The most potent tips for running a 5K should be grounded on two vital fundamentals.
The first is passion and the second is confidence in what you are doing because without these two fundamentals it all be extremely difficult to make an impact on your fitness goals.
I write more for beginner level athletes because there are countless amounts of middle to long distance runners who need someone to take the time out to mentor and motivate them.
I don’t care if you currently run 40 minutes for the 5 kilometer distance or sub-15 minutes for the distance. We all fill inspired and motivated when someone tells us we, too, are capable of great things.
The problem is far too often, for whatever reason, we feel as if we don’t have what it takes and there isn’t always someone to pat you on the back to lend an encouraging word.
The great distance running coach figured it out and said it best, ‘there are champions everywhere, all you have to do is train them properly‘.
I was blessed to have been coached by one of the world’s top authorities on middle to long distance running while competing for Malone University.
Jack Hazen was named as the head mens and women’s distance coach for the 2012 London Olympic Games. I’ll never forget something he told the reporter that came to my high school when I signed on to compete for Malone back in 1992.
‘I won’t place any limits on what Nathan can do because he places none on himself’. I have tried to uphold that way of living throughout my life and one of the reasons why I started this site is to see more runners with aspirations that I had (and still have) achieve their objectives.
I will share some of the tips for running a 5K he gave me back in 1995 when I arrived to the Malone University campus.
I hope it will inspire you.
1. Don’t compare yourself to someone else.
One of the biggest mistakes we make as distance runners is putting our focus on what someone else has done as an athlete and not narrowing our mental energy on what we can do ourselves.
You are special. Scientists say we are using less than 10% of our mental capability. I don’t think any of us have come to the realization of just how powerful our mind is, what we are capable of.
I never had a lot of talent. Many people may find this odd but I have never broken the 15 minute barrier for the 5k distance. My personal best is 15:19 that I set in Cleveland, Ohio at one of our track meets during my junior year in college, yet I was still able to run a 2.19 marathon.
There are men in Japan who have never broken 14 minutes for 5K yet have run 2.07-08 for the marathon distance. Being weaker in one distance doesn’t mean you can’t achieve greatness in another. You just have to have the guts to see it through.
I can tell you from experience that the moment I took my mental focus off of reading about every runner known to man who was running faster than me and honed in on my own preparation, I began to run faster times.
A ‘busy’ mind is not a focused one. Calm yourself down about what everyone else is doing and work at your own craft, create a breakthrough that others will be inspired by and that doesn’t mean going out and running a so-called ‘elite’ time. An athlete who has never run the 5K distance and completes their first attempt is pretty damn awesome in my opinion because he or she took action and achieved one of their goals.
The 5K involves sustaining high amounts of lactic acid within the blood stream. How do you train yourself to handle this?
You do it by having a mindset of certainty. What do I mean?
It doesn’t take much effort to run easy. What do you think takes more mental focus and creates fatigue the most? Jogging or running for longer periods of time at maximal effort?
It takes more courage to get out of your comfort zone and you have to have an un-shatterable belief in what you are doing, regardless what your goal is to do anything that is uncomfortable.
You could have a fitness goal of breaking 25 minutes for the 5K distance or breaking 16 minutes.
What runners at or above my level seem to forget is that the runner trying to break 25 minutes is just as impressive as the one trying to break 16 minutes. It is unfair to say that someone using all of his or her mental and physical ability to break 25 minutes isn’t worth the mainstream media’s time and energy as opposed to the elite runner breaking 13 minutes for the distance.
We put people on pedestals who are at the top of the food chain and disregard the millions who are putting in equal to or exceeding amounts of effort who make massive fitness gains in the process.
The former is understands process just as much as the latter who is breaking the 13 minute barrier. The goals are deceiving to some. One is valued, the other disregarded by most mainstream media reporters and journalists.
Running a 5K effectively sometimes means putting aside what Joe or Jane down the block ran their 5000m in and just focus on what you are doing. There are people who will only pursue their goals for a time and than give in when the going gets tough or the results aren’t coming as quickly as they would like.
This is where you come in. It is where the rubber meets the road, what can separate you, who may have little talent like me, with someone who has great talent but who simply doesn’t have the belief system that you have. Sometimes competing in the 5K distance is more than just doing workouts.
Mental preparation is usually overlooked and it is physical conditioning where most runners spend most of their time and energy investing in.
3. Implement sustained anaerobic efforts with short recoveries into your workout schedules
It doesn’t matter if you are brand new to the sport or a veteran seeking to better your 5K personal best. If you are new to the sport it could mean running 30 seconds hard with 30 seconds recovery and try doing that 3 times. Simple, quick and easy and than extending that same effort for longer durations and higher repetitions.
The key is to extend the amount of time you spend at higher heart rates for longer duration. For the majority of us, that is running around 85% or higher of our maximum heart rate. The 5K is a highly anaerobic event which involves a higher degree of sustained speed.
