If it seems like everyone you know has run a 5k lately, you aren’t imagining things. In 2015, 7.6 million people finished a 5k in the U.S., and it remains the most popular race distance in America, with participants favoring it over much longer marathons or half-marathons. Yet for many individuals, just the idea of running a 5k is intimidating, and you can't blame them when you consider hardcore runners' horror stories, which include chafing, painful cramps, and uncontrollable bowel movements. So if you’re a new runner — or are just thinking about lacing up in the near future — I’m here to tell you that you can do it.
Whether you’re just beginning to log miles, or have reached a point in your training where you’re ready to take that next step and train for your first race, signing up for a 5k gives you a measurable goal to work towards, with benefits that extend far beyond fitness. While training for a 5k requires discipline, willpower and a sufficient amount of energy, I guarantee the hard work will be worth it. And if I’m being honest, it most likely won’t be your last race. Here are nine reasons to sign up for your first 5k.
1. The Time Commitment Is Relatively Low
Time — you know, that thing none of us seem to have much of these days? — is a huge consideration when starting any new workout routine. The nice thing about a 5k (5,000 meters, or roughly 3.1-miles) race is that it’s relatively short. If you are running a 10-minute mile (and it's totally fine if you're not even close to that time yet), it will take you just over 30-minutes to complete the course — and that’s just a fourth of the time it takes you to watch The Bachelorette. As you progress, most training runs will likely be even shorter. For many people, this is a reasonable amount of time to work into any day. Unlike longer distance races (a half marathon, for example), you won’t need to schedule life around your training. Feel like your days are packed already? Wake up 30 minutes earlier, and boom: You’ve just found yourself some free time.
2. You’ll Score Major Endorphins
You’ve probably heard this word before, but what exactly are endorphins? Endorphins are a neurotransmitter released by the body after exercise. By binding to specific receptors in the body, they do two main things: They help block pain, and they trigger the brain to release dopamine, a chemical that affects movement and causes us to feel pleasure. When you put these two actions together, you’re left with less pain and a great mood. It’s like a built in reward system for being good to your body! Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?
3. You’ll Get The Chance To Crush Your Goals
I don’t think there is anyone in the history of 5ks who doesn’t feel proud of themselves at the end of a race. There’s something to be said for setting a goal — and attaining it. And there’s no better way to be acknowledged for that accomplishment than by crossing an actual finish line and getting a medal for it (or at the very least, a t-shirt)! Endorphins aside, the “you” that works so hard all week — and then works even harder when training for a race! — will feel like a million bucks when your race results are available online.
4. A Race On The Calendar Will Motivate You To Run More
Let’s say you’re beginning to work some runs into your life, but you keep coming up with excuses to skip workouts — or maybe you don’t consider yourself a runner at all. Having a race to train for will motivate you to get out the door (rain or shine) and run more regularly. Put that race into your calendar, schedule training runs into your week, and set a time goal for yourself. All of these things will keep you motivated and make you feel like you’re working toward something. Whether it’s just to finish the race or to finish in a certain time, knowing you signed up for a 5k will keep you motivated to persevere, even on the days when you just don’t feel like it.
5. You’ll Meet New People
A 5k race, and the training leading up to it, is a great way to meet new people. Run it with friends, or join a running club and encourage members to sign up, too. Cheer each other on. High five strangers at the start, and then find them again to congratulate each other at the finish line. Encourage someone who looks like they are struggling along the way. Soak up the cheers from other people.
Running a race is being part of something bigger. Everyone on the course has a different reason to be there. When all those reasons line up next to each other and cross the finish line together, there is a buzz that you won’t get any other way. You are all in it together. Celebrate what you’re doing, and celebrate each other.
6. Did I Mention There’s Swag?
OK, so this is just a bonus, but who doesn’t want free things?! Whether it’s a t-shirt, a water bottle, or maybe even a couple of healthy snacks, it can be fun to accumulate some gear on race day — even if, yes, you did technically pay a registration fee. One day, when you’re not in the mood to workout, you’ll put on that t-shirt you got from your race and remember the glory you felt when you finished. This swag will become a reminder of happy, feel-good moments of strength. So even if the shirt is too big and you have 10 water bottles already, embrace the free stuff. It’s another sign of what you’ve accomplished!
7. Many 5ks Benefit A Good Cause
Another great thing about 5ks is that there is often a charitable or good cause behind each race. And since 16,500 organized 5k events went down in 2015, the opportunities to support a worthy cause — whether it is cancer research, the ASPCA, or a local fire department — are vast and wide. Even if your local 5k doesn’t support a specific charity, you can fundraise on your own! Just pick a foundation or organization you’d like to support, set up a GoFundMe or CrowdRise account, and keep your cause in mind when the race gets tough. Running the race for the greater good will ultimately help you cross the finish line.
8. You’ll Learn More About Yourself
Training for anything — whether it is a 5k or an Ironman — becomes a personal journey. What we learn on that journey can be a metaphor for how we deal with the ups and downs of life. Running a 5k is not just about running: It’s about discipline, inner strength, and determination. As you train, you’ll learn more about yourself along the way. Chances are, you’ll discover that you’re even stronger than you thought you were before signing up for the race. What’s not to like about that?
9. Crossing The Finish Line Will Motivate You Even More
So, you met your goal. Great job! Now here’s the truth: After finishing your first timed race, you will realize that you are capable of even more, both on and off the course. And when you realize this, you’re going to be right. Let the first 5k be about finishing, and let the next one — or whatever new goal you set for yourself — be about finishing even stronger.
Now that you have nine reasons to run your first 5k, it’s time to choose a race. Good luck, and happy training!
Images: Pexels (6); Unsplash (2) - Francesco Gallarotti, Joshua Sortino; Getty Images (1)