Lessons from Running My First 5K

As someone who falls down stairs, trips on even surfaces, and breaks toes getting into bed, I’ve never been what you might call athletic. When friends have asked me to go running in the past, I scoffed at the idea. I thought that I was physically incapable of surviving a jog. Why would anyone want to run, anyway? But I just ran my first 5K at age 40!

Image from Pixaby

Accomplishing a goal that once seemed insurmountable is an exhilarating feeling. I felt that way when I earned my Ph.D.. Then I experienced that feeling when I paid off my student loan in three years rather than 10. Now, I feel that way again after having ran my first 5K.

One thing I learned is to stop saying something can’t be done. Rather, I learn from those who have already done it. Then I create a plan and stick to it.

Personal finance is often compared to diet and exercise. Each require attention to daily habits, willpower to fight temptation, and commitment to take action.

Just as I was inspired by others who reached financial independence, I was also inspired by friends who run. And as I made myself accountable for my financial behaviors, set a budget, and logged what money I spent every day, so too did I make myself accountable for my health behaviors, created a diet and training plan, and recorded what food I ate and what exercises I performed each day.

Related Article: 3 Most Inspirational Personal Finance Posts on the Internet

Dangers of Walking

My exercise of choice has always been going for a walk. Not only did I do it for health reasons, but also to reduce tension. Especially during the work day, I need a break to step outside, get some fresh air, and release some stress.

Actual rooster that attacked me!

But walking can be a dangerous sport. In the past year I’ve been attacked by a rooster, gotten lost, and approached by someone who tried to get me into his car. (His creepy quiet honks as to not drawn attention and U-turn to follow me down another street were quite eerie. I’m pretty sure he may be a serial killer.)

These were all during my at-work breaks – and all in the past year! Not to mention that a few years ago a guy on a bike tried to sell me coconut shrimp from his backpack.

Now that the pedestrian bridge by my work is closed and the sidewalk is torn up for construction, I am even more afraid to walk around my building. I think I need to find a less dangerous form of exercise.

Related Article: Simple Steps for Better Health

Couch to 5K

When I first heard about Couch to 5K, I didn’t give it any thought. Never did I ever think I could be a runner (or even a slow jogger). But after running from that rooster, I realized that it might be possible.

I can walk briskly for an hour or longer with no problem. I don’t even start to “feel it” until 30 minutes into the walk. (No joke. I can tell when I’ve been walking for a half hour because I finally start to feel a bit of exhilaration.)

Jogging is basically walking, just faster. When you walk both feet remain on the ground. But when you jog, there is a brief period of time when both feet are in the air. Since most of my injuries occur on land, maybe I’d have better luck if I spent less time on the ground.

The Couch to 5K training program I used was 3-4 days a week for 10 weeks. It started with walking 5 minutes, jogging 2 minutes, then walking 5 minutes. “I can jog for 2 minutes,” so I thought.

So I put a Couch to 5K printout with the 10 week training program on my refrigerator. There is a Couch to 5K app, but I don’t do apps. I avoid applications that access my location, address book, pictures, voice recognition, and/or any other personal information.

I used a sheet of paper and a pen to check off each day I trained. Within 10 weeks, I would be running for 30 minutes (the approximate time to run 5 kilometers, which is 3.1 miles).

Getting Started

The first 2 minute run (nay, slow jog) was exhausting. I remember coming home beat red. My husband laughed at me, “see I told you 2 minutes isn’t as easy as it sounds.” But I persevered.

I started to understand how running can be addictive. The first few minutes are always challenging. But around 10 to 15 minutes, I start to feel like I can run forever – and it feels amazing!

Related Article: How I Lost 20 Pounds in 15 Weeks

Image by Melkhagelslag from Pixaby

Keeping It Interesting

Training wasn’t all easy. I remember searching the internet for answers to “When does running get easier?”

I enjoy jogging outside. There is always so much to see. I like to watch for wildlife, wave “hi” to neighbors, and explore my neighborhood. Bringing my son with me for conversation and taking a different route each day also help time go by.

Once I made it through the training plan, I also switched up my workouts between straight jogs, walk-run-walk-runs, and interval training (running hard for 15 seconds followed by 45 seconds of walking for a total of 15 minutes). This helped to keep my mind interested and my body on its toes.

When I struggle during those first few minutes of each run, I also remember why I run. Weight management and health are important. Another reason I run is to challenge myself (if it was easy, I would have always done it). But the main reason I run is to release all that pent up stress I’ve been harboring. I remind myself of this when I feel my heart rate increase. 

Related Article: How Much is Stress Costing You?

Keeping Up Momentum

When saving money, I always have goal in mind to which I am working. Taking the same approach to jogging, I needed something to work toward. So I registered for a 5K race a couple of months away. Sneaky, sneaky, I chose a Mother’s Day race. I signed up my son as well, and he couldn’t say no.

My husband was inspired by the progress we were making and was intrigued by the challenge of running a 5K. He wanted to join us. He had never participated in a run and was excited to start training. Within 5 minutes of his first training he realized that he needed a pair of running shoes. Who knew you shouldn’t jog in boat shoes?

