule of thumb for diet is to eat a variety of healthy real foods including lean proteins, whole grains, and lots of colorful fruits and veggies. As for hydration, you’ll want to keep water near you throughout the day to avoid becoming dehydrated, and remember to hydrate before, during, and after exercise. Sports drinks are necessary to maintain electrolyte balance so alternate water with sports drinks on your training days. For more information about nutrition and hydration read our article, Nutrition and Hydration for Runners 101.

Stretching: You’ve probably seen runners stretching before or after runs and maybe you’re wondering if you should be doing it too. The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that it depends on your body’s specific needs. Research is mixed regarding runners, but shows evidence that stretching can improve muscle length of shortened muscles, and possibly reduce muscle soreness. It also often feels good, which is a great reason to do it, with one major caveat. Long relaxing yoga-esk stretches are okay after running, but should be avoided prior to running, as it may make the muscles too relaxed to respond to the demands of the run. Instead, you should warm up by performing several quick stretches (1-3 seconds) as you move through a range of motion. Examples of good pre-running stretches are lunges, torso twists, and leg and arm circles. For more stretching examples and additional information read our article, Stretching for Dummies; Which muscles? How Much and How Long?

Staying Motivated: As you train for your first 5K it can be difficult to stay motivated. Stay on track by giving yourself small rewards for each goal you reach. If you’re having a particularly tough week, you may need to congratulate yourself for small victories like getting into your workout clothes and walking down the block. Hey, that’s something! If you’re kind to yourself you’re more likely to stay motivated. Also get the people you care about involved. Ask your friends and family to train with you. If running is just not their thing, ask them to support you in your endeavors and cheer you on as you reach your goals and ultimately run your first 5K.


How to Create a Training Schedule and Avoid Burn Out

Creating a training schedule is highly individualized, but generally speaking you should aim for three to four days of endurance training, two to three days of strength training and one to two days of rest. You can decide how best to divide these up based on your specific needs. You'll also want to vary the type and intensity of endurance training (e.g. cross training with cycling, hiking, or swimming) and the body area of strength training (lower body, upper body, and core/trunk). When you first start out you may need to walk intermittently during your training. As you improve, you'll be able to spend more of the time running/jogging and less walking. Do what feels right for your body.

Here's an example training schedule:

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 Short Run/Walk
1 mile
+ stretching
(or cross training)
Strength Training
+ stretching
Moderate Run/Walk
1.5 miles
+ stretching
Rest Strength Training
(core/upper body)
+ stretching
Long Jog
2 miles
+ stretching

Progressing your mileage should be done carefully and gradually to prevent injury. Some training models suggest no more than a 10% increase in mileage from one week to the next week. So, if you run/jog a total of five miles in the first week you don't want to run/jog more than a total of five and a half miles in the following week. After a few weeks, you may need to adjust your training schedule based on how you feel. For example, you may create an ambitious three-week progression just to find out mid-week two that's it's too much for you. That's okay! Just redo your training schedule to fit what's best for your body's needs. Remember, progressing too rapidly is a fast ticket to injury!

Burn out is easy for new runners since it's not yet a habit and can cause soreness when your body's not used to the increased demands. One way to prevent burn is to give yourself small rewards along your journey. Positive reinforcement keeps you motivated and feeling good about your achievements. Reward yourself when you reach each of your goals. If you're having trouble with motivation you can even give yourself small rewards more frequently. Rewards can be anything from a small treat to binge watching a guilty pleasure on your day off. Whatever it is, it should make you feel good about your achievements, no matter how small. Friends and family can also provide important encouragement so let people know what you're doing and when you hit your goals. At the end of the day, you want your first 5K to be a positive experience so remember to set realistic goals, make and stick to a training schedule, reward yourself along the way, and have a support system to cheer you on to the finish line!

Tie Your Shoes

Choosing the Right Shoes for Your 5K

One of the biggest questions new and experienced runners alike ask is "What shoes are best?" The answer, of course, is that it depends. Two major factor are the surfaces you plan on running on, and the characteristics of your feet. When most of us talk about walking, jogging, and running we're talking about moving in a forward direction on a relatively flat surface. If you plan on doing heavy duty trail running or walking on very rocky trails you'll want "trail shoes" that provide more support for uneven surfaces and awkward changes of direction, but otherwise you should look for a quality "walking" or "running" shoe. Additionally, consider where exactly you plan on running; harder surfaces like street running, or softer surfaces with a little give to them? Running on surfaces with some give, such as treadmills, dirt, or artificial track is much nicer on your joints and, in that case, you can really focus on a shoe that works for your foot type and is comfortable. If you plan on running on concrete or asphalt you should consider a shoe with additional cushioning and shock absorption.

