Updated: May 10
Originally published Nov. 3rd by Allie Caminiti.
Currently, a Chaski coach and sub-3-hour marathoner, Allie ran five years varsity track in middle school and high school, and just one season in college. She began running again as an adult after a long hiatus and has improved her 5k from 23:42 in 2015 to 18:32 in 2019. As you'll see below, focusing on mindset and mental fortitude is at the center of her coaching philosophy.
So many of us marathoners are petrified by the 5k. “It’s so short!” “It’s so hard!” “I can’t breathe!” “I don’t know how to pace that!” “It’s so painful!” “It’s so fast!” Having that mindset going into a 5k sets us up for failure. Marathoners should be embracing the 5k! After all, the 5k is still mostly aerobic. And marathoners have massive aerobic engines. So how do we use our aerobic engines and run a 5k without suffering?
Before You Run: Know that you are also well suited for this. Clearing that negative mindset and opening yourself up to possibilities will help you pace yourself better. Seriously. It begins with mindset. If we lack confidence in our abilities, allow our nerves to get the best of us, and don’t trust ourselves, we may end up going out either too fast or too slow. We need to trust our mind and bodies and know what we’re capable of, to start at our pace.
Fueling: You may be thinking that it is only 3 miles, so you don’t need to really fuel much because you’ll just burn fat & natural reserves. But that is a mistake. Running at intense speeds burns carbohydrates very quickly. It really doesn’t use much fat for fuel. Without topping off your glycogen supply with a carb focused pre-race meal a couple of hours prior, your body may run through those glycogen stores in your muscles very quickly leading to that feeling of dead legs when you don’t want them. This does not mean you need to load up the way you do for a marathon, but don't skip breakfast.
Warm-Up: Especially for those of you who are used to training for marathons, the warm-up for a 5k may be longer than the race itself! Of course you don’t want to tire your legs out too much, but you do want to warm up enough so that your heart rate isn’t in overdrive when you start running at an intense speed during the race. I’d recommend at least 2, but probably more like 3-4 miles warm-up with 4-6 60-100m strides at mile pace with equal jog recovery.
Mile 1: Use your head. Seriously, use your freaking head. If you go out 20 seconds per mile faster than your intended race pace, it’s okay to reign it in when you realize that. And let’s be real, y’all are checking your watches at .1 to see how quick you went out. I would advise not running your first mile faster than what you expect your average mile pace to be. Attempt to be within 5 seconds of that projected average race pace. Running that first mile 10 seconds too fast might lead your second mile to be 30 seconds too slow. You can always pick it up your second mile if feeling good at your average race pace, but you are not going to be banking time in a 5k.
Mile 2: You probably felt great the first mile, no matter how fast you went out. As soon as mile 2 hits though, you'll know if you went out too fast. If you went out at your projected average race pace or right around there, you might feel surprisingly great as mile 2 begins, and that is your cue to pick it up. When you feel surprisingly great, we tend to get lulled into a comfort zone that is a tad too slow. Avoid the comfort zone in mile 2. You may THINK you're running the same pace, but you are probably slowing down. PICK IT UP. Match that first-mile pace.
Mile 3: Now the fatigue may really set it. You may realize, "Oh shit, I still have over a mile left!" But take a second to reframe that sentence and say, "Oh shit! I only have just over a mile left!" Now is the time to MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN. This is when you fight. You focus on form just a little bit more. You push to catch the person in front of you just a little bit more. You manage your breathing just a little bit more. Again, you maintain that second-mile pace. And if possible, you pick it up a smidgen. With half a mile left in that 3rd mile, this is when your heart comes into play. You start to push. Imagine yourself banging out those Yasso 800s and get your ass moving.
Last 0.1: DIG IN. All heart, and a little know-how. This is all about the kick and getting those feet popping off the ground. Remember, kicking FEELS BETTER than trying to maintain the same pace. You are activating different muscles with that kick at the end, allowing your tired muscles to have a new shot of stimulation. By shifting gears, you're doing just that: using a different gear which means you don't have to burn out the other one and feel that tired hurt. Nail that pick-up by getting your form just right. Get up onto your toes. Drive your knees. Get that forward lean down extending from your back heel. You're going so fast, you are almost falling forward, and you know what...it's okay. Your back heels kick up towards your booty as those powerful hammies propel you forward! You don't reach with your front toe, you drive from your back foot.
Cross The Line: Collapse. Smile. Soak it up.