By BOJANA GALIC Now that you have dabbled in jogging, you’re ready for your next challenge, a 5k. You picked the right race. A realistic goal for newbies, the 5k is the first milestone for every runner. The 3.1-mile-long event is the most popular race distance, so it won’t be difficult to find a 5k near you. First stop, a local running store to be professionally fit for shoes. Once you’ve armed yourself with new sneakers, hit the road.

Training Plan

When you sign up for your race, set aside at least eight weeks and commit to a training plan. The “From Couch to 5K” plan is a great choice for beginners. This schedule eases you into running, building your stamina over ten weeks. Training plans are a great tool but don’t be fooled; work, kids or errands may get in the way of exercise. Honor your commitments but adhere to your schedule as closely as possible.

Every plan emphasizes interval training as the best way to build endurance. Rotating between running and walking trains your body to run for longer periods without tiring out. Begin by alternating a 5-minute walk with a 2-minute jog, repeating the sequence once or twice. The following week, increase to a 3-minute jog, and so on. As you increase running time, continue minimizing the walking interval, working up to a 3-mile run.

Cross Training

To stay far away from physical therapy, all new runners must cross train. A high impact sport, running can be taxing on the joints. Alternate your running days with sports like cycling, swimming or rock climbing. These activities give you a break from running, while helping develop strength and endurance. Feeling stiff the morning after a long run? Grab a mat and do some yoga in your living room. Yoga ignites your upper body, while giving your legs a break from constant pounding on the concrete. As you move through the poses, breathe deeply through your nose to expand your lung capacity.

Runners typically have weak glutes and hips, resulting in injuries such as hip flexor tendonitis or pain in the posterior tibial tendon. Squats, lunges, and bridges are all exercises that strengthen these muscle groups and can be done right in your home–all you need is a few feet of space. And don’t ignore your abdominals! Do at least 15 crunches after each workout, followed by a 30-second plank.

Fueling Up

Don’t let yourself run on fumes. Choose non-processed foods and approach nutrition labels with the skepticism of a supermodel. Did you notice the sneaky 30g of sugar in your protein bar? Instead, go for a Picky Bar. Developed by elite runner Lauren Fleshman, this brand has the running community buzzing with its creative flavors–like “Chai and Catch Me”–and fruit-based sweeteners. But ditching the sugary protein bar doesn’t mean you can skimp on protein. Runners should eat at least one gram of protein per one kilogram of bodyweight. A three-ounce serving of chicken breast, about the size of your palm, has 30g of protein without the artificial components.

If you’re having trouble preparing runner-friendly meals, Run Fast, Eat Slow, co-written by four-time Olympic qualifier Shalane Flanagan and nutrition coach Elyse Kopecky, is a fantastic resource for all runners. The book stresses “indulgent nourishment,” with recipes for dishes like “High-Altitude Bison Meatballs” or “Pecan Butter Chocolate Truffles.”

Recovery

Take recovery days once or twice a week. It’s easy to start neglecting rest days as your running improves. But if you ran on Monday and cross trained on Tuesday, take a break on Wednesday. Put your rest day in the middle of the week to avoid training several days in a row.

On recovery days, stretch and ice any aches or pains. Use a foam roller to speed up muscle recovery and target problem areas. If you haven’t used a foam roller before, YouTube is a great resource to learn about proper form. Using the Groupon app, treat yourself to a discounted massage or relax in the hot tub at a local YMCA. These methods help rest sore muscles, giving them the TLC they deserve.

Race Day

The day is finally here! Turn up your favorite tunes and get pumped up. Race day breakfast should be light–try oatmeal. The last thing you want is an upset stomach for 3.1 miles. Arrive on site at least an hour early to warm up and scope out the area. From one runner to another, befriend the porta potties. Your first race is nerve-wracking, so get ready for many anxious pees.

The first half mile might feel like a breeze but come mile two, you may be demoralized. Perhaps your knees feel rigid or you’re unable to zone out and enjoy yourself. That’s OK! High-five the runners around you and feed off their energy. You’re crossing a new finish line in your life. Concentrate on that accomplishment.