One of the easiest ways to figure out the best shoe for you is to consult a specialist at a quality shoe store, such as Road Runner or Fleet Feet. Many of these stores have trained employees and a variety of tools to determine the right shoe for you. They also might offer special conditions such as the ability to wear the shoes outside for a number of days and still return or exchange them if they're not quite right. Specialty stores are often pricier than discount stores, but the higher quality shoes and increased chance of talking to a sales person with some actual knowledge, make it well worth the additional cost. A quality shoe will also last longer than a poorly made shoe so it's a good investment. Blue Devils Health & Wellness (BDHW) have seen good results from brands such as ASICS, Brooks, New Balance, HOKA running series, and the Zoom or Lunar series from Nike. Jeff Chaplin, BDHW physical therapist, says the current best in his opinion are stability shoes from ASICS, such as the Gel-Kayano 26.

If you want to get a head start before walking into a store (or if you're not planning on going into a store in person due to the Coronavirus pandemic) you can identify your foot type at home. Look at your feet when standing on one foot at a time. Use a mirror or have a family member help you take pictures from the front and back views. Notice if your arch (the inside center of your foot) is touching the ground or not. The position of your arch when your full weight is on your foot helps to determine if you supinate (high arches), pronate (flat or collapsing arches), or have neutral arches. Although this assessment won't tell you what your arches do when you're actually running, it will give you a general idea of your foot type and therefore the type of shoe you should gravitate towards.

Foot Types

Cushioned shoes are widely popular due to their minimalist style, light weight, and low profile. These shoes are best for supinators with high rigid arches. Most of the shoes midsole, arch, and heel are made from a soft flexible foam, allowing cushioning but little support. Despite the popularity of these shoes, they are not for everyone. If you notice that you are rapidly wearing through these shoes or are having pain, such as shin splints, you might need additional support.

Stability shoes provide light to moderate support which is ideal for most people. These shoes work best for people with neutral arches or who have some pronation. Additional supportive material will make the shoe feel a bit heavier than a cushioned shoe, but when fit and worn properly you should get used to it right away.

Motion control shoes are designed for people with significant pronation. These shoes are ideal for runners with flat feet or with heavy body weight. They are constructed with stronger materials, such as rubber, that will make the shoe feel heavier, but provide considerable support and durability. If you truly need a motion control shoe you will be happier to have a slightly heavier shoe that meets your needs.

When it comes to trying on shoes, here are a few tips to remember:

  • Wear the same type of good quality socks you plan on running in
  • Tie the laces up all the way
  • Expect approximately 1/2 inch between your longest toe and the end of the shoe
  • Shoes should feel snug and secure, but your feet and toes should not feel cramped or squished
  • Try on both right and left shoes at the same time
  • Test shoes by walking around the store and running in place on different surfaces

Ultimately, shoes are highly individualized, so you want something that feels comfortable. If your shoes make you feel good you'll be more likely to wear them and more likely to hit your fitness goals.

The authors have no affiliations or financial incentives associated with any running company, websites, or products. The products and sites suggested here are the personal opinion of the authoring medical professionals.

Stretching for Dummies: Which Muscles? How Much? How Long?

Stretching is one of those things that sounds simple but can get pretty confusing. We know stretching is considered an important component of a well-rounded fitness program. It has some ability to prevent injury and can decrease soreness. The most important thing to remember is that we are all different, so the amount, type and length of stretching for each of us will vary. For example, if you tend to have loose joints and are naturally very flexible you may require less stretching and more stability training and strengthening. On the other hand, if you tend to be very tight and stiff, your body may require additional stretching time. For individualized stretching recommendations it is suggested you seek guidance from a licensed physical therapistor other qualified health care professional.

When should I stretch? Generally speaking, research suggests that the preferred pre-exercise, "warm up," stretching is dynamic stretching, while the preferred post-exercise, "cool down," stretching is static stretching. What does this mean? Well, think of dynamic stretching as a quicker (but not ballistic) stretch that occurs while moving through a controlled range of motion. Examples include alternating lunges and gentle straight leg forward and backwards swings. Static stretching, on the other hand, looks more like traditional stretching, is performed standing or sitting, and involves relaxing into a stretch for longer periods of time. Remember, whether dynamic or static, never bounce in your stretches, as this increases risk of injury.

