Training for your first 5K: Getting started

First in a series: Jumpstart your fitness routine by training for a 5K. Here's how.

Training for a 5K is a terrific way to jumpstart a new fitness routine and reach a health goal such as losing weight, gaining strength or building endurance.

Getting started can be the hardest part.

“Just enter a race,” says Jeff Galloway, a U.S. Olympian and running expert, who has directed the Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk every September for 30 years. “Sending in the entry form is a major motivation.”

Most 5Ks are open to everyone, regardless of speed. “Beginners tell me they are anxious about being the only beginner among thousands of elite athletes,” Galloway says. “The reality is that there are only a handful of fast runners; more than 60 percent of participants walk [the KP Corporate Run/Walk]… This is a celebration of fitness with support and fun.”

When you start your 5K training, you don’t need to decide if you’ll walk or run or do a bit of both. Just start training. Here are Galloway’s tips for getting going:

1. Choose the right shoes. A locally owned shoe store staffed by experienced runners is helpful for finding the right shoes. Choose a shoe that feels natural on your foot, while giving you the range of motion you need for walking and running.

2. Make a plan. Using a training schedule can keep you motivated. Mark your training schedule in your calendar, and make it a priority. Start a training journal .

3. Get out there. For beginners, start by walking for 10 minutes. "Increase the walk time every other day by four or five minutes, until you get to 30 minutes," Galloway says. On the weekends, take longer walks. "Keep your feet low to the ground, touch lightly with your feet, and don't use a long stride."

4. Increase your distance and speed. Focus on improvement. If you feel like you're ready to try running, start at a slow pace for 10 to 15 seconds. Then walk for a minute or two. "No huffing and puffing is allowed," says Galloway, who promotes what he calls "The Galloway Run-Walk Method." By alternating between running and walking, you enjoy your workout more because you are in control of your fatigue, he says.

5. Find a friend. Exercising with a friend can help you stay motivated and keep on schedule. It's important to train with someone who goes at a similar pace. Neither person should have to huff and puff to keep up.

The key is to start slowly and stick with it. “Gentle exercise is best,” Galloway says. “Those who start too fast burn out or become injured.”

As a companion to regular workouts, invest in a step counter and aim for 10,000 steps a day. By integrating more walking into your daily life, you’ll improve your overall fitness and get even more motivated.

Focus on making progress each day, and don’t worry about what will happen the day of the 5K. You will finish. Says Galloway: “The festival atmosphere and the volume of people will pull you along.”

About this series: Training for Your First 5K appears Wednesdays and features expert advice for all aspects of preparing for a 5K. Created by the Kaiser Permanente Run/Walk & Fitness Program , the goals are to inspire metro Atlantans to get fit and to promote workplace wellness.