How To Race a 5K

5Ks kick my distance runner butt. It is the dreaded, personally less than successful distance of my high school cross country years. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being on the team but I never trained properly prior to the season and, thus, never performed up to my full potential during the season.

I think my personal best was somewhere in the 22 minute range. Just to give you perspective, I run about 7:40-7:55 miles for 7 miles now. When I race 5Ks, I run 6:45-7:00 without actually training for the shorter distance. My thirty-i@nr*tsld#kh year-old self runs faster than my 16 year-old self. Yeah, but I feel like I want to vomit the entire time.

This is probably the last time I raced a 5K. I was a little excited. To be fair, it was in Yankee Stadium.

That’s how those shorter distances go.

You run your guts out for 20-something minutes (or less) and then it’s over. Shorter distances are a completely different beast and racing them requires a strategy all its own.

#1.  Warm up

For most of us, the first several miles of a marathon/half marathon serve as warm-up enough and it’s usually too crowded to run fast at the start of any race. However, in order to reach your full speed during a short distance, you have to warm-up for at least a mile. Why? It’s gets your heart rate going, your muscle fibers twitching and responding, and allows for you to race right out of the gate.

Middle miles racing on the Warning Track of Yankee Stadium. Not bad.

#2.  Strategize

  • Run your first mile at a comfortably fast pace that you practiced during your tempo runs. No faster, no slower.
  • The second mile is where you push a little harder, find that next gear. Don’t kill it just yet, but get those legs moving a tiny bit faster. You want to negative split your miles, but they don’t have to be drastic changes in order to make a big difference.
  • The third mile is where you lay the hammer down. You use your arms to make your legs go faster and increase the speed of your foot turnover. Start picking off people in front of you.
  • When you are a half-mile out, rock it. Get to that place where you are pushing as hard as you can and leave it all out on the course.

Arms up! Big finish! (not really the finish, but it's a fun picture)

#3.  Cool down

You’ve just run really hard and your heart rate and blood pressure are sky-high. You MUST at least walk around, but preferably jog around, after you’ve caught your breath. This will help to loosen your legs and guide your heart rate to a safer place. If you stop, lie down, stand still or otherwise cease moving immediately following high-intensity exercise, you run the risk of having your blood pool and passing out.

Are any of you running shorter distances in the near future? What’s your game plan for these races versus the longer distances? Does your training schedule change at all? Tell me all about it!

Now go out and run.

No Guts, No Glory

“Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.” ~ Alberto Salazar

Sometimes you gotta lay it all out on the line and race. I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself during marathon training season, but I do like to throw one longer race in the mix just to test my speed and race day routine before the BIG marathon (or whatever distance I’m gearing up for) morning. Racing is a key part of training. Here’s why.

When you plan for a race mid-training season, you have the opportunity to test out just about everything for your bigger, longer race. Your food, hydration, clothes, tunes, early morning routine, bathroom breaks, etc. The list is endless! I like to use it as a way of testing out how my nerves will be on marathon morning. Make no mistake about it, friends; I have run probably hundreds of races in my 21 year running career, but I still get the jitters at the start line. I still have trouble sleeping the night before. I still run to the bathroom every chance I get until that gun goes off. Oh, the nerves!

But this isn’t the BIG race. This is a little in-betweener. This is the perfect time to go out and lay down some serious speed. This is the time to perfect starting out slower and finishing faster. This is the race to figure out when to weave through the crowds and when to tuck behind and let someone else do the work for you. This is when you test that fancy-schmancy GPS watch of yours to see if it helps or hurts to have too much information mid-race. This is when you find out if those shorts really are too short or that shirt is going to chafe under your armpits. This is when you figure out how much water you really need and approximately how many Cliff Shot Bloks to eat and when. Seriously, that HAS to be done before your BIG race and this is the time to do it.

This weekend’s Battle of Brooklyn 10 miler is perfect for me. I’m about halfway into my training for Philly in November and getting into more serious mileage, so a speedy 10 miler should be just what the doctor ordered as a mid-way check in. I plan on doing about 8 minutes for my first mile until the crowd thins out a little and then hammering out 7:45-7:50 for the rest of the race. I’m also planning on running without my headphones and without my own hydration. I want to be speedy and have as little on my body as possible. I’m pumped. It’s my first post-Jersey Marathon disaster race and I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. I’m pumped.

I’m going to leave it all out there in Brooklyn, guys. You should find a short race to RACE just to test yourself. Get out there with the crowds and the crazy runners and the first-timers and see what you’re made of! You can do it! And while you’re at it, tell some of your family and friends what you’re up to and make a breakfast date for after the race. Everybody likes a diner breakfast (especially runners!) and people will come if there’s a promise of food. This I have learned well.

Wish us luck!

Now go out and run (but find a race first)!