Is there a golden rule for how intense you need to run?
I wish there was but the trick is to handle running with increased levels of lactic acid in the body. Running easy will not prepare the athlete with a specific time goal for the 5 kilometer distance in mind. If you want to run 9 minute mile pace for 3.1 miles and 99% of your weekly mileage volume is spent jogging you have a few things up against you.
One is you are not teaching your body to use fat as its main fuel source while racing.
What happens when we run faster? We are short of breath and we very quickly slow down. The muscles become acidic with lactic acid but it is a component of lactic acid, the hydrogen ion, that shuts down muscle function and causes us to slow down.
The faster we run the more carbohydrates we burn. Carbohydrates are in short supply within the body and are consumed quickly while racing. Easy running doesn’t teach you to race, only faster efforts at sustained speeds can do that.
Have you ever watched how smooth and effortless a Kenyan is when the they run? How about a top American, European, Australian or any other top runner regardless of nationality? The point is these tips for running a 5K are universal. You could be a veteran or a total beginner. You can still maximize your own unique capability by teaching your body to burn fat as its main fuel source while racing and learn to maintain race pace more effectively.
Running faster will teach you to conserve carbohydrates and rely more on fat. It is probably one of the most important tips for running a 5K or any distance effectively for that matter that I can share.
4. Include strides into your easy runs
You don’t have to do them after your easy runs. You can do them during the run itself but the idea is that you are spending miles at paces that far exceed your overall 5K race pace. It doesn’t matter what the distance of your particular speciality race is either.
Strides are simply short sprints approximately 100 meters in length that are close to but not all-our efforts. They are short enough where you do not build up any lactic acid. The benefits from this will not be evident overnight but over a period of weeks and months I guarantee you will begin to see major changes in your leg turnover and race performances.
The reason is you have taught your body to handle running paces that are below your overall 5K race pace. It is easy to implement into your training and is a useful tool in improving your aerobic capacity. It is a universal truth that if you learn to adapt to running at paces that are below your goal race pace you are going to begin to see dramatic results.
5. Be patient
We live in a society where everyone wants everything now. That is not how it works in preparing for 5K to marathon races.
I didn’t run the 5k distance until I was a junior in high school and considering most who think a 2.19 marathoner is supposed to have a high level of talent, I didn’t necessarily run anything up to an elite level for the 5K distance.
I have never broken 15 minutes for the distance. I ran a 15.19 for 5000m on the track my junior year in college and have never ran the 5K seriously since. I remember when I ran my current personal best for the half-marathon distance (1.07.06), I hit the 5K point, ironically in 15.19.
Do I think I can run below 15 minutes? Absolutely.
If the 5K is your chosen speciality than you have to have to be relentless as I have had to be in mine with the marathon. Find your strengths and continue to use them. It is a very fast, short race and you have much less time to act on any mistakes you made early on as we marathoners have the luxury of having.
I ran 16.50 in my first cross-country race while competing at Indian Creek High School in Wintersville, Ohio as junior in high school. I didn’t even know what the sport of cross-country was until my sophomore year.
I was the first in my high school’s history to qualify for the Ohio state cross-country meet and made a rookie mistake of going out far too hard at the Sciota Downs Horse Racing facility in Columbus, Ohio.
I hit the first mile in 4.49 and faded to finish 31st with a time of 16.59. Still think a 2.19 marathoner hasn’t had his bumps and bruises? It all goes back to what I have talked about in the past about process and the event.
The 2.19 marathon time is the event everyone who knows me knows about, the process it took to reach that time few have seen or know about.
You have to have an extreme amount of patience to see results. I had many times where I ran over 17 minutes as well in high school. I am thankful for the way I came up in the sport because I relate better to beginners and athletes who are just trying to enjoy this activity more so that they can reach their own goals, regardless what time they have run.
There will be ups and downs along the way but you can’t give in. You have to have a winning mindset to get over those humps in training where you feel that you are not getting anywhere.
I finally broke 16 minutes in a road 5K in Wheeling, West Virginia winning a Thanksgiving Day 5 kilometer race running 15.43 as a senior in high school. Give yourself time to adapt to the training you have been doing and remember that each workout you do builds on the next.
We have muscle memory and the miles you did 2 years ago are still there today. You are all the more stronger for it but you have to keep working and you have to want it more than your peers who are involved in the sport.
You have to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and how you are going to get to the goal you have for yourself
6. Be persistent
Nothing can take the place of it.
This isn’t going to be a sugar coated how-to article you can find on nearly every other website that is about running. I’d have to say if you are to improve in this distance as well as any other distance the amount of enthusiasm you bring to the table will determine how much your going to improve.
I’ve seen runners cut massive times from the 5K to the marathon distance. It takes an immense amount of work and you can’t rely on your talent.
Talented runners who rely too heavily on their big engines are starting to get out performed by extremely dedicated, hungry athletes who know they have to work harder just to match the competition and aren’t afraid to make that commitment.
