Tip #1

Make the Commitment – Congratulations! You’ve just performed the second most important task in road racing – clicking the mouse and registering for the event. (Completing the race will serve as the most important task) This commitment on your part does two things – it spurs action on your behalf, and it puts you in a position to begin taking the steps necessary to complete your best 5k.

We advise you to dedicate at least 3 runs per week to your 5k training. That should be the minimum. If you can or want to add in additional runs, that will help. Do not run every day of the week, one day should be designated as a rest day from running. In the first week, decide which days and times best fit your schedule. Some prefer the mornings while others look to end their day with a run. The race is in the morning, so some familiarity with running early will be helpful. In South Florida’s heat, middle of the day running is not the best approach for a 5k event. Make sure you have run shoes that fit comfortably and have some cushioning left. Trying to squeak a few more miles out of worn shoes can lead to sore knees, ankles, and hips. We will address the 3 best workouts that you should be using in next week’s tips. For this first week, feel good about entering this event and shake the cobwebs off. Find running routes you’re comfortable with and let the training begin!

Tip #2

Your Main Three Runs – To prepare for your race, we suggest incorporating these three elements into your running each week:

  1. Run for Speed
  2. Run with Power
  3. Run for Distance

This means that you should dedicate one run per week to each of the three above concepts. You can do additional runs if your schedule permits. Here is the reasoning behind the three types of training runs…

Run for Speed – Each week, you should have a run that you perform over a given distance while timing your effort. You can look to first maintain the same speed over that distance, then to improve the speed a small amount each week. Since you are training for a race, don’t allow your body’s first “race effort” to occur the morning of the event. This does not mean that your speed training is as fast as your race day effort but noticeably faster than you would deem comfortable. You will be somewhat uncomfortable going fast on race day, make sure you practice this once per week.

Run with Power – There’s no secret here, a stronger engine will deliver a better performance. Your legs will develop more power by giving them a workout that concentrates on harder than normal exertion. Three good examples of this would be to find a hill to run up repetitively (Our intracoastal bridges are a good place), or use stairs or school bleachers for repeated runs up and down. The third option would be to use a treadmill and its incline setting, best for rainy weather or midday workouts. Putting in quality time building strength will aid your efforts to run the 5k distance well.

Run for Distance – This one is really important! For your legs and your mind, it’s important that the 5k distance (3.1 miles) is not daunting or intimidating. Many high school coaches condition their young runners to become used to running between 4-6 miles in order to compete at the 5k distance. Once a week, look to run at a comfortable pace with a goal of increasing your distance to get to between 5 and 6 miles before your 5k race. You will be filled with confidence on race day when you “only” have to go 3.1 miles to finish.

Tip #3

Lungs vs. Legs

The 5k distance is challenging. You’ll see the best runners in the world collapse as they exhaust all of their effort getting to the finish line. How on earth can we possibly train for this? From a first-timer to the weekend warrior right up to the local running stars, the end result is determined by your preparation. How closely can you mimic to what’s going to happen and what you’re going to feel like? Wouldn’t it be great if you knew the truth about the 5k?

(World class athletes gasping for air at the conclusion of a 5k)

The truth: The 5000 meters or 5k is a demanding distance because it taxes your legs and your lungs. If we were training for a short sprint, pure leg speed would be our limiting factor. In the 5k, your limiting factor will almost always be your rate of breathing. Seldom do you see someone finish a 5k and find themselves physically unable to walk back to their car after catching their breath. More common are folks that give their all to get to the finish and find they couldn’t go another 200 feet to the next streetlight. They have tapped out all of their lung capacity. Once they catch their breath, they are fine chatting about the race and usually conspiring with friends when they can run another one to better their time!

Refer back to our previous tips where we covered the three types of training runs you’ll encounter. That will prepare your legs for the speed and the distance. Mentally, you need to get used to the uncomfortable feeling of being out of breath. Your speed workouts will simulate this. A good idea is to practice running at your desired race pace to get the “rhythm” of your breathing while your legs are doing their job. Each person’s pace and breathing are unique. You will discover what is comfortable and where you find yourself thinking “How much longer can I sustain this?”

