At last! Spring has sprung. As the longer, warmer days attempt to lure you outside, reality rears its head. You are a grad student, remember? The last thing you have time for is frolicking carefree in the sunshine. With only a few weeks remaining in the spring semester, papers are piling up and project deadlines are looming. And, have you secured your summer internship yet?! If this has you reaching for a paper bag to prevent from hyperventilating, I have an idea.
Sign up for a 5k (3.1 miles) running race. I know, I know. This is either the worst idea you’ve ever heard or the last thing you think you have time for, but it just might be what you need to manage the stressful push to the finish line.
As nutrition graduate students, we know the importance of exercise, but let me just remind you that it offers an excellent way to reduce stress. Additionally, exercise can boost your mood, sharpen your memory, and improve your sleep quality (even if you aren’t catching many z’s these days). Exercise is your friend, not your foe.
For some, a 5k run might not feel any different from running a marathon. If you’ve never run farther than the mandatory mile in your high school Phys Ed class, no problem. If it’s been a while since you’ve engaged in any sustained physical activity, don’t fret. Training for a 5k doesn’t have to take a lot of time and walking is allowed. In my opinion, committing to a 5k race is the perfect goal, whether you are a new or veteran runner, and particularly if you are a graduate student. Here’s why.
Long distance running is time consuming! As someone who has run two full marathons and five half-marathons, I understand that training requires a certain level of dedication that isn’t always feasible when juggling a busy schedule. Herein lies the beauty of the 5k—it provides a great sense of accomplishment without sacrificing too much of your valuable time. In fact, the race can be over in about 30 minutes. Another perk is that your risk for injury is significantly lower compared with those pounding the pavement for 10, 15, or 20 miles at a time. Registration for a 5k will set you back about $25, but longer races can cost upwards of $100 (and grad students like a deal, right?!).
So, ready to sign up? Use the five F’s below to help you put your best foot forward. Hopefully, these tips will provide you with extra encouragement to fit in exercise and the justification to frolic in the sunshine. Whether this will be your first 5k or another for the books, I think you will find that this is one deadline you won’t mind hanging over your head.
Fitting It In
As with many things in life, if it isn’t on your calendar, it won’t happen. Find a race, register, and mark the date on your calendar. Because the 5k is such a popular distance, races are held quite frequently, making it easy to find one this spring. Boston has many great places to run in and around the city, so you can be outside enjoying the spring weather in no time. Once the race is on your calendar, start your training plan. Runner’s World magazine has a great guide to getting you prepared in just five weeks.
Unlike many other sports, running requires minimal gear. Just you and your thoughts … and a good pair of running shoes. If you’ve never been properly fit for shoes, I recommend visiting a local running store for some guidance. Luckily, Boston has several running stores that are just a stone’s throw away from campus. Often the sales clerks are runners themselves and can help select a shoe that is just right for your foot. I know you can order a new pair of shoes online that will arrive at your doorstep faster than the Red Line can get you into campus, but having a shoe that fits well is non-negotiable. It is possible to be a runner and to keep all your toenails, but it starts with investing in the right shoe. Your toenails will thank you.
It’s hard not to equate running with carbo-loading, but it isn’t necessary for a 5k. Neither is choking down energy gels, thankfully. It is more important to focus on hydration and eating a balance of foods from all food groups. For many, a water bottle is like having a third appendage—it’s always with you—but you have to remember to actually drink. Karen Asp of Runner’s World magazine recommends drinking about three to six ounces of water every 15 minutes during a run. Sports drinks aren’t needed for runs lasting less than an hour. Depending on when you run, it might be a good idea to have a small pre- or post-workout snack. Eating about an hour before exercise will allow time for digestion.
Running is actually a very social sport. If you are new to Boston, like me, joining a running group can be a great way to make new friends and explore the city. Luckily, there is no shortage of running groups here. And, did you know that Friedman has a running club? You can sign up via Facebook by searching for the Friedman Unofficial Running Club (FURC). I’ve joined a few times this semester and can attest that the distances and paces suite a range of abilities. The group typically meets about once a month on a Saturday or Sunday morning, ending with socializing and a treat, like coffee or bagels.
Ok, I realize running may not be for everyone. But trying new things can be fun, and I think you’ll find that running is one of them. Oh, and did I mention that most 5k races end with a post-race celebration, including a free t-shirt, free food, and beer!?
Liz Hatzenbuehler, RDN is a first-year, dual degree NICBC/MPH student who recently moved from Denver to Boston. She is passionate about healthy eating and active living, and believes that everyone should have access to affordable, healthy foods. Outside of the classroom, you can find her running her favorite 3-mile loop around Jamaica Pond.