I also needed new gear. Once I worked my way up to 30-45 minutes 4 days a week, my one 20-year-old sports bra and cotton t-shirts from Ann Taylor Loft weren’t cutting it. I overcame my guilt about spending money on myself and purchased some running gear. Sports bras, dri-fit shirts, socks, and running shorts were purchased. I also bought myself a water bottle with a cell-phone case and a less expensive running bottle (without the cell case) for my son.

Related Articles: Don’t Cry Over Spent Money

The Fall Without Grace

I was doing awesome. After making it through the 5K training program, I kept going. I was now jogging 5 days a week for up to 45 minutes and felt like I was on top of the world. I was losing weight, gaining muscle, and looking cool in my no-longer pit-stained shirts.

Then it happened: the longest fall of my life. I don’t mean the biggest, but the longest. I must have spent 15 seconds stumbling with my arms flailing, knowing I was falling but not having anything to catch my fall. My neighbors must have laughed their butts off as they drove by.

Image from Pixaby

Finally, I threw myself onto the wet, dewy grass to prevent road burn. I got right up and made it home. Stupidly, the next day I got up in the morning and went for another 45 minute jog. That was the last time I was able to run for weeks.

Both my ankles were swollen and bruised. Pain radiated down to my toes and up my legs. My knees also felt the pain. The next couple of weeks were spent living off RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevate).

Refuse to Waste Money  Refuse to Give Up

After dragging my son with me multiple days a week, buying new shoes for my husband and clothes for me, and spending over $95 for the three of us to participate in a race (portions of which went to charity), I wasn’t about to give up.

Not being able to run (or stand) was a major challenge. It would have been easy to give up. But instead I looked up ways to safely cross-train. I discovered aqua jogging. By running in-place in water, I was able to get a good cardio workout, build the muscles in my legs, core, and arms, and not put pressure on my joints. I started aqua jogging for 30 minutes and worked my way up to 60 minutes – half the time with kids swimming around me.

Related Article: How to Overcome Challenges

Change in Plan: New Training Schedule

Injured or not, I was determined to run the entire way during the 5K race. So I created a plan to protect my ankles and got back to running slowly. The week before the race I did the following:

Monday: 60 minute aqua jog

Tuesday: 60 minute aqua jog

Wednesday: after a 5 minute warm-up walk, I jogged 5 minutes, walked, jogged 4 minutes, walked, jogged 3 minutes walked, etc. for a total of 30 minutes (15 minutes of jogging and 15 minutes of walking)

Thursday: Rest

Friday: after 5 minute warm-up walk, jog 5 minutes, walk 1 minute, jog 5 minutes, walk 1 minute, etc. for a total of 40 minutes (25 of which were jogging).

Saturday: Was going to be a rest day, but I did strength training on arms with resistance bands.

Sunday: 5K race!

Race Day

Image by Alex from Pixaby

The morning of the big race I was so nervous that I puked a little. This was a Mother’s Day race mind you. A fun run with parents and kids running around a park. Yet I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat. This would come back to bite me in the second mile when I started to feel light-headed. Luckily there was a water station a few feet ahead. After splashing (spilling) water all over myself, I felt better.

My husband also struggled a bit during the race. He had been training on a treadmill inside with air conditioning. He found running outside in the heat and humidity and on uneven surfaces to be much more challenging. Whereas I, who had been training outside, was used to the heat and dodging branches.

Throughout the race I kept a slow, steady pace. My son left me in his dust. But I accomplished my goal ran the entire 3.1 miles! My husband and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment for having run our first 5K. I assume my son also had a great time. He wore his medal the entire day. I am so proud of him!

Lessons Learned

  • Find a training program (e.g., Couch to 5K) that works for you.
  • Get an accountability partner (or drag your kid along).
  • Running is free. But you do need to buy running shoes and a sports bra.
  • Start low and go slow.
  • Implement a walk-run-walk strategy to build yourself up.
  • Consider Interval Training for weight loss.
  • Take rests days. Your body needs them to grow stronger.
  • Be careful running on uneven surfaces. If you find yourself falling, try to land in the grass.
  • Don’t let an injury set you back. Talk to your healthcare providers about safe ways to cross-train. Consider aqua jogging.
  • You need fuel to exercise. Even if you aren’t hungry, try something small such as a serving of almonds.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Avoid over-heating. If you spill water all over yourself when trying to drink, play it off like you were trying to stay cool.
  • Running outside may better prepare you for a race (and be more fun) than training on a treadmill.
  • Use caution when drinking alcohol while in training. Your tolerance level might decrease and you may find yourself getting into a pool fully clothed after only 2 drinks.

Final Thoughts

As the least athletic person I know, it’s even hard for me to believe that I completed a 5K. The next day I felt great: no fatigue or pain.

This is another example of how a goal I once thought was out of reach for me was made possible by creating a plan and executing. Now I love running (eh, slow jogging)! I plan to keep it up while also moving onto my next challenge: paying off my mortgage.

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