Running a 5k event

Tips and advice for running a 5k race

If you are running a 5k (3.1 mile) race you will need to know how to get started, what to wear, what to eat and drink, how to train and whether you can actually make the 5k distance. This article is full of facts and tips that will help you get 5k ready. 

How do I get started training for a 5k?

Running a 5k race - how to get started

To help guide you through the 5k maze, simply follow the three-step checklist below to get off the mark:

Step 1. Check that it’s safe for you to begin exercising. If you’ve not exercised for some time, have a check-up with your doctor before you begin.

Step 2. Evaluate your fitness levels. You need to know where you are before you can progress – so sit down and honestly assess where your running and general fitness levels currently are.

Step 3. Select a training plan. Trying to prepare for a 5k without a training plan is like trying to find your way to a new town without a map and signposts. To take you on your journey to 5k success, you need to follow a structured training plan that is right for your fitness levels and will take you safely towards your 5k goal.

What should I wear ro run a 5k?

To start your training, basic shorts and a t-shirt and/or sweatshirt is pretty much all you need. There is an excellent range of running-specific gear available that will keep you dry, will help you to avoid any chafing problems and will be light and comfortable to wear – but to begin with you’ll probably find that you already own enough gear to get you started. However, one area where you shouldn’t compromise is on training shoes – and it is certainly worth investing in a proper pair of running-specific trainers. Seek out a specialist retailer who can give you advice and, if necessary, assess your gait, so that you can find the most suitable shoe for your running style. Remember that a good pair of running shoes is an investment in comfort and injury prevention, and will repay you again and again long after your initial outlay.

What should I eat and drink?

Correct nutrition and hydration is an essential part of both your 5k preparation and during the race itself. Without the correct fuel – and enough of it – you will be unable to complete the longer runs, and so paying close attention to your diet is key. As a runner, you need to be consuming plenty of 'slow-release' carbohydrate to provide you with energy – which means food choices such as pasta are ideal. As a rule of thumb, you typically burn at least 100 calories per mile on top of your general daily calorie requirements – so it is important that your body is supplied with enough of the correct type of fuel. Also, don’t neglect your fluid intake, because your fluid requirements will increase both for storing fuel in your muscles and because you will lose more fluid through sweating.

Running a 5k race - food and drink you need

How much training do I need to do for a 5k event?

Up to a point, the more training that you are able to complete, the better. However, you should always remember that the most important component of any training plan is rest – so a correct training plan should balance building up your 5k-specific fitness with sufficient recovery. The beauty of preparing for a 5k is that you don’t need to commit endless hours to training – so your training can be easily accommodated into your normal life.

Use the ‘training time vs finishing time’ guide below to help you gauge how much time you need to commit per week. Your training plan should consist of a careful blend of long runs, recovery sessions and faster-paced training as you build your 5k-specific endurance – so that you will be able to run for 60 minutes or longer.

  • Training for one hour per week = Your target should simply be to finish your 5k.
  • Training for one to two hours per week = Your target 5k finishing time should be between 30 and 35 minutes.
  • Training for more than two hours per week = Your target 5k finishing time should be between 25 and 30 minutes.

How long will the race take me?

Depending upon the weather conditions on the day and any unpredictable events that occur, your race may be faster or slower than your target time – so the above finishing times are just a guide. It is also important to remember that you will actually be out on the road for longer than your target time. It can take up to several minutes to cross the start line at mass-participation 5k races – but with modern computerized timing systems, the organisers are able to record your personal time from crossing the start line to crossing the finishing line. More and more races are issuing runners with their own personal timing chip that you fix to your shoe. At the start and finish lines, as well as at various points around the course, you will cross special mats that register your time as you pass over them – which will provide you with an exact time for your own 5k race.

What happens on race day?

The day of your race will be a fantastic experience that you will never forget. In addition to running your race, the build up and culmination of all your training makes everything worthwhile. You need to rise early so that you can top up your energy stores before heading for the start. At larger events, there can be many thousands of runners – which will make for an amazing atmosphere! Everyone will line up in positions according to their expected finishing time – indicated by placards by the side of the road – and then the start gun will fire and you’ll be off!