Persistence is as valuable as gold.
I have had, like other athletes, many failures along the way but you have to have such a strong, unrelenting focus to what you are doing that anything but success is the only thing that you can accept.
I don’t give a damn if you are a 35 minute 5K runner who has the dream of running under 20 minutes or an 18 minute athlete seeking to break 15 minutes. It is either you or someone else more determined to hit the jackpot that is going to make that dream a reality.
There is no time to talk about what is impossible. You are either going to act on dropping time in this distance or you are going to half ass the process and I can guarantee you this, someone is going to do the opposite and outperform you. I don’t want that for you.
What will make you successful is forming a plan of action and acting upon it.
7. Run longer and at higher exertion rates
The Kenyans think of time spent at a specific effort. Americans and other countries focus too heavily on distance run. What difference does it make if your friends brag about how many miles they ran last week?
There is a difference between training harder and smarter. Training hard doesn’t always yield results. Physical training is important but mindset is vital and part of that revolves around narrowing in on how you are conducting your mileage and workouts.
Are they producing the physiological effects that you seek? Every few weeks are you able to handle the same paces with less effort? Are you able to run longer at the same paces that you were struggling with a few weeks back? Make a few mental notes of that. Write it down in your diary or training log when you get done with your workout. Reflect on what is working and continue with that plan. What isn’t working?
Make note of that and come up with solutions to those problem areas. There is an old saying that if you keep doing what you have always done you will keep getting what you have always gotten so focus on what is working in your training and make solutions to keep improving and adjust course.
The key is running longer at higher anaerobic efforts because this is the only way for you to handle race paces with less struggle and feel more empowered.
That being said, this is more geared toward athletes with specific time goals but you can still spend some time running a bit harder than you usually do if you want to get in better shape and learn to run the 5K distance with less strain.
You will find a lot of joy, empowerment and motivation by learning just how far you can push your body. There is no excitement in the comfort zone.
What a pity if we live our lives never pushing the brink of our physical and mental limits. The only way to do that is to push your physical boundaries and see what we are capable of. I try to practice what I preach and am currently doing this quite often preparing for upcoming races and have done it numerous times over the years.
8. Practice mental training
I coach a man who achieved one of his lifelong goals of achieving a Boston Marathon qualifying standard. He is 52 years old and ran a personal best time of 3.27 for the marathon distance last year. He balances both mental and physical training well and you have to do that to accomplish your 5K goals.
Physical training is what the majority of athletes spend their time focusing on but I believe the mind, what we think about and envision ourselves doing is far more vital for improving in the 5K distance because physical training can only take us so far.
The power of our mind is an untapped city of gold that the majority of us have yet to discover.
The 5K is a demanding, fast and aggressive race and you have to take time out of your day, sit in a room quietly and see yourself sprinting into the finish line with your goal time on the clock. If you don’t have a specific race time in mind but are considering running your first 5K than see yourself finishing.
What does it feel like? Are you family and friends in the stands or at the finish line? Think about how powerful you will feel when you have accomplished that specific fitness goal you have in mind.
Studies have shown that our thoughts and emotions can affect our reality. If all you are doing is feeding yourself lies like you don’t have the capability to hit your time goal, too old, not born with the proper amount of talent, what do you think will manifest in your life?
There has to be an incredible amount of desire and positivity that you have to continually visualize and tell yourself on a daily basis. Billy Mills said that prior to his gold medal performance at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics 10,0000 meter final he had visualized seeing himself win dozens a times a day.
This was not a weekly ritual but something he did for years and years. The problem is far too many of us want success but aren’t willing to endure long enough to see what we truly are capable of. We let up when it was just a few more workouts or a few weeks down the road and we would have hit our objective.
I will write more on the 5K distance in later posts but just wanted to share a few tips for running a 5K that will help you stay motivated, something you can come back to or remember when the physical training starts to get to you.
I firmly believe that mental training is vitally important to running well at the 5K to marathon distances.
You have to see yourself accomplishing your goal. It has to feel real, certain, as if you have already accomplished it, before it has been done.The shorter the race, the more aggressive and anaerobic it becomes. You have less time to make a mistake. Go out too hard and your race is done.
If you have not run enough mileage or given it your best shot in training it is hard to walk away from a 5K race with the knowledge that your performed to the highest standard possible.
Lastly, I cannot stress this enough. Keep it fun, find joy in what you are doing. Training can test anyone’s will. It has tested my resolves untold amounts of times over the years but at the end of the day you have to find something that can keep you going, that will keep you focused when you tend to lose excitement for what you are doing.
Always remember you are doing something that challenges both mind and body. You are living, experiencing something others in the world may not have the luxury to do. You matter and it should be noted that anyone who is trying their best to achieve something difficult should be encouraged.
I hope I have done that hear at rundreamachieve.com and through this article. Keep hustling.