The best takeaway from this tip is to be involved mentally when your training involves breathing above what you’re used to on a normal run. Ideally, you should break your race into several segments. Each one of the three miles should be taken independently. “I cannot empty my tank too soon, but I have to keep my foot on the gas to finish well” should be your mindset when the race begins. If you’ve done your training properly, the first two miles will be work that you can handle. The third mile you’ll be at a point of strain, you’re really working hard now. You’ll be concentrating on breathing, keeping your pace and convincing yourself NOT TO STOP. That last bit, the .1 of the 3.1 miles when you can see the finish line – is your final kick. This is “empty the tank” time!

Knowing what your breathing feels like when tested is something you will work on while training for your race. You will benefit tremendously in your confidence and performance when you know what your legs and lungs are capable of. Think this way during your training!

Tip #4

Know the course

If you’d like to increase your confidence for race day, this tip will serve you well! If you can become familiar with the running route and race morning surroundings, you’ll have a better experience at your event.  Below are some ideas that work for any run event you may enter.

Since you have a few weeks before the race, why not do a training run on the course? The race organizers publish a course map, allowing you to see where the mile markers (1, 2 and 3) are positioned. You will know the turns, the long straightaways, and where the run finishes including the last dash to the finish line. If you can survey the route beforehand either on foot, a bicycle or by car, you will have a better feeling about the race.

On race morning, realize that some people have never been to the site before. They won’t know where to park, pick up their race number, use the restroom facilities, etc. If you’re lined up behind them, that’s extra stress you’d rather not spend. Be sure to arrive earlier than you believe is necessary on the morning of the 5k. This is NOT a good day for the “snooze” button! If you put yourself in a position to park nearby, visit the restroom, and be ready to go before the masses, you’ll be able to concentrate on the running. Wouldn’t that be better?

You can learn plenty from touring the course route. You have trained at distances of 3 or more miles by now, so being able to equate the feeling of, “This is what I feel like at Mile #2” will be helpful. If you have the luxury of being able to run or ride the course in the morning, similar to race time, even better! Learning if there are shady or sun-exposed portions can help you decide if you’re going to wear a visor, sunglasses, or both. Why wait until race morning to discover these little things? Get them in your head now – those are confidence boosters!

The mental side of knowing the course allows you to “simulate” or visualize what things will be like race morning. As you continue training, you can tell yourself, “Here is where I make the final turn towards the finish line, I know I’ll be breathing hard, but I also know I’m so close, be strong!” Most folks won’t have this point of reference. Look at the course map, visit the course and give yourself an advantage that does not come from a gym or nutritional source. Your confidence will rule the day! 

Tip #5

Test Your Progress

How is your training going? If you’ve followed our tips, you should learn a few things about your running and fitness level. Next, we want you to “dip a toe in the water” and get an idea of where you are realistically for your 5k race.

For runners at any distance, you can get a good gauge on where your fitness level and training are at by performing a workout that will test your speed. The 800-meter (approx. 1/2 mile) distance test is commonly used for runners of the 5k all the way to the marathon. It is long enough for you to have to work to maintain the desired pace, yet short enough that you won’t have to run a full 5k to see how you’re doing. Here’s how it works:

Below we’ve attached a pace chart. Find your goal 5k finish time or close to it, which is displayed in the third column. Match that with the pace per mile you need to run to achieve that goal, which is in the first column. For example, see how a pace of 9:00 minutes per mile will yield a 5k finish time of 27:58. Your benchmark “mini-test” workout for this week is to run the 800 meter (1/2/mile) distance at your race pace. And do this six times.

How do you ask? First, find a safe place to mark off the distance. A park or quiet streets work best. You can run 2 laps around a high school track, that is 800 meters. You can use a bicycle (or car) and a smartphone to mark off ½ mile of distance on the road for your test. When you have established an 800-meter course, warm up with a one-mile jog. Then run and time your first 800-meter interval. Rest approximately the same amount of time as that interval took, or less, in between intervals. Then start again. Do not let your heart rate come back to normal by resting too long! Your goal is to keep all 6 intervals at the pace you’ll need to reach your race day goal. Don’t try to go too fast on the first one, you want your final one to be the same pace. Once you have done the 6 intervals, do a slow mile cool down to finish the workout.

Although not an exact science, the 800-meter repeats will show you how far your training has taken you. Were you able to keep the pace for all 6-time trials? Good, maybe your next two weeks will have you increase your speed and adjust your goal to be a quicker time. If you were unable to keep the goal pace on the later intervals, you have time to adjust your training. If you couldn’t keep the goal pace for any of the intervals, you may have selected a goal pace that is currently too fast for the upcoming 5k.

