5k races are some of the most popular running events in the country. Parkruns every weekend are available in over 1,600 locations globally, and there are plenty of fun alternatives, so you’re bound to sign up to one soon enough. Here are our top tips for training and race-day:
1. Warm-Up & Warm-Down
Whether you’re a running beginner, or you’re pushing for a new PB, 5k runs pose a high injury risk due to people not respecting the distance or by pushing too hard. Before every run, you should do a gentle warm-up jog and then do some dynamic stretches, including lunges, heel-kicks, high knees, jumping jacks, and sideways skips. This will make sure that all the little muscles are ready for the challenge ahead.
Warming down is just as important, and easy to skip when you’re tired after a run. But stretching out your calves, hamstrings, and glutes properly after a 5k run will make a massive difference in preventing injuries, and will help in recovery so you can head out for another training run sooner.
2. Build up the distance
Although you’re not training towards a marathon, it’s not necessary to run the full 5k on your first training run. The reason ‘Couch to 5k’ has been so successful recently is because it doesn’t demand too much too soon. If you are building fitness, a couple of shorter 1-2k runs will get your heart pumping and wake up your leg muscles. You can even alternate between running for 5 minutes and walking for 2 minutes, and then work towards a continuous 5k run.
5k races tend to be high intensity runs, as opposed to long-distance events which require steady jogging. Rather than just pushing yourself flat out, though, there are some technique tweaks that can be made, which will help keep you springing forwards, improve posture, and prevent against injury:
- make sure to engage your core and keep your upper body straight
- pump your arms
- push your hips forward, and try to land your feet beneath your hips rather than too far ahead
- visualise the road coming up to meet and support your feet rather than your feet hitting down into the road
4. Interval Training
Once you’ve built up the distance to the full 5k, and you’re confident with your technique, you can start improving your speed. Interval training is really useful for this, and it can often be a good idea to head to your local running track. Sessions might look like one of the following:
- 500m warm up; 3x400m sprints with 2 min rest in between; 1x800m push; 500m warm down. Total distance: 3,000m
- 400m warm up; 5x200m push alternating with 5x200m gentle jog; 400m warm down. Total distance: 2,800m
- 300m warm up; 1km race pace, 2km gentle pace, 1km race pace; 300m warm down. Total distance: 4,600m
These distances can change as you get fitter, and you might also choose to work according to time instead of distance.
5. Sustainable Pace
It’s important that you know what your standard pace is. Settle into a good rhythm, where your heart-rate and breath are sustainable. It is unlikely that you’ll be able to push for the entire 5k, so you’ll need to pace your race. Don’t come speeding out of the blocks and waste all of your energy early on. Use your training to discover what a manageable pace is, and stay there for the first 3km or so of the race, and then push for the final 2km. Like all professional runners, you should aim to be running negative splits i.e. your final kilometres should be faster than your first couple.
An energy bar or banana 40 minutes or so before a race will give you time to digest and for the energy still to be there. You want to avoid anything too high in fibre close to the race, because this might give you stomach cramps. Work out what works for you well ahead of race day. It’s also important to stay hydrated with water or energy drinks before, during and after a race. You also want to focus on recovery: have something high in protein within 20 minutes of exercise to repair your muscles, and replenish your blood sugar with a treat. You’ve earned it.