Taking your workout a step further

Mary-Catherine Dolan

For most people who do not indulge in the activity, running is mainly viewed as a workout. For those who pound pavement religiously, it’s much more rewarding than just a cardio session. The world of running and racing is a culture in itself that lives for lacing up, becoming inspired and persisting through a challenge all in the name of a good cause.

I first began running when I went to college and told myself I would not become a victim to the dreaded “Freshman 15.”  I started out with not even being able to run around half of my neighborhood without being seriously winded and in need of a break. I kept with it though, adding a little more distance each time I went out. I began to appreciate running and learned how humbling it was. I took a week off for vacation, and upon resuming my route after I got back, it was like I was at square one. You can’t ever be too cocky in this game – prolonged cardio endurance is a skill you can only claim to have if you maintain it and work at it.

After two years of sweaty treadmill sessions and outdoor jogs, some spice needed to be added to my routine. The idea of running a race was brought up. Why not take your daily workout and add a healthy competitive aspect to it? What most people, including myself at the time, do not realize is that countless races are held for charitable causes. I signed up for a random 5K (a 3.1-mile race) and ran that day for not only myself, but for a fund for a 20-year-old girl who had died of leukemia.

I showed up thinking I was going to be running slightly more than three miles to see how fast I match up with those in my age group and a chance to meet other people interested in my hobby. I didn’t expect to be cheered along throughout the entire course by complete stranger or for my entry fee to raise to raise money to help other cancer patients in need. I didn’t expect the girl’s family to be there thanking us runners for coming out and supporting their cause. More importantly, I didn’t expect to feel so exhilarated crossing that finish line.

The energy from the crowd pushes you to push yourself; the cause pushes you to push yourself, and in those few seconds of crossing the finish line in front of everyone, you finally get to experience what the seasoned professionals call “the runner’s high.” Feeling so euphoric and accomplished for not only running a distance you never thought your body could but for helping someone in need at the same time.

If you are a runner of any kind, getting involved in races is a great way to perfect your craft. Here are a few simple tips to get you started training for a 5K:

  1. Set a good goal: Time your mile and calculate how long you want it to take you to run 3.1 miles. Times for runners vary between 15 and 30 minutes.
  2. Find and register for a 5K: Signing up is the first step. You are committed and now have something to train for. Experts recommend first time 5K runners sign up at least 12 weeks in advance.
  3. Start training: There are many guides online, especially RunnersWorld.com that break down what your training schedule should look like. Mix up your short, fast runs with long-distance runs.
  4. Strength train: This keeps the body and muscles strong and protected for you to run.
  5. Stretch: Stretch for at least 10 minutes before and after each run.
  6. Eat correctly: Again, online, there are many tips for what you should be eating when you run. Eating healthy carbohydrates like whole wheat pasta after a race builds your body back up and is recommended.
  7. Relax: Everyone has pre-race jitters. Arrive to the race early on a good night’s sleep. Bring a friend to watch. Stretch, breathe and go for a quick warm-up jog. Most importantly: Have fun!