It is commonly said that “You can’t fake fitness.” This means that what you have put forth in the preparation is what you can hope to see come out on race day. This test of your training is a good way to see what is happening and how far you’ve come. Although not a guarantee, if you did well with the half dozen intervals at your goal pace, you’re looking very good for the 5k. If you need to improve, there is still time to get more good running done prior to the event. Stay on your plan and keep that goal in sight. Because whatever time you earn the morning of the race will always be next to your name… let’s make it a good one!

Tip #6

Comfortable Gear

To get ready for your race, it’s important to consider and plan for the gear you will bring and wear on race morning. Looking good and matching outfits are very important to some, but even more crucial is the functionality of your apparel. Here are some practical things to decide on before you drive to the 5k…

Starting with the obvious – your running shoes. You should use a pair you have already run with in training. This means that if you want to sport a new set of colorful shoes on race morning, make the purchase now and get a run or two done in those shoes. If you use inserts or footbed products, make sure they fit in the new shoes and are comfortable. You don’t want to learn otherwise while standing at the start line. Lacing your shoes in a manner that does not allow them to untie is something you can also practice between now and race day. Some like the reliable “double knot,” while other people prefer tucking the looping bow ends of the knot down into the lace pattern of your shoe. Get this right before the run on Saturday!

Select socks that fit well inside your shoes. They come in many thicknesses, so try this out beforehand. Your running shorts should be comfortable. Some prefer the classic running split shorts, available in a variety of lengths. Many run shorts have a zip pocket for storage. The compression gear fabrics also work well, but these do not allow for you to run with a car key fob or your phone if you choose to carry that. For the upper body, it’s advisable here in South Florida to dress for a warm morning. This means a sleeveless running singlet or lightweight short sleeve shirt for guys. Ladies can use the same and/or a running sports bra. Doing one test workout in the clothes you plan to race in proves to be a good idea. A common belief among new runners is that you have to run in the event shirt provided for the race. Not true! Pick something you like and try it before the race. The “looks great in the mirror” test isn’t always enough.

On top, you have to decide if you’d like to wear a hat, a visor, or sunglasses. Some justify and prefer wearing nothing on their head. Knowing the intensity of the sun and what it feels like running directly into it on a long straightaway, my recommendation is to be prepared for that! A visor or glasses will also help if you get any rain on the race day. As a general rule, those annoying pellets of water in the eyes do not help one’s 5k time.

The final things to consider would be your watch or smart band for self-timing, don’t forget to leave that next to your car keys on race morning. You race number or bib should be fastened on yourself or your clothes in one of three methods. You can use the safety pins provided at most events to attach it to your top. (Expert tip: Do this at home if you pickup your race packet early, or bring some safety pins to avoid the craziness of trying to discover where the one box race officials provide is hiding) You can use a race belt – an adjustable lightweight strap for your waist that has snaps or tie-ons to hold your number. The final and newest option is called Race Dots. These are small hi-powered magnets sold in quantities of four that will hold your bib on your shirt without requiring you to poke holes and risk tearing expensive workout gear. Neat idea and they do work well.

If you’ll take a small bit of time to think about and address these gear related items, your 5k race will be less stressful once you arrive at the event. Your training is almost set, next tip we’ll give you some things to think about as the race draws near.

Tip #7

Mental Preparation

As you get close to the race, there aren’t many things you can do to “speed up” or condition your body to improve. There is one thing, however, that can pull all of your efforts together. Think positively. To be mentally strong will reinforce the physical training you’ve done. Here are good tidbits to remember and think about before the event:

