Switching gears: A Marathoners Unofficial Guide to Running 5K’s

Switching gears: A Marathoners Unofficial Guide to Running 5K’s

After spending many months training for two marathons I find myself entering a new phase of running: It’s 5K season!  I live in the south and as the weather heats up, the race distances get shorter.  There are not that many half marathon or marathon race options but there are plenty of 5K’s!

To a distance runner 5K’s can be extremely intimidating.  I have many runner friends who refuse to run in 5K’s.  I often find myself having a love/ hate relationship with them.  When you are used to running marathon paces or even half marathon paces a 5K can feel like a sprint.  It feels like a sprint because that’s basically what you are doing for 3.1 miles.  Sprinting.

I have run more 5K’s in my life than any other distance.  Yet I feel like this is the race distance that I have the most to learn about pacing and strategy.  Why is it so hard to run a fast 5K?  More specifically, why is it so hard for distance runners to run a 5K?

Below are a few random observations from one marathoner 5K runner to the next…

A Marathoners Unofficial Guide to Running 5K’s:

1.  Swallow your pride and register for a 5K.  Sounds easy enough but this may be the hardest step for many distance runners.  If you want to race a faster 5K you have to…. actually run in a 5K!  And don’t just stop at one- embrace the 5K season.  Local 5K’s are fun and they are a great way to promote wellness in your community.

2. Add speed work into your training.  This is an important part of training if you want to get faster.  Be sure to include at least one run a week at a track or somewhere where you can focus on speed.  Running sets of 200’s or 400’s or 800’s are just a few examples of some speed work that will make you faster.  Be sure to warm up at least 1-2 miles before and 1-2 miles after any track workout. Also, the day after your track workout should typically be an easy run or a rest day.

3.  Warm up before you race.  If you are running for time, not completion then you should warm up.  Personally, I like to warm up 2 miles before a 5K.   I know some people who like 3 and some who like 1.  Find the amount that works for you. 

4.  Pace yourself.  This is probably the most challenging part of racing a 5K.  It is a fast race but there is definitely a pacing strategy involved.  If you have raced a 5K recently then you have an idea what your average mile time should be.  If you’ve never raced a 5K or it’s been a while, plug in a recent race time you’ve run in another racing distance into the McMillan calculator and see what your 5K prediction time is.  In 5K’s it is very common to start too fast.  Maybe it’s because many of the participants are recreational runners who are unsure of their pace/ fitness level so they just take off when they hear the words, “GO!”  When I race a 5K, I often have to tell myself to slow down during the first mile. 

5.  Have fun! 5K’s are usually low key and local.  If you are unsure about “racing” then maybe you could run with a friend who is new to running or your child.  5K’s are a great introduction into the sport of running and to your friend or your son or daughter you are the running expert.  My husband has run quite a few 5k’s with our oldest daughter.  Her first 5K was when she was 5 and he ran with her every step of the way.  They make a great team.

Do you have any tips for running 5K’s?  Do you like to run them?  Do you like working in 5K’s during or after marathon training?

14 thoughts on “Switching gears: A Marathoners Unofficial Guide to Running 5K’s

  1. My biggest tip would be to choose a flat course. There’s nothing worse than hitting a hill in the middle of a five k when you’re running close to the edge.
    Pacing’s so important. There’s nothing worse than the last 1.5k of a race that you’ve gone too hard too soon.

    1. Yes, you are right about that! Elevation in such a shirt race makes a big difference. It is hard to be speedy when you are going up a big hill.

  2. Oh, boy. I am very bad at 5ks! I do need to find some to run this summer. I singed up or the Greek fest 5k here in NOLA because it coms with free entry into the festival (which is basically a feta cheese eat-a-thon), but since it is at 7pm and I get off work at 6pm it won’t be my best race. Oddly my problem is going out too slow – I have a hard time wrapping my head around that kind of pace.

  3. This is great! One of my long-term goals is to go under 20 minutes in a 5K. I’ll have to start looking for options as I live in the desert and there are ZERO races here during the summer!! Always love an excuse to travel to San Diego… 🙂

    1. That is a great goal! Maybe you could combine a 5k in with a family vacation or something. They are short so it wouldn’t take much time and the recovery is easy- just like a speed session. It’s hard when you don’t live in a major area with racing options.

  4. I really like your guide here! I used to run 5ks too slow, and have taken a different approach in my last one…which was…almost a year ago? ha!
    Yes. You need to actually SIGN up for one. That helps.

    Also, it IS kind of like a season. And 5k is a perfect training distance for a Vo2 max workout. A person could do one every week or every other week and see a LOT of improvement with only easy running, or one speed or T pace workout in between the races. AHHH I can’t wait for my marathon to be over so I can start training for one 🙂

    1. Definitely! If nothing else a 5K is always a great speed session. I ran two in October and one in December during my marathon training and just counted them as my speed session that week. Worked out just fine. Plus, it’s more fun than a regular speed session!

  5. This is such perfect timing! I fit your category of runners who prefer distance over 5k’s… and just this year ran my first one, and ran my second this morning. I wish I had seen your post yesterday, I needed that reminder not to go out too fast! But I’m learning. It was HOT already so I was thinking no more 5k’s until fall, but after reading this I’m reconsidering… 🙂 Thanks for the tips!!

    1. Almost every time I run a 5K I walk away with another “what I’m not going to do next time” lesson. Don’t given up on them yet. 🙂

  6. Love this!!! I’m actually looking forward to life after Big Sur so I can focus on speed! My group does track workouts weekly. There are two 5Ks that I love to run in May to geat up for The Bolder Boulder 10K on Memorial Day – one of my favorite times of year!!

  7. Tia, I am glad you posted this, as I am one of those marathoners that is “afraid” of 5Ks! They feel like a sprint to me, and I always end up so tired at the end!! It is strange, but running a marathon is almost easier for me.

    I have enjoyed many of your entries and can relate to so many of them. We are both marathoning moms! And I think our marathon PR are within seconds of each other! You have a beautiful family and are an inspiration to me!

    1. Yes, it would be fun to train together! Our times are so similar! You have me beat on all your ultra runs though. That is awesome! 🙂

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