To run 5km really well, just like any distance, you need to live and prepare like a runner. That means everything that entails - training, resting, nutrition and mindset. But for now let's focus on the event itself.
Many people turn up five minutes before the start, jump straight out of the car and are off. That’s a great way to sustain an injury and guarantees you will not be operating anywhere near your peak. With a short distance like 5km most of us will have barely warmed up before the race is pretty much over.
If you are looking for a personal best then you will want to get a feel for the course and conditions beforehand. parkrun courses can be particularly confusing at first attempt as they are not often signposted as clearly as a major event.
In any case, aim to arrive 30 minutes before start time, and warming up prior. This will give your muscles the chance to get up to pace. It will get your mind ready to run. It gives you the time to check that your running form is dialled in, and it will get you ready for the conditions.
I suggest a 10-15min jog, followed by running progressively more quickly over short distances up to, and indeed above the pace you hope to average for the ParkRun.
Start at the right pace
For many reading this article, 5km may not seem like an overly long run, though it is certainly long enough to wreck you if you set out too fast. Often the 5km field is a mix of fairly competitive runners and less serious folk. This means a bunch of people roaring off from the start like they are being chased like a Lion. Ignore them all. Like primary school cross country, most of them will be huffing along at a slightly more than walking pace after the first kilometre.
Set yourself a pace you can sustain for the duration of the race. This will vary depending on your running ability and current level of readiness. Ideally, you will have established this is in training and have a watch signalling your progress in some way. If not, then of course, the ParkRun will provide you with a baseline from which to progress.
Keep focusing on your form
It’s amazing how many people seem to think you can blitz 5km without worrying too much about form or technique. You can if you’re happy to be well below your potential and highly prone to injury. Maintaining your form over distance is the key to speed.
Check your form when:
- Warming up
- You settle in after the start
- Terrain changes, if you encounter hills, mud or other obstacles
- You start to tire
- Any other time you think of it.
Finish at the right pace
Running at the right pace with good form throughout? Then you should have enough left in the tank to do the second half faster than the first. To speed up, focus first on running smooth with a proud upright stance and a high leg turn over. Avoid trying to muscle your way to greater speed. Doing that will likely lead to your pace fading before the finish.
If you get this right you will likely enjoy passing a few folk in the second half, and seeing some satisfying numbers at the finish line. The ideal is to cross the line feeling like you have maxed out your pace evenly over the distance, especially the second half.
Your running doesn’t end when you cross the line. If you want your next run to be of high quality don’t immediately jump in the car and jet off. Like warming up, cool down with a gentle run. This can also be a great time to compare notes with those doing likewise.
parkrun and/or your local 5km fun run couldn't happen without the support of volunteers. Consider volunteering a few times each year. This is a fantastic way of observing how other runners get the best out of their bodies on a Saturday morning. Added to that it is a great way of giving back to the running community.