Five tips for your first 5k

Dr. Ellen West, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies, shares some tips with runners and walkers attempting their first 5K.

Two runners preparing for a 5K race

This year’s Vulcan Fest and Homecoming Weekend kicks off Oct. 12 with the Vulcan Fest 5K, a run or walk that follows a 5-kilometer course around and through campus.

We asked Dr. Ellen West, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies, to share some tips with runners and walkers attempting their first 5K.

West is a former member of the Vulcans cross country and track and field programs, and she’s still an avid runner. Here are her five top tips for your first 5K:

Get Moving!

Training will be key. Depending on how active you currently are, it will take approximately 6-12 weeks to get ready. Proper shoes are essential. Set reasonable goals. (Are you looking just to finish or do you have a certain finishing time in mind?) Steadily increase your training distance. A run/walk training app is totally acceptable for training or the race. There are many training apps available, or seek advice from a trainer at a gym to help you develop a plan. 

Get Fueled!

Having the proper “fuel in your gas tank” is important when you’re training.  Hydrate with water before, during and after each session. Eating healthy carbohydrates and protein while avoiding saturated fats will help to maximize performance. On race day, eat a simple meal of high-energy, easily digestible foods about two hours before the start. Be sure to include hydration – water is best, or choose a diluted sports drink if it’s warm and you need the added electrolytes. 

Get Support!

People need people, and we are stronger together! It helps to have others involved to keep you motivated. Encourage family and friends to train or race with you, or look for one of the many novice running groups “live” or on social media. Recruit support to cheer you on in your training or provide encouragement along the race route. Don’t be afraid to ask advice from other runners or trained fitness professionals. 

Get Ready!

Being ready for a race can alleviate race-day anxiety and stress. Try to get proper sleep two nights before. (Feeling some j the night before a race is normal!). Keep training light during race week; walk, jog or rest the day before the race. Check the weather and pick clothes that are comfortable and give you confidence. Map out both the race route and driving directions. Set your wake-up alarms in advance. Arrive at the course early, well-hydrated and with your gear on or ready, including music if that’s what you like.

Get Racing! 

Warm up and get ready to go. If you are new to racing, don’t line up in the front to start, and don’t get hung up on time. Don’t go out too fast – start slow and steady and pick up as you go to find your comfortable pace. Don’t be hard on yourself. Focus, breathe and stay positive. Be proud and enjoy the moment. Get ready to celebrate when you have successfully finished. Just think: if you have never raced before, you will have a PR – your own personal record!

Dr. Ellen West teaches a variety of online and on-campus courses in exercise science and sport studies. To register for the Vulcan Fest 5K or learn more about Cal U’s second annual Vulcan Fest and Homecoming Weekend, visit