Dynamic Stretching

How long should I stretch? Research shows the minimum time it takes for muscle fibers to ‘remember' a stretch is approximately 30 seconds. This is why we recommend static stretching of each muscle group for three sets of 30 seconds. Using a timer or watching the second hand on a clock will help ensure you maintain the stretch for a full 30 seconds. This can feel like a very long time if you're not used to it, so try relaxing into the stretch and focusing on your breathing as you stretch.

Which muscles should I stretch? This is, of course, dependent on which muscles are tight on your body, however here are some general muscle groups that most runners/joggers should stretch regularly (not an exhaustive list):

*the following examples are static stretches but can be adapted to dynamic stretches

Quadriceps: These four muscles make up the large mass of muscle at the front of your thigh. The quadriceps, or quads, help us straighten our knees and are a major stabilizer of the lower body. The two most simple ways of stretching the quads is either lying on your stomach or standing. If lying on your stomach, bend your knee, grab hold of your ankle and gently pull your foot towards your buttocks. If you have trouble reaching your ankle, use a stretching strap (like a yoga belt or rope) to assist you. The standing version of this stretch is a bit harder as it involves balance and increased stability. Once again grab your ankle with your hand and draw your foot towards your buttocks. In this position make sure your knees are close together, you are engaging your stomach muscles, and you are not arching your back. You may need to hold onto something stable with your opposite hand for balance.

Quad Stretch

Hamstrings: The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of your thigh and behind your knees. These muscles are the opposite of the quadriceps, as they assist with bending the knees. These muscles are often tight for runners so it is suggested to stretch them regularly. You can stretch these muscles lying on your back or standing. If lying on your back use a stretching strap around your foot to pull your leg straight up towards the ceiling. Try to keep your knee straight so you feel a stretch along the back of your leg. If standing, place your heel on a step or curb with your foot flexed and toes pointing upwards. Then, with hands on your hips, bend your back knee and push your hips backwards as if trying to sit in a low chair behind you. Keep your front leg straight so you feel a stretch behind that leg.

Supine Hamstring Stretch Standing Hamstring Stretch

Calves: The calf muscles are very important for running and jogging as they aid with forward propulsion. Because of this they have a tendency to become tight and can be quite painful when they cramp. A simple calf stretch involves standing with one leg in front of the other, with hands either on hips or holding onto a stable surface such as the back of a chair. Then, while keeping your back heel on the ground, bend the front knee until a stretch is felt in the back calf. After 30 seconds you can perform a slightly different calf stretch by additionally bending the back knee and sitting back into your hips until you feel a stronger stretch either deeper or closer to your ankle. Hold this position for an additional 30 seconds before switching sides.

Straight Leg Calf Stretch Bent Leg Calf Stretch

Hip Flexors: Hip flexors, can be tricky to stretch, but are a real problem for runners when they become too tight or inflamed. These muscles live at the front of your hips and assist with pulling your leg forward. To stretch them, assume a half kneel position, which means having one knee on the ground and the opposite foot on the ground in front of you. With hands on hips or holding a stable object, tighten your stomach muscles, tuck your pelvis under you, and slowly shift your center of gravity forwards. At some point you should feel a stretch in the front of the back hip.

Hip Flexors Stretch


Nutrition & Hydration for Runners 101

The single most important rule for proper nutrition is to eat a well-rounded healthy diet of real food. What we mean by real food is food that more closely resembles its original state with minimal processing and additives. For example, while roasted carrots and prepackaged carrot cake both contain beta carotene, one is clearly a healthier option!

Every five years the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, designed to help us make informed dietary decisions. has a variety of resources to help you make better choices based on your lifestyle and track your intake of various food groups. It is always recommended to consult with your physician or other qualified health care professional before making any major dietary adjustments, and to consider any specific health conditions unique to your situation.

When looking at nutrition for running, one should consider both macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). If you consume a well-rounded healthy diet full of a variety of real foods, you shouldn't require additional supplements. However, if you have trouble eating the right types of food or have a medical issue resulting in a known deficiency, supplements may be recommended by your doctor.

