For many runners, the almighty marathon often hogs the bucket list, but don’t underestimate the value of shorter events such as the 5k. Perfect for beginners, the 5k lets newbies gear up to race readiness in as little as eight weeks, with far less wear and tear on the body. Being able to shoot for a run goal that’s not half a year away, often brings with it the motivation to keep running for life. For more experienced runners, training for a 5k is a great way to develop speed and strength and race tactic skills.
If you love to race, then the 5k is a perfect distance, as they are events that are held frequently and you can find a local race almost every weekend during running season. And with just a few days of recovery, you’ll be fresh enough to start training again, while a marathoner will need a few more weeks or months of recovery before pinning on a race number.
One of the overwhelming positives of training for a 5k is that it won’t eat up all your free time. Most of the sessions take less then 45 minutes, and weekend long runs won’t exceed an hour. So, whether you’re a beginner looking to cross your first finish line or a veteran wanting to pick up the speed, training for a 5k is the way to go if you still want to have time and energy for the rest of your life.
You can easily train for a 5k with 3 run days a week, which gives you time for 2-3 strength sessions – which is important for folks over 40. You can fill out your day with cross training activities that you love: one to two days of cross-training, which give your body a rest from the impact of running while still maintaining aerobic conditioning. Choose activities that complement running and can be sustained for 30 to 60 minutes, such as cycling, hiking, swimming, pool running or using the elliptical trainer in the gym.
5 Tips for Racing the 5k
1. Eat just enough. You don’t need to over focus on carbs before race-day. With the high intensity of a 5k effort, any undigested food might cause cramps and or other GI distress. But don’t run on an empty stomach, either, which can cause low energy, hunger and even light-headedness. Try a light meal of mostly carbs about one to two hours before training sessions. A half bagel or piece of toast with a little peanut butter should do the trick. Try different pre-race meals during training and stick to what works for you on race day.
2. Warm up. Perform at least 15 minutes of easy running before a race, followed by four to six 15-second strides (speed up and increase your leg turnover to race pace), to prepare your muscles and mindset. Cool down well after the race and don’t forget to do some stretching and mobility.
3. Don’t go out too fast. Even though it seems short, a 5k is not a sprint. It’s an endurance event and needs to be paced as such. If you start too fast for your fitness level, you’ll find yourself having to slow down after the first kilometre to recover from the lactic acid build up.
4. Break it up. Mentally divide the race into three one-mile segments. Mile one goes by quickly and the focus is on being quick, but not going out too fast for your fitness. Mile two focus on finding your rhythm and sustaining your pace. Over the last mile, really zero in on maintaining your pace and holding good form, even as you get tired.
5. Be tough. With speed comes discomfort. Embrace this “good” pain as a sign you’re reaching your athletic potential. As the discomfort grows, stay relaxed and focussed only on running. Remember how strong you are and that the pain just means you’re pushing yourself to your upper limits. And it will all be worth it.
While there still may be a marathon in your future, you won’t regret honing your skills over the 5k distance, and spending time strength training and building a robust mental and physical toolbox is worth it!
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.