Not happy with your current 5K times or looking to improve your performance? Read on for these simple, yet effective 9 Ways to Improve Your 5K Performance.
1) Train with Speed
You won’t be able to run your fastest 5K — or at least as fast as you’d like — if you haven’t trained with speed. Follow a training plan with speedwork to get in shape and work on your speed so your body will be ready and used to running fast during the race.
My favorite ways to train with speed for a 5K are with speed intervals, tempo runs, & fartlek runs. To check out a plan with my running coach, Luke Humphrey (formerly of Hanson’s Marathon Method), just click here. He has plans for runners at every level.
2) Eat Well in the Days Running Up to the Race
Nutrition, for me, is an easy thing to minimize or forget about with a 5K. I’m used to being very particular about what I eat when training and preparing for a marathon, but I’ve learned the hard way that I need to be mindful of what I’m eating before a 5K as well.
You don’t need to go hog wild about carb loading in the days leading up to the race, but make sure to eat plenty of non-processed foods like fruits and vegetables, healthy grains, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats.
The night before the race, you’ll want to eat a normal size portion of a meal heavier in carbohydrates. Nothing crazy, but your body will run better off of carbs than it would, say, ribs (once again, experience. EEK).
And finally, make sure to eat breakfast before the run. Eat quick-digesting carbohydrates. Once again, you don’t have to carbo-load but your body is going to run better off a predominance of carbs than it would protein or fat.
3) Don’t Try or Eat Anything New The Night Before or Morning of the Race
An important follow-up to tip #2. Make sure not to change your diet the night before or morning of the race. So, eat a familiar carb-rich food the night before– ideally one that you’ve eaten before training workouts during your training cycle.
The same thing goes with the morning of. Even if something is a quick digesting carbohydrate, don’t try it if it’s new. It’s not worth messing with the potential consequences. Stick with what you’ve been eating before runs when training (even if that sounds totally boring to you). You can indulge in a brunch with some new, interesting foods after you’ve crushed your race. 🙂
4) Get to the Race Early
This is a big one for me. When I plan on racing a race, I’ve learned that I need to get to a race at least an hour before it starts for the best results. Otherwise, the stress of fitting in picking up my bib, getting to the porta-potties, and running my warm-up can get me stressed out and in an all-around not so great mind frame for my best work.
You want to do all you can to minimize any potential distractions or hiccups that can keep you from running your best race. Being there ahead of time can help you get ahead of or have time to deal with, any unforeseen issues that may arise.
5) Get Enough Rest & Minimize Stress in the Days Leading Up to the Race
Yet another tip I’ve learned the hard way (yes, we’re both seeing a theme here). Stress and lack of sleep can make the difference between a PR and not — or between racing hard comfortably and racing hard and feeling like death.
Do what you can to minimize schedule changes or events that will keep you up later than you usually do in the few nights leading up to the race. If the race is early, practice getting up early the few days before (after going to bed adequately early, that is!). If you’re getting 7-9 hours a sleep — or however much your body needs to really feel rested — and are still feeling tired, try to work in a few afternoon naps in the last few days before the race.
6) Visualize Success
The mental game of running is one I’ve really been zoning in on lately. I’ve seen people who pull similar workout stats with me but race stronger than I do and I’ve seen people who I can run a faster 5K than but they can kill me in the marathon. What gives? I’m determined that it’s the mental strength to race well and a big part of that is visualizing success and staying positive.
Visualize every part of the race — pre-race, during the race, and post race — each situation during race morning and the race, how you will deal with any challenges or discomfort, and how you will feel to overcome these challenges.
For example, for my recent race where I won my age group, I visualized getting to the race on time, having plenty of time for my warm-up, how pumped I would feel before the race, how I would push through and stay on mile 2 when I would start to feel tired, how I would stay positive if someone would pass me, etc. And then — most importantly — I focused on how amazing it would feel to be strategic about my race and stay strong through the challenges that would come my way.
And then, when the challenges came on race day I had already encountered and overcome them in my visualizations. It was that much easier to push through, knowing I’d already done it mentally and remembering how rewarding it would be to do so.
7) Run a Warm-Up and a Cool-Down Before and After the Race
This is one I learned back while running high school track. The 2 mile race was long enough that I needed a decent warm-up but too short to warm-up while running. So, I would run 2 miles before every race.
Same thing goes for 5Ks– I plan on running at least 1.5-2 miles about 30-40 minutes before the race start so my legs are warm by the time the race starts. This way I also have time to get back to the race start before the gun goes off.
8) Set an Exact Goal for Yourself
How are we to achieve a goal if we never set one in the first place? Set specific, but achievable and time-bound goals (in short, SMART goals) while training and leading up to the race.
This goes back and builds off to point #1 — in your training, you work on achieving and working towards the goals, and then during the race, you can evaluate mile by mile how well you are achieving those goals and adjust your performance if need be.
Thank goodness this is a point!! Ever try to run after a super stressful or worrisome event? Chances are that if you weren’t hopped up on adrenaline it wasn’t your best run.
I’ve been there too. The more we can do to relax before a run — running a warm-up with friends, repeating our mantras, going through gratitude lists, and remembering the big picture to name a few — the better chances we have to run loose, relaxed, and strong.
Thanks so much for reading my tips to running a faster 5K! I hope that they are helpful for you. Please let me know what you think of them and let me know if you have any favorite 5K race tips!
Looking for some healthier carb-rich meals when training for your 5K?
Here are some of my favorites:
- One-Pot Orecchiette with Sausage
- Roasted Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad
- Vegan Sweet Potato Hashbrown Burgers
- Quick Mushroom Farro Risotto with Turkey
- Protein Breakfast Cookies