How to prepare for a 5K: five tips and five mistakes you should definitely avoid
Set yourself the challenge of running a 5K? Whether a running novice or a more experienced racer, we've got you covered with some top tips to help you hit the finish line hassle and injury free.
Running 5K is a great way to keep fit and improve your cardiovascular health, as well as having a positive impact on your mental health, boosting your endorphins, and helping reduce stress. We've got more on the benefits and tips in our guide on how long it takes to run a 5K.
Whether tackling your first 5K or aiming for a new personal best, feeling prepared for your run is essential. In order to avoid any last-minute stresses, unnecessary injuries, aches, pains and dehydration, it is highly important to be trained properly and ready to take on the distance (5 kilometres, 3.1 miles).
Here at The Recommended, we've put together our five top tips and tricks to help you out on your way and have also included five common mistakes to avoid when training for your 5K. Listen up and be ready to run your best.
Five top tips when training for a 5K
From creating a realistic running schedule to getting enough sleep and wearing comfortable running gear, we've highlighted some of the most important factors to take into account on your 5K journey.
1. Develop a training plan
Make a training plan to incorporate into your weekly routine to ensure that you are ready for race day and feeling prepared. There are plenty online to download - we like the ones from Nike and Asics.
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Sticking to a training plan is a great way to keep motivation levels high and build up endurance, speed, and fitness levels over a realistic time frame while reducing the risk of injury. It is important to ensure rest days in your training plan to allow for muscle recovery and injury prevention.
2. Nutrition and hydration
Ensuring proper nutrition and hydration is highly important for both training and race day. Being adequately fuelled will keep your energy levels up - but be mindful of what you eat before your 5K. ‘Carb-loading’ and energy gels are not normally necessary for runs under 90 minutes. If you are considering further distances in the future, see our guide to the best energy gels to help keep your body moving over longer periods.
The sports brand Asics advises that a meal pre-5K should be ‘about 60% carbs, 20% protein, and 20% fat.’ They also recommend that you ‘stay away from any new foods since you won't know how your body may react to them’ - pre-race is not the time to experiment.
Our friends at BBC GoodFood give some great ideas for a good snack or meal pre-run. These include a bagel with peanut butter, porridge oats with milk or soy milk, or multigrain bread topped with eggs. Bananas and protein bars are also options.
Hydration is also an important factor in running a successful race. Asics highlights this, explaining that ‘you lose plenty of water through perspiration, and any hint of dehydration will negatively impact your performance. Water transfers nutrients and energy to your cells and muscles, regulates your body temperature and heart rate, and keeps your joints lubed, just to name a few benefits.’
3. Grab a running buddy
Why not team up with a friend to run with or join a running club? This is a great way to keep yourself motivated and have someone hold you accountable for your training!
Fitness First suggests grabbing a running partner to push each other to ‘become better and better’. Being part of a group is also a great way to ‘pick up all sorts of useful running advice’, ‘be competitive when you need it to be’, and help ‘set new targets and run faster’.
4. Importance of sleep
Like a lot of things, sleep is super important to your running performance. The Sleep Foundation explains the benefits to your overall health and wellbeing, allowing ‘your heart to rest, and your cells and tissue to repair.’ This is essential for pre and post-run recovery. They also highlight that ‘sleep is important for maintaining athlete’s mental health. Quality sleep is associated with improving overall mood.’ A more rested mind and body will impact your running in a positive way, helping to work towards increasing your speed and time.
Focus on creating a relaxing nighttime environment to guarantee good quality sleep. This includes having a comfortable mattress and pillows to sink into (check out our guides to the best pillows and the best mattress toppers for some favourites) and a dark and cool bedroom for optimum rest.
If you have trouble gaining complete darkness, see our buyer's guide to the best eye masks for sleeping to help block out the light. And if you're struggling to sleep, our guide to breathing exercises for better sleep may be able to assist you in nodding off.
5. Having the right kit
Selecting the proper clothing and footwear is a game-changer for your runs. Running specialists, Runners Need suggest ‘sweat-wicking, quick-drying, and breathable gear to help keep you cool and running comfortably’.
Finding the right pair of trainers is crucial to keep you going on your feet and stay injury-free, and as Runners Need explains, ‘a good pair of running shoes will provide flexibility, durability, and support.’ When choosing trainers, there are several things to consider, including the surface (trail or road) and the distance you are running.
They also advise that long distances need a more cushioned shoe, while you’re more likely to benefit from a more flexible training shoe over shorter distances (for example, a 5K). Brands including Hoka, Asics and Brooks are great for running trainers, read our review of the Hoka Torrents. See some of the best deals we've found on the Hoka Torrents below.
Accessories such as running belts and headphones can also make a huge difference to your running experience. Check out some more of our favourite running belts in our full guide. We particularly love this running belt from FlipBelt - it’s super compact and comfortable and a great way to carry your essentials while on the move, hands-free! See some of the best deals we've found on the FlipBelt below.
There is a vast amount of choice out there on the market, and at all different price points, so there is something suitable for every type of runner and budget. Top tip: make sure you have tried out your running kit ahead of your race. This will ensure you are comfortable in your clothing and trainers and ready to go.
Five common mistakes to avoid when training for a 5K
Want to nail your running race? Now you’ve taken our top tips and tricks into account, have a look at some of the common mistakes to avoid to further optimise your race performance.
1. Don’t start too fast
Start as you mean to continue. A common mistake is over-exerting yourself at the beginning of your run, either due to nerves, adrenaline or excitement. This will tire you out early on, making you unable to keep the pace up and interfering with your goal time. Keeping a consistent pace is key.
2. Pace yourself
Pacing yourself should be a top priority when running. Be sure to check in with your timing as you go to make sure you are on track. Top tip: if you are participating in an organised race, start and stay near the pacesetters to ensure you are on target.
3. Don’t neglect hydration
It is important to keep hydrated when running. If you are feeling dry-throated and thirsty, make sure to drink some water during your run. A common mistake is to go without, and this can be uncomfortable and damaging to your body. Equally, be cautious not to over-drink, as this can cause stitches.
4. Eating beforehand
As mentioned above, knowing the right things to eat and when is super important before your 5K run. There is no need for carb-loading, and you must ensure you have allowed enough time for your food to be digested pre-run.
5. Don’t forget to stretch
Warming up pre-race and cooling down post-run should be an essential part of your training plan. Stretching out will loosen up your body and prepare your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints for exercise while also helping improve flexibility, prevent tight muscles afterwards and consequently avoid any unnecessary injuries.
Want more guidance and tips on well-being and fitness? Check out our wellness and fitness sections, with guides including yoga vs pilates, posture tips, and the best multi-gym equipment for working out at home.
Cordelia Aspinall is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media, working across brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeForMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. She has previously worked and written for digital publications including Condé Nast Traveller, The Evening Standard, Cosmopolitan, and several other lifestyle brands.