Top 10 Tips for Running a 5K

Learn Get-Fit Guy’s top 10 tips for how to train for a 5K and how to successfully race a 5K.

Ben Greenfield
6-minute read
Episode #134

Top 10 Tips for Running a 5K

Aah, spring is in the air. And with spring comes running – especially the extremely popular 5K run, which is perfect for beginners who want to get their running chops and also for advanced runners who want to lay down some PR’s or do some speed training for a longer distance like the marathon.

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Training for and racing in a 5K run can also be a perfect way to add motivation to a stale workout, to spend more time outside in the spring and summer months, and even shed a few extra pounds for shorts and t-shirts season.

See also: Is Running Bad for You?

But it can certainly be intimidating to know exactly what to do to get ready for a 5K and what to expect during the race, especially if it’s your first event. So in this episode, you’re going to get my top 10 Quick and Dirty Tips for running a 5K – and even you running veterans may pick up a thing or two.

But before we get into this episode, here’s a quick reminder:

Remember to join the live interactive Belly Burn Project launch with my fellow Quick and Dirty Tips expert, the Mighty Mommy. The event is this Friday, April 19 at 9am, Pacific time (that’s 11am Central time and 12pm Eastern). If you join us for this fitness event, you’ll get access to a customized 12-week fat loss plan to shed that belly fat, along with exercise videos, photos, and instructions. So there’s no guesswork – just follow the roadmap to Belly Burning and track your results alongside Mighty Mommy in her quest to get her pre-baby body back on track.

You can attend for FREE by clicking here, but don’t worry –if you can’t make it live to interact in real time and ask your questions, we’ll make the recording available for you at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.

And now, here are the Top 10 Tips for Running a 5K:

  1. Register for the 5K. It may sound simple, but if you reserve a spot and pay for your 5K, you will automatically gain more incentive to train. Knowing that your name is on the registration list or that your friends know you signed up for the race will really energize you, so take the first step and find a race. Depending on how fit you are right now, 1-3 months is sufficient time to prepare. Check the website Active.com, your local running club website, newspaper, or outdoors magazine for a list of events in your area.

  2. Train 3 times a week. You don’t have to run every day! Just 3 times a week is fine. For example, one day can be your "fast day," in which you either walk or run a short distance at a very fast pace. Begin with 1/4 mile at a fast pace, and gradually add to the distance until you can run or walk very fast for a mile. Another day can be a "strength day," in which you walk or run at a moderate intensity up a steep hill, series of hills, or stirs. Begin with 1-2 hill repeats, and gradually work yourself up to 5-10. Finally, include an easier "endurance day" in which you go long and slow, without pushing yourself too hard. On these days, begin at about 1-2 miles, and gradually work yourself up to 3-4 miles. For more tips on increasing your running speed, check out my episode How to Run Faster.

  3. Combine walking and running. If you feel completely exhausted during your training, then attempt a brisk series of walks instead of a steady jog or run. Use a landmark, a telephone pole for instance, and walk to one pole, then jog to the next. You'll eventually increase your endurance, and this can make the training easier, both mentally and physically. For more on this type of run-walk protocol, check out the episode How to Start Running.

  4. Cross-train. You'll improve your endurance and oxygen capacity, strengthen your joints and ligaments, and allow your body to have a break from the impact of fast walking or running if you include something other than simply pounding the pavement in your routine. Try adding one bike ride and one swim or elliptical trainer workout into your routine, preferably in between your walking/running days.

  5. Lift weights. Resistance training is also a great way to strengthen the supporting ligaments and tendons while building up resistance to injury. It also gives you a step up in your fat burning hormones. Try a full body program, with 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions, performed 2-3 days a week. For a good full body workout program, check out my Huffington Post article on becoming a better athlete.

  6. Stretch. Anytime you increase walking or running volume, certain muscles in your body tend to get tighter. Your primary flexibility focus should be on the muscles of the upper leg: the hip flexors and the hamstrings, and also the calf muscles of the lower leg. While a yoga class will do an OK job stretching these muscles, you’d be better off doing a dynamic flexibility routine that includes lots of marching, lunging, sideways stepping, and front and side leg swings – and even some foam rolling. Here’s a good dynamic stretch routine.

  7. Warm-up before the 5K. If you feel like performing your 5K at a faster pace, a warm-up becomes very important, since it allows your body to attain a higher intensity without as much "burn." To warm-up for your 5K, perform an easy jog for 2-3 minutes, then include a few short 20-45-second efforts at a fast pace, with full recoveries between each. Try to finish your warm-up within 5 minutes before the race begins.

  8. Don't eat too much before the race. A simple small meal about 2-3 hours before the race will allow you to sufficiently digest your fuel, but still have energy for the event. If you tend to get hungry directly before runs, try a small pick-me-up, like half a banana or a small handful of raisins just 5-10 minutes before the race. Don’t worry about eating too much – your body has more than enough fuel on board to get you through a 5K! And if you tend to get the butterflies in your stomach, avoid excessive fiber, like smoothies or big bowls of cereal or oatmeal. You don't want to be on the toilet when the race starts!

  9. Don't feel performance pressure during the race. Many people simply walk their first 5K. Others combine walking and running. If you’re new to this, don’t impose any expectations on yourself. So relax, have fun, and perform at a pace that is comfortable for you and allows you to have a big smile on your face at the finish line (or at least a minute or so after you’ve crossed the finish line).

  10. Pace your race. Depending on how fast you walk or run, expect the 5K to last anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes (although very fast individuals can complete the 5K in under 15 minutes!) I recommend you split it up like this: walk or run the first few minutes fast (you’ll get caught up in the crowd), then settle into a sustainable pace until you hit the 2-mile marker. Then gradually push yourself to the 3 mile mark, and then for those last couple of hundred yards, go as hard as you can. Just remember to wipe that drool off your face before you cross that finish line so you look good in the post-race photos!

Most newspapers do a great job listing local 5K events, and many gyms have postings on an event board or local racing magazine. It's easy to find a 5K, even easier to register, and now you know how to train, how to pace, and how to eat for your 5K. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and run!

See also: Best Diet for Endurance Athletes

Remember, the first live webinar of the Mighty Mommy/Get-Fit Guy Belly Burn Project is Friday, April 19, at 9am PST (11am Central and 12 noon Eastern). You can attend for free by clicking here, but don’t worry – even if you can’t make it live to interact in real time and ask your questions, we’ll make the recording available for you at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy. You can also head over to the Facebook page now to ask your questions about how to run a 5K!

Man Running image from Shutterstock

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.