The beginning of the year is a good time to set new goals for fitness – the more specific, the better. One specific goal many people find motivating (and fun) is a walk/run event.

Signing up for a tangible event that is the culmination of weeks of training not only provides motivation through the daily grind of workouts at the fitness center, but offers a reward for following through on your commitment.

Regardless of your perceived fitness level, walk/run events are challenging, and require preparation. Choosing an event in the spring or early summer will give you plenty of time to train from 4-9 weeks, depending on your current fitness level. For your first event, make it something especially fun, perhaps one that benefits a favorite charity or cause. Find an event that offers plenty of support, motivation, and –most of all– some sweet swag such as a medal or customized t-shirt you’ll be able to commemorate it with.

The following are a few guidelines for the best experience as you prepare for your first fun walk event.

#1: Formulate a Training Plan.

If you’re already comfortable walking for 20 minutes at a time, you may be able to train for a 5K (3.1 miles – the typical distance for walk/runs) in as little as 4 weeks. On the other hand, if you’re completely new to walking, you may want to give yourself a full 2+ months to prepare…so start now. For most people, 3-4 walks a week will probably suffice. Every 5-10 days, increase the duration of your longest walk. For instance, if you’re used to walking for 20 minutes, start by making one of your sessions 25-30 minutes, and increase your longest (and shortest) walks by 5 minute increments. If the fun walk is 5K, your goal is to able to walk for about 45 minutes straight (which equals an average 15-minute mile).

Although a simple plan like the one described is more than sufficient for your first event, you may want to recruit help in creating an effective training plan. This might be a friend, a plan provided by the event itself, or any number of online programs or apps, such as the popular “Couch to 5K.”

#2: Track Your Workouts.

This could be as simple as writing it down, or as official as using an app or fitness tracking device. Whichever method you use, seeing your progression on paper will give you a better overall idea of how you’re doing.

#2: Train with a Friend.

A friend might have been the reason you signed up for your first fun walk in the first place. In any case, the more people you can share the experience with, the better! Encourage a few friends to do the event with you, and set up training ‘dates’ 1-2 times a week. For even more fun, participate fully in themed events by designing outfits you can wear the day of the event.

#3: Vary Your Rate and Route.

For the best preparation, learn everything you can about the event-day course. Is it flat? Hilly? Dirt? Gravel? If the course includes particular challenges, incorporate at least a few of those elements into your training. In addition to one distance stretcher, try to fit in at least one harder workout each week – whether hills, speed intervals, or a change of terrain. If you do most of your training on a treadmill at the health club, change the elevation or choose different workout settings. When you walk outside, choose different routes to keep yourself engaged in your surroundings.

Follow these three tips, and your first fun walk will be a great experience you’ll want to repeat again and again.