Carbohydrates are in most of the foods we consume including fruits, vegetables, and grains. They are categorized as simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates provide immediate energy, while complex carbohydrates can be stored and used during periods of highly intense exercise. Carbs sometimes get a bad rap, but they are essential to a healthy diet and are an important source of energy. The key here is to avoid "empty calories" such as sweets and soda, which are calories that contain little to no nutritional value. Instead, opt for healthful options like colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

Fats also give us energy and are an important part of a healthy diet, provided they are not consumed in excess, and you stick to the types with higher health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends that diets contain no more than 30% fats, and both saturated fats and trans-fats should be limited. Examples of healthy fats you should consider including in your diet are avocados, nuts, and olive oil.

Proteins are essential for healthy muscular and cellular maintenance and assist the body with recovery after exercise. Animal proteins, such as meat, eggs, and dairy, are a good source of protein because they contain all nine essential amino acids, whereas plant-based proteins lack one or more essential amino acids. For this reason, it's very important for vegetarians to consume a wide variety of plant-based proteins. Overall, healthy proteins include lean meats, fish, eggs, low fat dairy products, and various plant-based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and soy products.

Vitamins and Minerals are important for keeping our bodies in tip top condition. As mentioned above, a healthy diet should provide sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals, but here are some we'd like to highlight for their important role in exercise such as running.

  • Vitamin C assists with immune function and metabolism and can be found in citrus fruits and most vegetables.
  • Vitamins B6 and B12 help with fat metabolism and cell synthesis respectively. While B6 can be found in all sorts of foods including meats, whole grains, leafy vegetables, legumes, and fruits, B12 is only naturally found in meats and dairy products, although it is usually included in fortified breakfast cereals, which should be noted by vegetarians.
  • Potassium is a mineral that assists with fluid and electrolyte balance and blood pressure. It can be found in most fresh fruits and vegetables but is lost when food is cooked.
  • Iron is another important mineral which plays a crucial role in oxygen transport. Iron is found in meat and legumes. A deficiency can lead to anemia which can be dangerous when running.

In addition to diet, proper hydration is key for endurance exercise, such as running. Most of us are aware of this, but it's trickier to know how much the right amount is. In general, most of us should focus on drinking more water than we are accustomed to when we begin a new exercise program or increase the frequency, distance, or intensity of running. The reason for this is that when heat is produced through exercise, our bodies respond by perspiring, which keeps our core temperature in a safe range. This results in a loss of body fluid which can have dangerous repercussions on our health, not to mention that it can affect our running performance. Key indicators of dehydration include increased thirst, dark urine, and lower than usual body weight upon waking.


Diobel Castner, BDHW exercise physiologist, recommends consuming water before, during, and after exercise to prevent excessive fluid loss. Referring to guidance from the National Athletic Trainers' Association she offers the following:

Note: Recommendations are for informational purposes only, and does not replace a personal hydration plan conducted by a certified athletic trainer, nutritionist, or other licensed health care professional.

When Recommendations
Pre-Exercise 8 fluid ounces → 15 minutes prior to exercise
During Exercise ~7-10 fluid ounces every 10-20 minutes
Post-Exercise 16-24 fluid ounces for each pound of body weight lost (weigh yourself pre & post exercise)

Sports drinks that contain electrolytes are another essential component of endurance exercise. A proper balance of electrolytes including sodium (i.e. salt) is crucial for neuromuscular coordination, fluid balance, and glucose absorption. An electrolytes imbalance can lead to muscle cramping and decreased performance, not to mention a variety of significant health issues. Diobel suggests drinking a combination of water and sports drinks to optimize hydration and electrolyte balance.

Lastly, we'll discuss recovery snacks which are specific foods you eat immediately following exercise in order to optimize your body tissue's ability to recover and heal following a workout. Research indicates that a recovery snack containing a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates and proteins, respectively, consumed within 30-45 minutes after exercise, can significantly improve muscular repair and recovery. Examples of food combinations that fulfill this ratio are carrot sticks with peanut butter, fruit smoothie with yogurt, and hummus with pita bread. Our favorite, and possibly the easiest to consume, is good old fashion chocolate milk – Yum!


