My unfinished business with the 5K (Read 202 times)


    Since I resumed running 4 years ago after a long (18 year) hiatus, I have gravitated to the longer distances.   I think that I am better suited to the longer races and really enjoy the half marathon in particular.   I find that this distance allows you race hard without the wear and tear of the marathon.  I have developed a pacing strategy that works well of running the first half at a comfortably hard pace, and then running by feel for the second half.  This has resulted in a succession of races over the last three years of 1:55, 1:47 and most recently 1:37 (using Running-Wizard).  All of the races have been negative split (second half of the race faster than the first) and I have really found my groove with this distance.


    The same cannot be said about  my 5K approach.  I generally only run these when I need to assess my current level of fitness, and have no real feel for how to race them.  Over the same 4 year period where I was having decent results with the half, I have run 23:22, 22:45 and 22:16 last weekend.  These races have been rough with splits all over the place.  Last weekend’s race opened with the first 800m at 6:15 pace to get clear of a logjam of young kids at the start of the race.  I definitely paid the price for this overly aggressive start later in the race and it hurt my finishing time.   I know that I am capable of more given that I ran a solo effort 5K time trial (not an actual race) in early November of 21:17 with proper splits (6:53, 6:54, 6:48).


    I had a coach in high school who insisted on focusing training on the weak factors in my running until they were strengths, and I think that I am going to follow his advice now.  My half marathon time indicates that I am capable of a faster 5K, and I just need to figure out how to race this distance properly.   I am also planning to start a Running-Wizard 5K cycle in early January to do some race distance specific training to prepare. 


    Before I start training in earnest, I am going to give it one more try tomorrow as there is a 5K that has a very flat course nearby.   I hope to beat 22:16 running a controlled even split race so I have a good reference point to use in creating  my Running-Wizard plan.


    I am going to start this thread to keep me honest while I go after this quest to run a better 5K.  I welcome your thoughts and feedback on racing strategy for this distance because clearly I need some help. 



     2015 goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...


      Well.....that was a little better.  Today's effort resulted in a 21:23 (splits: 6:44, 6:57, 6:53) and I was able to finish strong (last .1 at sub 6:30 pace).  Decent pacing was helped by a VERY flat course and the weather cooperated as well.  I still think that there is more improvement to be had at my current level of fitness if I play around with pacing.  Perhaps I should try just running by feel and leaving the Garmin at home.   On to the next one.

       2015 goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...

        JML, Great job on the 5K!  Congrats! And thanks for setting up this user group.


        I'm with you on the preferences. Half marathons feel great, full marathons (the few I've done) take a LOT out of me (both the training AND the recovery period afterwards). 5K's seem to be a much more "tactical" precision-type event to me. It's short enough that you should be running above your lactate threshold, so you feel like you're gonna die by the finish. And the margin of error seems pretty tight -- push just a little bit too hard and you won't be able to keep it up to the finish. I think it's a harder race to run well.


        I saw your comment about clearing a "logjam" of other runners in one of your 5Ks. This is something I struggle with. I don't feel comfortable lining up right at the front of the pack with the elite runners, but there always seems to be too many people who shouldn't be up there, and I always end up expending a lot of energy early on getting around those folks.  So I may force myself to line up more towards the front next time.


        One challenge I have for 2013 is that I will do a 24-week Running Wizard Marathon plan that runs from January 6 to June 22. There is a 5K that I run each year in April that falls right in the middle of this plan. I'm not sure how well this will fit in with the marathon training. I care about this particular 5K more than I probably should -- in 2012, I took more than 2 minutes off my 2011 time, and I'd love to further improve ... but I don't want to mess up the marathon training in any way.




          I think that the small margin for error associated with running a 5K is what I really find challenging.  In a longer race, I find that I can run the first part at the edge of my comfort zone, sneak up on my lactate threshold pace and run by feel during the second half.  In a 5K, I typically start too fast and find myself deep in the pain cave during the last mile.  Today was no exception.  I checked my Garmin at the 400m mark to see a 6:10 pace average.  At least I caught it fairly early this time before I really truly wrecked the last mile.


          One good thing about the 5K is that it can be raced fairly often.  My general plan for the next Running-Wizard training cycle is to aim for a goal race and then race a couple of addditional 5K races after that to allow myself to play around with different pacing strategies. 


          As to your April 5K, which phase does it fall under during your Running-Wizard plan?  If it is during the Anaerobic or Coordination phase, you may be OK to race it relatively hard.  If it is before that, you may run the risk of sharpening your skills too soon.  I did something similar during my 24 week half marathon training plan where I ran the 5th avenue mile at not quite full intensity (6:01 result) during my anaerobic phase.  The warmup, race and cooldown that day substituted for a Fartlek run in the plan.  The only thing that I suggest is that you plan on running a decent cooldown after the race at a very easy pace.