  • Trust the formula – If you have done the training, in many cases you will see positive results. Understand that the weather, a spoiled stomach, or a fussy child needing your attention on race morning can toss a wrench into any race plan, which is why we say “many cases.” Like a checking account, the training you’ve done acts like deposits, they have made your account rich with resources. To run the race is like cashing the check – sufficient “available funds” will bring a smile and a good race time!
  • Ignore the distractions – Don’t be distracted by others. Your performance is a measure of your fitness level on that day. Everyone is hoping for the best with no guarantees. Ideally, you’ll be happy with a time and effort that shows your improvement. If your effort that day results in beating a rival or winning an award, great. You’re lining up to do YOUR best based on YOUR standards. Anything can happen, so running the race is the fun and exciting part. Look forward to the experience. It’s not about who else is racing or past performances. This race is for you!
  • Visualize success – A most powerful tool you can use at any time is to see yourself doing well in your 5k. Would you pay to see a movie of yourself having a wonderful race and having things really work out well? Take a few moments to envision what the start area will look like – an excited crowd of people waiting to run. What would it look like to see yourself coming through the first mile at your perfect pace? See that. You can write the script and play the director in your own show – watch yourself running well, finishing strong, and being very satisfied afterward. Your mind does not know the difference between doing and thinking, so feed it a storyline that has you as the star in your race! So many accomplished athletes have sharpened this skill and credit visualization as a “must do” before every event. You can do this anytime, as many times as you’d like. Admission is always free.

Build your race day attitude starting now, a few days before the run. If you can mentally exercise a few of the tips that have proven to help others, you’ll benefit. It has been said that in every race you have the opportunity to leave with a new personal record (P.R.) or learn a lesson. Obviously, lessons are more common, that’s why many runners use a log book where they can jot down little things from each race to remember and review for next time. Maybe this is you, starting a running log for this race. This way you can take all that you’ve done and parlay it into a fun and rewarding morning on the course. Stay positive and get ready to enjoy the 5k.

Tip #8

Race Day Prep

Here we are – the final ideas you can use for your race. You’re excited, nervous, thinking of too many things, but most of all, you are ready. It starts with getting good sleep leading up to the event. Before you sleep, lay all of your race gear out on the bed or a table. Include everything you’ll need and wear, including your run shoes, socks, shorts, top, headwear, glasses, race bib, and timing chip. (In some cases, you will only receive your bib and timing chip on race day.) Be sure to have safety pins or a method of attaching the bib to your clothes. Do this early. Better to address this now than to be scrambling around on race day, adding to the swirl of things you need to think about.

Race day is here! Be sure to visit the restroom before leaving home. You’ll probably have to go again once at the race, but get a “controlled visit’ to the potty behind you. Your home or hotel has privacy, no lines, and toilet paper. Cherish these things!

Stick to the routine you’ve used in training. This means that if you ate a gel, had a coffee or just a cup of water before running, keep that habit. Don’t be tempted to experiment with different treats, drinks, socks, or anything new. You know what works from your training runs. The routine and familiarity of little things will work in your favor, I promise!

Arrive at the race site early. There is no benefit to grabbing a few minutes extra sleep on this morning, and if you’re like most, race day will have you anxiously waking before its alarm time anyway. Getting there early gives you easier access to parking, chip and/or bib pickup, porta-potties, etc. You can relax and chat with friends as you watch those who arrive later scramble. The mental advantage of knowing you’re ready is a tremendous feeling.

To prepare for the running, a warmup jog for 7-10 minutes is recommended. Make sure your shoes and clothes feel comfy, you can stop and make adjustments on this warmup if needed. Think about having good stride, slowly testing your pace and getting some big lung-expanding breaths in. When you have completed a warmup, light active stretches will get your legs and upper body ready. Your race will go well if you make the 5k the “middle” of your morning’s exercise, not the very first thing you do. Once you’ve stretched, it’s time to get your lungs ready and open up your breathing. You can do a few (3-4) strides in a straight line where you pick up your pace and then slow to a walk. These strides are usually 100 meters or less, not at full effort. Opening your lungs and matching it with some leg speed will make the start of the race feel WAY better than just starting out cold. You should leave approx. 10 minutes to spare to position yourself at the start line and wait for the race to begin.

Races are sometimes delayed by traffic, road closures, last-minute announcements, and the national anthem among other things. Be in place and ready. Choose a spot that accurately represents your desired pace. Going too close to the front of the start will have you among the fastest runners and maybe starting quicker than you’ve trained for. Know that although the start area may be crowded, within minutes this turns into a manageable string of runners once the race begins.

That’s all! Enjoy the race and chime back on our PBRR Facebook page with your results, thoughts, and observations. Tell us if these tips worked for you! The final piece of advice is to save your race bib. Write race information on the back, the date, your time, overall finishing place, finishing place in your age group, and average pace. These can be kept in a big envelope – you’ll be glad you started this habit years from now.

Good luck and run well!

– Dave Masterson, Palm Beach Roadrunners