During the Race
As you are running the 5K, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all. Just be sure that you keep the following essential guidelines in mind to ensure that you have the best experience possible.
When runners line up in anticipation at the start of a 5K (or any race), they are supposed to position themselves in the pack based on their anticipated pace. For example, faster runners—especially those trying to place, if not win—line up in front to be sure they get off to as fast a start as possible. Runners with no competitive aspirations, or those who are participating strictly for fun, should take their place toward the back.
Although runners generally are honest people, this protocol does not always hold when they are asked to line up for the start of a race according to their anticipated pace. Unfortunately, too many slower runners line up in front of the faster runners. In addition to this not being fair, in a large race the slower participants can actually create problems by blocking the path of faster runners. In rare instances, pushing inadvertently occurs, which can lead to runners slipping and falling.
If you're not sure where to line up and are worried about whether you'll get stuck behind the slow runners or quickly left behind by the fast ones, play it safe and head for the middle of the pack. There will be runners who quickly pass you and others whom you will pass, but if you're new to running races, the middle is the best position from which to find your rhythm and enjoy the run. Take a deep breath and know that you are going to have fun, stay relaxed, and achieve your goals.
Something you'll probably see all the runners around you doing is readying their watches prior to the start of the race. You should do the same. Be prepared so that when you hear, “Runners take your mark, set, go!” your watch is already at zero and all you have to do is push the start button to be on pace.
Pacing and Staying Relaxed
Running at the appropriate pace for your ability level is crucial for all distances, from sprints to the marathon, to enhance your chances of performing optimally and therefore running your fastest possible race. It is so easy to start the race running much faster than you should—and you may not even realize it! Your pace during the first mile may feel effortless due to the adrenaline rush and excitement of the event. But speed can cause you to burn out by the second or third mile.
Be sure to check your watch at the mile markers of the race (called mile splits) to see how far off the official time you may be. The information you get from your watch as well as the split times called by the people manning the mile markers can both help you stay on pace.
Chances are you'll run faster in a race than you do during your training runs, even if your goal is not to go faster. The rush of the crowd and the fact that it's a race contribute to the excitement, which usually translates into a faster pace.
For races in which many runners compete, the organization holding the event may use computer chips to time the runners. The chips activate at the starting line and stop at the finish. If you're toward the back of a pack in such a race, don't start your watch when the officials shout “Go!” (in large races, a starting pistol is fired) since it might take you a while to reach the actual starting line and your time will be thrown off. Instead, start your watch at the starting line and look at it at each mile marker.
The split times shouted out by the people manning the markers may not be what you're running either because their time started when the announcer said “Go!” Working your watch this way during a big race is the only way you'll know with any sense of accuracy your true pace mile by mile, as well as your actual finish time immediately after the race.
Running each mile at the same pace is a proven approach to turning in your best race time. If you feel like you're really overextending yourself, you probably are. Taper back a bit and see whether you feel like catching some folks at the end. You'll enjoy finishing strong.
Another way to avoid draining your energy too quickly is to remember to stay loose and relaxed. Be sure to shake out your arms and shoulders occasionally throughout the race to avoid upper-body muscle tightness. This will contribute to a more comfortable run.
What if I get injured during the race?
If you feel a significant increase in pain as you continue to run, seriously consider dropping out of the race. No race is worth the risk of hurting yourself by continuing to run and causing a minor injury to turn into a major setback.
Water Stops and Supplements
Most races have water stops, at which eager volunteers hold out cups of water for you to take as you pass. Mastering the art of drinking while you're running takes some practice. But the only way to do it is to, well, do it. So give it a try. If you're not too successful and get most of the water on your face or shirt, oh well. What you don't want to do is inhale the water and end up choking. So if it's easier and more comfortable for you, just slow down to a walk for a few steps while you drink.
If it's a really hot day, you can also pour water over your head, on your neck, chest, and hands. As for supplements like energy gels, you don't really need them in a 5K.