          If he reads this, Nobby may chime in on the 5K idea.  I am by no means an expert in the Running-Wizard plan.  I am just a guy who has been through one cycle of it with good results who is reporting on my personal experience. 


          Good luck!

           2015 goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...

            Congrats on a great 5K!! My PR with the 5K is just over the 22 min mark as well, and I am doing exactly what you are planning. I am going to start the Running Wizard 5K plan next week with the start of the new year. My goal race is a super popular race in my area in mid-April. I'm going to take it easy for a few weeks after that and then start a marathon plan (probably another Running Wizard plan) in May to run an October marathon (Columbus). I hate 5K's...but I have found that my marathon time and my half marathon times seem to suffer and I'm pretty sure it is because I have never really focused on speed and run most of my mileage at a fairly easy pace. This past fall I raced a 15K and an 8K and ran really well. I am determined to kick this 5K and finally get a time that I know is my best effort. It will be great having someone here doing the exact same thing at the same time!! Here's to sticking with it!!!


              As to your April 5K, which phase does it fall under during your Running-Wizard plan?  If it is during the Anaerobic or Coordination phase, you may be OK to race it relatively hard.  If it is before that, you may run the risk of sharpening your skills too soon.  ...


              If he reads this, Nobby may chime in on the 5K idea.  I am by no means an expert in the Running-Wizard plan.  I am just a guy who has been through one cycle of it with good results who is reporting on my personal experience. 


              Good luck!



              My April 5K falls on Day 1 of the Anaerobic Phase (10 weeks before the Marathon). There is an "Easy Fartlek" scheduled for that day, with 7K Intervals scheduled for the next day. I'm thinking that I'll switch the days, running the 5K fairly hard as a substitute for Intervals (with a decent warmup and cooldown run), then running the Easy Fartlek day the next day. Not sure if this is the best approach, but it maintains the overall flow of the program. I would then still be able to run the remaining 4 weeks of the Anaerobic Phase without departing from the schedule.

              I would very much appreciate hearing the comments and suggestions of others.



                I  think that your plan is sound.  A little deviation from the plan should be OK.  My only advice would be to not run the 5K full out and to make sure that you run a nice slow couple of miles afterwards to cooldown.  I used the same strategy when I substituted a 1 mile race for a fartlek run and was able to continue training without disruption.


                Good luck!

                 2015 goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...


                  As I arrived at the 5K that I was running as a time trial, I looked around and realized that most of the superfast runners that typically are running their cooldown miles when I finish appeared to have skipped the race.  I sized up one fast looking guy in Kinvaras and asked him his goal time to hear “sub 7 minute pace”.  He ended up being the winner of the race with a 20:38 where most NYC 5K races are won by something starting with “16:”.


                  I lined up near the front and reminded myself not to overcook this race.  My goal race to improve my 21:23 PR is in 3 weeks, and this was just supposed to be a hard time trial effort (high 21 / low 22).    As the race progressed, I became aware that I was VERY close to the leader.  As we hit the turnaround point on the out and back course and the 10K runners kept going, I noted that Mr. “sub 7 minute pace” was leading and was only about 10 seconds in front of me.  It took a massive effort of will not to go after him but I managed to stay on plan.


                  In the second half of the race, I traded places with a runner who would go on to be the first woman.  We took turns drafting off each other as we were now running into a stiff headwind.  I think that she got the better end of that deal as my 6’-2” did not get much of a break running behind someone I estimated to be 5 feet tall.   She fell off the pace and I found myself in ‘no man’s land’ running solo.  As I approached the finish line, I could see in the distance that the clock had just ticked over “20”.    I was cheerfully rolling along at a 6:30 pace and forced myself to slow down to save the gas for my actual race.


                  Splits: 6:53, 6:55, 6:51


                  I ended up with solid 21:25 and absurdly, I was 3rd overall in the race.  The first woman was right behind me with a 21:39.  I congratulated her on what turned out to be her FIRST RACE(!) and went to find the winner.  What did I learn in this race?

                  1 – Running Wizard has done the job again.  I am ready for my goal race and I am going to crush my PR once I am tapered.

                  2 – I really need to do more of the races that are not in the heart of the city.  Who knows?  I might just win one.

                  3 – My goal for this race was to run a comfortably hard effort with relatively even splits which appears to be my best approach to running a 5K.


                  On the topic of 5K racing tactics, I have a friend who doesn’t try to run an even split race.  His approach is to go out hard to build a time cushion, and then try to hang on.  I derisively call this the ‘bank and bonk approach’ but it does occasionally work for him and he has a 5K PR that starts with an “18:”.  I have also watched him fall apart in races and limp to the finish so I am not sold that this his method is sound racing strategy.  He claims that I am much faster than my 21:23 masters PR and that I should throw caution to the wind and just run my 5Ks by feel and run at as fast a pace as I can reasonably sustain.


