How to Prepare for A 5K –

You’ve been training hard, putting in the miles and all signed up to run your first 5K! You’re counting down the days as it’s soon approaching. Running your first 5K can be exciting and scary at the same time. Are you feeling those butterflies in your stomach? It’s totally normal if you are, but here I’ll share how to prepare for a 5K to help you ease those jitters and have a good first experience 5K.

Take It Easy

Start decreasing your mileage during race week. You can do this by doing 2 or 3 shorter runs than usual. The overall goal is to save up your energy for the big day.

To be ready for moving faster, incorporate 4-5 100m strides at your goal race pace, after your easy run.

You’re not going to get any faster in that short amount of time (but maintain what you already have), so store up your energy. Then, come race day, your legs are fresh, ready to go.

If you take a day off, take it off two days before the race (the same as getting your best sleep two nights before). Taking it off the day before the race might leave your legs feeling flat, with no spring.

One other tip: Use one of your days to go over the race course so you can familiarize yourself and know what to expect.

Stick to Your Routine

If you have a daily routine of doing things before and during your run, don’t change it right before a race. You can throw off your body when you try something new that you’re not used to. Something like changing out your shoes right before a race, or fueling your body with something you haven’t been taking or haven’t been eating can be more harmful than helpful. It doesn’t mean things can’t ever get changed. Just work in the changes several weeks before the race or after the race is finished.

Fuel Up

What you eat and drink days and hours before the race is crucial. Get in regular hydration of water and electrolytes for the race.

Eat something that’s going to be stored up for energy. It also can depend on what your diet or routine of eating is.

Stick to the rule of “sticking to your routine.” If you’re used to a high carb, low-fat meal, for example, eat some pasta with some chicken or beef and call it good. Or maybe you’d do just fine with a steak and potatoes if you’re used to that.

Don’t overeat either! Just eat until you’re satisfied. The last thing you want is feeling heavy and sluggish during your run from dinner the night before.

For breakfast, eat at least 2-3 hours prior to the race. Stick to the routine of what you’ve been eating before running. If you know you’re okay with it, you can keep it simple by eating a bowl of oatmeal with something like a banana, or bagel with peanut butter. Let it be something that gives you high energy and easy to digest.

Side note – Having two to three bowel movements before a race is completely normal and healthy. The nervousness will also help assist with this too, hehe.

Get Plenty of Sleep TWO Nights Before

That does sounds kind of funny saying TWO nights instead of the night before. Those butterflies tend to kick in the night before the race, keeping you up at night, which can be completely normal, even for elite runners. It’s two nights before the race that really matters the most to get a good quality sleep in.

Schedule your sleep to wake up at least 2-3 hours before the race start time, to give your body time to get ready, wake-up, and digest your breakfast and hydrating.

Arrive There Early

Arrive at least an hour before the race. This gives you time to find parking, find and use the port-o-potty, get your race bib, and start warming up. You’re already probably feeling nervous at this point, heading to the race, so don’t add any more stress than you need. It’ll just waste precious energy anyways.


Do a really slow 2 mile or 20-minute run to get your body warmed up.

After the run, dynamic stretching and drills is a nice way to actively stretch and get everything warmed up (and stay warmed up), like high knees, butt kicks, and lunges, to name a few.

To top it off, do 4-5 100m strides at race pace to get that fast leg turnover.

Usually races are in the morning, so it might be a little chilly out. Use a long sleeve and long-running tights to keep your muscles warm too. You can shed them off before the race.

The Starting Line

Starting somewhere between the middle of the pack, to the back is OK to start. Give way for those really fast competitive runners. Who knows! Maybe you’re one of those people in your first 5K. Congratulations if you are! You know your ability so you can gauge where you think you should fall under.

Don’t catch yourself lining up too early just to find yourself standing around for a long time either. Keep your body loose and moving. Sometimes races can get delayed so if you’re stuck in the crowd, keep moving in place.

Run YOUR Race

It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement, so a common mistake can be going out too fast too soon, right out the gate. Start off slower than your goal race pace and gradually work your way up to it, helping you to not burn off your energy all at once.

The goal is to have negative mile splits, increasing in speed, not positive (getting slower).

Trust your training and fitness level to get you through from start to finish line.

Don’t worry about the people around you. Find your pace. Run your own race at your current ability. You’ll probably have enough people around you too who you can count off as you pass by, giving you someone to chase after and motivation doing it.

Keep Calm and Carry On

When you hit that point where it’s feeling tough to keep going, have some words of affirmation ready to tell yourself in your mind, like, “I feel great!”, “I feel strong.”, “I got this!” “Only two more miles after this one!” Find whatever works for you.

Running can be 20% skill and 80% mental strength. You usually have more left in the tank than you think you do.

Something you can think about too, is keeping good running form. It’s a way to keep your mind calm and off the pain.

(A little tidbit: Pumping those arms well and faster can also help your legs to get moving faster too). We can tend to get sloppy how we run, as your body gets tired, so it’s something you can focus on to also help you save energy and run efficiently.

Eyes On the Prize 

Whatever happens, take it all in as a valuable learning experience. Everything that happens and the time you run is good information. Set new goals, as you’ll know what to focus on and what to work on for your next race. Each time you get a race under your belt, you can take something from it and make it better for the next one, getting you closer and closer to your mark.

Last Words

Congratulations, being ready for your first 5K! Remember to have fun, no matter what!

I would love to hear how your race went while using any of these tips. Leave them in the comment box below. Feel free to leave any other comments or questions you may have too. You can also email me at liana@myrunningstrong.com.

Happy Racing,



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