How to Prepare for Your 5K Race

By Rick Morris

There are a lot of 5K race out there. The 5K distance is the most common and popular race distance. You can find a nearby 5K nearly every week of the year. During the warmer spring, summer and fall running seasons you probably have your choice of many weekly races. Since these shorter 5K distance events are so plentiful you take your 5K preparation for granted. It’s true that you need more race day preparation for a longer run, such as a marathon, but you should still take some steps to properly prepare for your 5K race.

Taper?-Not Really

Some runners perform a week long taper or decrease in mileage and intensity before a 5K. Do you need a taper for a 5K race? Not really. A taper is intended to allow your body to recover and strengthen from a long and hard training period so you go into your race at full strength. A long taper is critical for longer races such as marathons or even half marathons, but you really don’t need a long taper for the shorter 5K races. You should avoid long or hard workouts a day or two before your race, but if you engage in a long taper you could end up losing your sharpness on race day. So take it easy for a day or two, but no long tapers.

Z Power

While you don’t need a long taper to prepare for your 5K race, you do want to go into your race at full strength. The best way to do that is get in your Z’s the night before the race. Skip the late night partying and hit the sack early.

Soak it Up

If you want to run your best 5K possible you don’t want to lose any time at all. The 5K is such a short and fast race that any delays can throw off your goal pace. That means avoiding water stops if at all possible. Make sure you are full hydrated before you start your race so you won’t need a water stop. If the temperatures are high, soak your head and upper body with cooling water.  Of course there are always times you may need to make a water stop, such as hot or humid race conditions. You must avoid dehydration or heat related problems. But, soak it up before the race both inside and out to avoid unnecessary water stops.

Don’t Overfill the Tank

One of my pet peeves as a running coach is the belief that you need to carbo load before a short race. The purpose of carbo loading is to maximize the glycogen stores in your body for long marathon or ultra marathon races where glycogen depletion becomes a factor. You are not going to run out of carbs or glycogen in a 5K race. Overeating or overfilling your fuel tank before a 5K race will only make you sluggish or even ill. So eat a normal dinner the night before and a very light breakfast the day of your race. Better yet, simply follow the same eating pattern you did during your training.

Dynamic Instead of Static

You need a warm up before your 5K, but nothing extreme. Begin with some light jogging to loosen up. Then improve your functional range of motion with some dynamic warm up drills or stretches. Avoid the static stretching before your race. Pre race static stretching can be a cause of both poor performance and injury. Finish your warm up with some strides.

Line it Up

There’s more to lining up than just walking to the starting area. Make sure you line up in proper position. If you are a faster runner stay towards the front so you aren’t blocked by slower runners. On the other hand, if your are more of a middle of the packer, stay in the middle of the starting block. If you line up in front, not only will you interfere with faster runners, but the fast starting flow will tend to “pull” you along with it at a pace that is too fast. You may ending crashing and burning before the end of the race.

Focus In

Stay focused at the start of the race. Being fully focused is important for both performance and safety. If you lose concentration during the sometimes hectic and congested start of the race you could end up tripping and falling. Poor concentration can also result in poor pace and a consequential poor finish.