By Dr. R. Lee Franco, Department of Health & Human PerformanceA version of this blog post originally appeared in CHoR’s Spring 2013 TidBits NewsletterSpring Tidbits-Web In general, today’s lifestyles are very different than they were 30 years ago. Gone are the days when the majority of children walked to school and had both recess and a gym class daily. Gone are the days when children roamed neighborhoods playing until dinner. Add this to a drastic change in nutrition, where food portions are larger, snacks are provided more often, and sodas have exploded as an alternative to milk or water. All of these factors lead to a combination that disrupts one’s energy balance, resulting in more calories consumed than spent.Increasing physical activity has become a priority for many families, and the opportunity to engage in activities together is appealing in many ways. Communities and organizations have helped by organizing race events ranging from the 5K (3.1 miles) to the marathon (26.2 miles). Over 10 million individuals completed one of these road races last year, with over 40 percent participating in the 5K, the most popular racing distance.With over 17,000 running events in the United States yearly, it’s not hard to find a local 5K that both children and parents can participate in together. If you follow the right steps, training can be a relatively fun and easy process as well.Here are five simple steps to help you and your family prepare for a 5K race:1. Mental preparation: For a non-runner, the thought of running three miles straight can be enough to stop you from even starting to train. Train over a period of eight weeks and break the distance into smaller steps to help you accomplish small goals one at a time with less stress. For example, during the first two weeks of training, consider completing 1k (0.62 miles).2. Finishing is what matters: The goal isn’t to break a record, it’s to finish. Having a training schedule that incorporates the combination of a walk/run can decrease the physical and mental stress that may cause you to feel something can’t be done. For example, break your training into three-minute sections: run for two minutes/walk for one minute, continuing this sequence until you finish your set distance. Monitor your running pace (how fast you run) by always being able to hold a casual conversation at your pace of choice.3. Nutrition: Just like the right gasoline is needed for your car, the right food makes a difference in how we perform. Fruits, vegetables, and foods that contain whole grains or non-hydrogenated, unsaturated fats help your body store the proper fuels to provide energy during physical activity. Additionally, aim for a moderate-size meal 2-3 hours before any run. If you don’t have 2-3 hours before a run, decrease the size of your meal. It’s also important to eat something immediately after a run. Waiting longer than 30 minutes can impact how much fuel is stored for the next day’s activities.4. Rest & return: The human body recovers and adapts to training runs during periods of rest. The proper amount of rest is always a balance. It’s necessary to make sure you get a good night’s sleep and take breaks, but try not to take more than two days off in a row. Too much time off negatively affects the body’s ability to change over time so that training becomes easier each week.5. Listen to your body: During times of running, our legs and feet may feel sore or produce pain. This can be due to our muscles responding to a higher work load or in response to an injury. If we continue running while feeling pain, our risk for serious injury will increase. Soreness will usually go away after a couple of days, so take a short period of time off for recovery. If you continue to feel pain after a couple days rest, try icing the area and taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Consult with a doctor if pain persists for more than a week. It’s important to remember that we all have bad days when training. It’s normal. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be running. When all is said and done, you want to make sure that you cross the finish line with a smile.Ready and motivated to sign-up for a Richmond area walk/run? Register for Children’s Hospital Foundation 4-Mile Walk/Run on September 21 at CHoR Brook Road Campus by visiting chfrace.orgDr. Franco teaches sports nutrition at VCU and works with the Healthy Lifestyles Center’s T.E.E.N.S. (Teaching, Encouragement, Exercise, Nutrition and Support) Weight Management Program as an exercise physiologist consultant. He recently led a group of TEENS participants in training for their first 10K.