                  I am curious if anyone here has an opinion on 5K racing strategy?  What method do you use?

                   2015 goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...




                    I don't have any advice for you. Just wanted to congratulate you on a great race and curious to see the responses. I have a goal 5K race on 6/1 and have been using the Running Wizard plan. This is the first time using a plan for a 5k. I want to do well on my race as I am now 50 and would like to see what I can do. My best time is a 22:05 so I would be ecstatic to finish with your pace. Again, nice job and it sure is fun to race at the best of your abilities. Magic seems to happen at races Smile.



                      Congrats, JML! 3rd overall is sweet! And a nice confidence boost going into your goal race.

                      I saw a thread recently in the Racing forum titled, "5K Racing Strategy" with various thoughts on how to run a 5K.  Here is one of the approaches which seems about right to me (in my very limited experience):


                      "For a 5K, in my experience, the first mile should be mildly uncomfortable but not too bad.

                      The second mile should start to hurt in earnest.  Here is where you should push the pace (IMO) just a bit faster than seems wise.

                      The third mile is all about guts and should hurt all the way through.  You should (or I always do) feel like you're going to die for the last 400 m or so."

                      I think this is where you and I discussed the small margin of error in 5K's before. "Feeling like you are going to die for the last 400m or so" can easily turn into "Dying with over 400m to go."  Do you wear a GPS watch while you race? Where the margin of error is so small, it might be nice to be able to look at the watch occasionally and check your pace and adjust if necessary. Especially on the first mile, where adrenaline (and testosterone) can quickly throw a wrench in your pacing strategy; waiting for the first mile split might be too late to adjust.

                      Again, congrats, and thanks for posting the race report!


                        RunSaintRun and SubDood - Thanks for your kind words.  It was a good day that I think indicates that the goal race could be solid if I execute well.


                        I do in fact wear my Garmin for races to monitor the pace in the first half mile until I have established a good rhythm.  I checked yesterday at the quarter mile mark and slowed the pace as I saw 6:15 on the Garmin.  After the adjustment, I just tried to run fast and loose and maintain a consistent effort.  This has been my general approach for 5Ks in the last few years and has resulted in a decent progression in times.


                        I do wonder what would happen if I left the Garmin at home and just ran by feel.   Would I surprise myself with the result?  Who knows.   I don't know that I am willing to break with my typical plan for this upcoming race but I wonder if I am limiting myself by keeping the foot off the gas in the early part of the race.

                         2015 goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...

                        No more marathons

                          I'll mostly echo what subdood said except that if you are really going for maximum effort even that first mile is going to hurt.

                          Your best strategy is to detemine you goal pace (obviously easier said than done) and then run as even splits as possible.  I would not run by feel, becasue if you run it right, mile two will feel much worse than mile one, even though it should be the same pace.  And I find the average pace feature of the garmin invaluable - without that it is simply too easy to fall into the pace of those around you in mile two - and I guarantee you they will be slowing down.


                          As a young man I broke 17 on a few occasions.  My best splits were 5:30, 5:25, 5:27, :36

                          In my second running career by best is 21:33 with splits of 7:00, 6:51, 6:54, :48.


                          In both cases the middle mile was the fastest, and the result of an intential effort to push the pace.


                          Good luck in your goal race.  Took great determination to not charge ahead in your last one - not sure I could have done that.

                            Nice work, JML!


                            I think it's worth running without the Garmin in a goal race. I believe that knowing the pace can really hold you back...and so yes, I think you would surprise yourself if you left it at home.


                            As for race tactics, I'm not exactly a 5k expert but the crash and burn "tactic" has never seemed like a winning strategy to me no matter how you define "racing." (racing to win or place, racing to beat a particular person, racing to beat your own best time, or whatever...) Even splits ftw!


                              I am tempted to run by feel but don't think I am brave enough to go for it this time around.  After Saturday's race, I think that there is a good PR there for the taking and would be pretty mad at myself if I blew it up with poor race day execution.  After some thought, I think that I will go out for the first mile in something around 6:45 and try to hold the pace for the second mile.  Looking at my past races, I typically fade a little in the second mile as I try to hold on in anticipation of the discomfort of the final mile.  If all things are good on race day, I am going to push the pace in the last mile and see what happens.  Thanks to everyone for your thoughts and support.



                               2015 goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...

                                I'd vote for ignoring the garmin since I find it holds me back as I listen to it more than my body.  That said, since it's your goal race and you fear blowing up, your approach of using it may be best.  I'd just suggest finding another race a couple weeks out and trying it without the watch and you'll likely surprise yourself and have two new PR's in short order.