Race Day Tips: The Do's and The Don'ts

It's finally the big day and you've worked so hard to get to this point! Here is our list of race day do's and don'ts:

  • DO go to bed early and get plenty of rest the night before the race
  • DON'T stress in the days leading up to the race; meditation can help keep stress in check
  • DO eat a healthy breakfast of light proteins, and healthy carbs
  • DON'T overeat or load up on super fatty foods the morning of the race; it will weigh you down
  • DO bring snacks, water, and electrolytes with you; think fruit, granola bars, sports drinks or energy gels such as GU, Honey Stinger, or CLIF SHOTS
  • DON'T try something new on race day; consistency is key
  • DO dress in comfortable, light, sweat wicking athletic clothes
  • DON'T forget to check the weather; you'll want to plan ahead for excessive heat, humidity, or rain
  • DO protect yourself from the sun with sunglasses, hat, and sun screen
  • DON'T forget to warm up; this is not the day to skip your warm up routine
  • DO pace yourself and know your limits; it's way better to finish with a slower time than to push yourself too hard and end up injured
  • DON'T keep this to yourself; tell your friends and family what you are doing so they can cheer you on
  • DO have fun!

The Role of Running in a Well-Rounded Healthy Lifestyle

Study after study shows that physical activity has positive effects on human beings. Running and walking have numerous health benefits, and the best news is that the benefits start whenever you decide to start. This means that even if you've been a couch potato for years, you can still begin to improve your health, fitness, mood, relationships, and life expectancy by starting today! Medical experts agree that doing something (anything) is better than nothing, and several studies suggest that as little as five to 10 minutes of light to moderate exercise a daily (or a total of 50 minutes per week) can have a positive impact.

Running and brisk walking are endurance exercises meaning they impact the cardiovascular system. Regular running can have profound effects on cardiovascular health including decreasing blood pressure and reducing risk of coronary artery disease. It can also decrease the risk of other ailments including diabetes, high cholesterol, and cancer. Regular running can improve stamina, metabolism, balance, strength, alertness, and memory. It's not difficult to see how these benefits might translate to a longer life expectancy resulting in people having a lower "biological age" (the functional capacity of one's body), compared to their chronological, or actual, age. This means it's possible to feel 30 when you're actually 50, or 50 when you're actually 70; sign me up!

Mood enhancement is another important benefit of physical activity that is often overlooked. Have you ever gone for a walk or run when you were in a bad mood and suddenly noticed afterwards that your mood was better? That wasn't your imagination. There are several actions in play here and scientists are still learning more and more about the positive impact physical activity has on mental health. We know that during exercise neurotransmitters, such as endorphins and dopamine are released and that these chemicals interact with receptors in our brains, ultimately making us feel good. Interestingly enough, recent studies have shown that these positive effects don't seem to be limited to the short term. Mental health specialists are beginning to see an overall decrease in chronic depression and anxiety from patients who exercise regularly. As you might expect, improved mood and decreased depression can lead to other positive life experiences such as decreased stress, improved relationships, increased self-confidence and motivation.

The benefits of exercise, such as running, seem to go on and on, but it's important to remember that exercise is only one piece of a healthy lifestyle puzzle. When combined with a healthy diet, stress management, supportive relationships, and a sense of community and purpose, one can truly live their best life!

Get out there!

About the Author: Dr. Debbie Seeley is the Director of Health & Wellness for BD Performing Arts. She holds a doctoral degree in physical therapy from Mount Saint Mary's College and has worked in a variety of clinical settings since obtaining her degree in 2009. Her areas of interests include orthopedics, home health care, sports and performing arts medicine, and wellness. She serves as part time faculty at her alma mater and has a small wellness practice in Los Angeles. When not working, teaching, or touring with the Blue Devils, Debbie enjoys southern California culture, including her role of pageantry director for the Pasadena City College Tournament of Roses Honor Band (of course, when we're not in the middle of a pandemic). More information about Dr. Seeley and the rest of the BDPA Health & Wellness Team can be found under the ‘About' section.

Disclaimers: Blue Devils Dash (BDD) and Blue Devils Health & Wellness (BDHW) provide this content for informational purposes only, and not as medical advice. Content on this page should not be used in place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from one's physician or qualified healthcare professional. BDD and BDHW will not be responsible for injury, loss, or misinterpretation of the provided information. Always consult a medical professional before starting or continuing a running program.

Blue Devils Dash (BDD) and Blue Devils Health & Wellness (BDHW) have no affiliations or financial incentives associated with any running company, websites, or products. The products and sites suggested here are the personal opinion of the authoring medical professionals.

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