En route there will be drinks stations where you can top up with water and/or energy replacement drinks. Running in a huge field is very exciting but can take a little getting used to – so entering a lead-in race such as a fun run of a mile or two will give you very useful race experience before you do a 5k. Pace judgment is very important during your race, and your training plan will help you to prepare for running at an even consistent pace. Also, each mile or kilometer will be clearly marked so that you can check your progress. There are usually big crowds at the finish, and crossing the line and achieving your goal is a memory that will stay with you forever!

Once you have finished, you will receive your medal, food and drink, and often a goody bag with a souvenir race t-shirt and other products. A few days after your race you can expect to receive the race results and often a selection of photographs taken around the course of you in action – which will be excellent mementoes!

Running a 5k event: Can I do it?

The answer to that question is an unequivocal YES! There are literally hundreds of 5k races staged up and down the UK each year, and fields vary from a few hundred runners to many, many thousands – demonstrating that it is a race distance that is accessible to all. Going from non-runner to 5k finisher is always a real success story – and one that is genuinely achievable by following a correctly structured training plan that will help you towards your 5k goal. And as well as achieving your goal, there is a great spin-off benefit too: improved health and fitness! So, if you’re considering taking the 5k plunge, then do it. It’ll be a fantastic experience that you’ll never forget!

Comments (10)

  • TonySmith2 'Thought about running a 10k as my first race, but then I looked at the training plan and have now decided to do a 5k! It's probably a good idea to start off doing a fairly short distance, rather than doing too much too soon...'

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  • PaulRitchie2 '5k races are great as you can do them in 1/2 an hour, so you can do the race and have ample time to celebrate!.'

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  • adam_s ' I'd agree that a 5k is a good place to start. A lot of people try to do too much too soon and then wonder why they end up injured. I'd say start with a 5k and then progress to a 10k, half marathon and full one if that's what your end goal is.'

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  • HAN75 ' I think 5k would be enough for me to begin with. I've not been as active of late as I would have liked but I would definitely like to get fit again and a 5k seems like just the goal for me - nowhere near as severe as a marathon!'

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  • JohnBudge2 'I completed my first run last Sunday running a 5k. I completed the course, albeit in 40 minutes, but was over the moon with this as I "ran" all the way, and at the tender age of 59!!! I would like to compete in more but am not sure how to find out where, or when they are locally to me. any suggestions please.'

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  • HAN75 ' You can check out the race calendar in the running section on this site. There a list of races you can search though for the coming months.'

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  • boscodesouza_1 'I now do the Southend 'parkrun' regularly. Very sociable sometimes over 200 local runners. It is free every Sat. at 9am so u get to know people, have your 5k time texted to u and can compare yourself to others in your age group on their brilliant website. I have now done parkruns in Glasgow & Birmingham & there r new ones at Basildon & Chelmsford. Cant rate it highly enough. Register online.'

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  • boscodesouza_1 'I now do the Southend 'parkrun' regularly. Very sociable sometimes over 200 local runners. It is free every Sat. at 9am so u get to know people, have your 5k time texted to u and can compare yourself to others in your age group on their brilliant website. I have now done parkruns in Glasgow & Birmingham & there r new ones at Basildon & Chelmsford. Cant rate it highly enough. Register online.'

    Report as inappropriate

  • boscodesouza_1 'I now do the Southend 'parkrun' regularly. Very sociable sometimes over 200 local runners. It is free every Sat. at 9am so u get to know people, have your 5k time texted to u and can compare yourself to others in your age group on their brilliant website. I have now done parkruns in Glasgow & Birmingham & there r new ones at Basildon & Chelmsford. Cant rate it highly enough. Register online.'

    Report as inappropriate

  • boscodesouza_1 'I now do the Southend 'parkrun 5k' regularly. Very sociable ,may b 200 local runners. It is free every Sat. at 9am so u get to know people, have your time texted to u and can compare yourself to others in your age group on their brilliant website. I have done parkruns in Glasgow & Birmingham.New ones at Basildon , Chelmsford & abroad. Cant rate it highly enough. Register free online.'

    Report as inappropriate

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