Tips for Running a 5K Race

by Jim Richardson | Last Updated: July 12, 2020

5K races are probably my favourite distance. They within anyone reach with a little training and almost weekly opportunities to put yourself to the test in local races.

My thinking on running a fast 5k has been heavily influenced by this book (I put getting a personal best at the age of 44 down to this)…

If you’re going to do a 5k race these tips will help you to achieve your best performance:

1. Have a training plan and stick to it

Whether you’re training towards your first 5k or want to knock minutes off your time, a training plan is essential.

For couch to 5k, I know many people who’ve had success with the NHS couch to 5k plan. This is free and will get you to the start line ready to go.

If you’re already a regular runner and want to improve your running, the Fast 5K book by Peter Magill is worth reading. In this you’ll find a number of training plans that can help push you to the next level.

2. Run distances longer than a 5K in training

Running 5Ks in training is important, but it is also important to mix it up a bit. Running distances longer than 5 kilometers will improve your endurance and convince your mind that a 5K is easy.

Digging deep during the last stretch of the race will be much easier when you realize you have consistently run much farther than 5 kilometers.

By the same token, if you’re aim is to run 5k, you shouldn’t be doing too many miles. A normal week for me when targeting a better 5k time is 20 miles a week.

3. Map out times and significant points on the course

A great time isn’t super important to most casual 5K runners, but many people set a goal to finish under a certain time. To help you stay on pace to achieve your goal, find out the run route.

Use tools like the Strava app to map out where certain points are on the course. Gain an idea of where the 1km mark is, where the 1.5km mark is, etc. If the course will not have those markings, pick a building or house near the mark and use that as a guide on race day.

Use the pace you want to run and calculate the time you need to be at when you reach each marker. This will help you stay on pace during the race. 

4. Run the course prior to race day

Gaining a feel for the layout of the route can be a great help. You will be more comfortable knowing where you are supposed to make turns and where there are hills, potholes, etc. You can simulate race day conditions and time how long it takes you to run the course.

5. Run with a friend

Having a friend to run with is a tremendous asset. In training, you can hold each other accountable to your fitness plans and push each other to improve. On race day, running with a friend will help provide encouragement to keep pushing towards the goal.

6. Make sure your diet is right

Diet is super important. Throughout training, and especially as race day gets close, you should be focused on eating healthy foods full of nutrients. Fast food and heavily-processed foods will make you sluggish, and you won’t be able to perform at your full potential.

Personally, going Vegan helped me to reach the next level with my running. I’d recommend the No Meat Athlete Cookbook (above).

7. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Proper hydration is absolutely essential. You will likely lose a lot of sweat in training and running and need to make sure you are drinking enough water. 

8. Don’t wear yourself out in the days leading up to the race

People sometimes start to worry that they are not where they want to be with their fitness and train hard to get there in the week leading up to the race.

This is often counterproductive. Training too hard in the days leading up to the race can wear your body out and make your legs sore, inhibiting your ability to perform well on race day. 

If I’m serious about getting a good time in a 5k race, I’ll normally rest for two days prior.

9. Get used to going to bed early and getting up at the time you will need to be up for the race

Most 5Ks take place in the morning, and you will likely have to rise early to have time to get to the location and register. Many people decide to go to bed early the night before the race; however, because their body is not used to going to bed early, they fail to fall asleep right away. This is made worse by nervousness about the race. Try to go to bed early and get up early during training so that your body is used to it. 

10. Have fun

Having fun is the most important part about running a 5K. When you have fun with it, you will be able to accomplish things that you didn’t think you could. Having a friend to train and run with helps you have more fun and get the most enjoyment out of the race. 

For many people, just finishing a 5K is the goal. Others want to be under a certain time or beat their time from last time. Whatever your goal is as a casual 5K runner, use the tips above to help you run at the level you desire. 

Looking for more advice on how to improve your 5k time? As mentioned above I’d recommend the Fast 5K book by Peter Magill.

Affiliate Disclosure: Running Unlimited is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.