Learning How to Race a 5K

When I first started running, my pace was pretty similar at any race that I ran. From the 5K to the half marathon, my body knew how to run at that pace for any period of time. When I got to the point where I wanted to run faster, I learned about training at different paces. This helped, but I still had a hard time making the leap to really race FAST.


This past weekend I ran a new personal best time in a local 5K. My body tends to like the longer distances best, so it takes a lot of work for me to really get faster at the short distances. I can talk myself into running longer a lot easier than running harder.

Last weekend’s 5K wasn’t a race I had trained specifically for, but my training for the Barking Dog Duathlon translated nicely and I had a good day. It’s the first new record I set since I’ve lived in Colorado and I was pretty excited to finally break through. Not only did I set a new PR, but I ended with 7th in my age group (out of over 300) and a pretty big smile on my face. That’s a successful race in my eyes.

As I reflected on  the race and how I finally broke the barrier, I started to put together a list of things that I’ve learned. I thought it would be more interesting to share these tips, than to share another race report with you. Hopefully you can use these tips to set your own PR soon!

4 Tips to Race a 5K

1. Practice your Goal Paces

Speedwork is hard. But it’s also one of the best ways to teach your body to run faster and handle being uncomfortable. , The more you practice running fast, the easier it is for your body to find that pace in a race. When I worked out the splits on last weekend’s race, I realized that I naturally ran the pace I’ve been running in my 5K intervals workouts.

Learn to Race a 5K. #FitFluential #Running

2. Reduce the Pressure

I often put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well at certain races. The last few times I’ve set a new record, I didn’t decide if I would actually race  until after I started running. I warmed up as I would any race, but decided to see how I felt before deciding if it would be a fun run or race effort. If I felt good, I’d go after that record. If not, I pulled back on the pace and enjoyed the experience instead.

3. Consider Running by Feel (instead of pace)

Although I recommend training with pace goals for most of your workouts, when it comes to short-distance races you can ditch the watch.  It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in hitting a certain split and adjusting my pace too frequently. With only a few miles to cover, this means I get too wrapped up in the number and forget to just RUN! When my watch didn’t work last weekend and I focused on a barely sustainable effort, I went faster than I thought was possible. I plan to do this more often now!

4. Recruit a Pacer

Have a friend who’s faster than you? Ask them to pace you for your best race yet! Kirk is a great pacer and knows how to motivate me to get that little extra speed out of a race. He runs just a few steps in front of me – enough that I keep pushing to keep up, but not too much that I get frustrated. It’s best for this to be a person who know how you like to be motivated, so they don’t end up hurting your race performance.

Now it’s time to put these tips into practice and find a local race. Then come back and let me know if they worked for you!!


Questions for you:

  • Do you enjoy racing? What is your favorite distance?
  • What tips would you add for racing your best?

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  1. says

    Thanks for the tips! I definitely prefer longer distances, but run a lot of 5ks on the weekends because I like running with large groups and they are easy to come by. I am the first one to admit that I need to incorporate more speed work into my training, and I should probably put a little bit more pressure on myself :) Great post!
    Carson recently posted…Running Southern in the Land of the YankeesMy Profile

  2. says

    Those are definitely good tips. I tend to like longer races first because I figure if I am getting up and going out there to race I want it to last more than 30 minutes. Second, because I’m not a fast runner and I feel like 5k;s are better for faster runners. You are right about running by feel and not with a watch sometimes works out better.
    Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner recently posted…Five Dream Places to RunMy Profile


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