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What to Do Before a 5K

Amanda Wendorff

Having your best 5k run performance is about much more than what you do during the race. In fact, it’s your preparation and knowledge of what to do before a 5k run that sets you up for an excellent finish! From picking the right training plan to eating the right foods, the decisions you make in the days, weeks, and months before the race can make or break your day.

We’ll discuss several aspects of the pre-race period in this article. Specifically, we’ll touch upon the following:

  • The most important thing you can do before a 5k to have your best performance
  • How you should taper your training before a 5k race
  • What to eat before a 5k, and whether carb loading is advisable
  • What to wear for a 5k
  • How to warm up for a 5k
  • Where to line up at the start line of a 5k
Zsuzsanna Griffin is a childcare provider living in Northern California. She joined the MOTTIV app when she took up endurance sports for the first time a couple of years ago, and now has a healthy obsession with racing triathlons!


What To Do Before a 5k to Have Your Best Performance

Without question, the number one most important thing you can do before you run a 5k to maximize your performance is to train for the race! 

The 5k is a short distance, so there will always be people who show up to race without having done any training. These folks can usually get through the race, often with quite a lot of walking, but are usually just surviving through the race instead of thriving. 

To perform your best, you must train for your big race, ideally by following a well-structured training plan. 

Adequate training for a personal best 5k takes months for most athletes. To determine just how long you should expect the 5k training to last, you can use the following calculator, which takes into your beginning fitness and goals:

To ensure that you feel confident that you’ve done enough training and the right kind of training, we highly suggest using a training plan designed by an experienced coach. You can find 5k training programs written by our world-class coaches, designed specifically for regular people, at mymottiv.com.

Should I Taper Before a 5k?

To perform your best in a 5k, you need to arrive at the start feeling fresh and rested. In addition to good sleep and nutrition in the days leading up to a 5k, you'll need to taper your training. In other words, reduce the time and distance of your workouts. 

While people who run a marathon, an ultramarathon, and IRONMAN triathlons may taper for multiple weeks, for a 5k, you only need to taper over a few days. In the three days before your 5k race, include workouts that are:

  • Short and mostly easy
  • Generally, 40 to 60% less volume than your normal training
  • Include a few short pops of speed to remind your legs of what you’ll ask of them on race day.

We’ve developed a great taper workout for your to try before your next race, called a Primer Workout.

Your taper workouts are also an excellent time to test your race day equipment. If you’ll be using race-specific running shoes, for example, wear them in one of your final training runs to ensure they fit you well and aren’t experiencing any rubbing or hot spots.  

What to Eat Before a 5k

When it comes to eating before your 5k, both your dinner the night before a race and the breakfast you have in the morning play a big role in your performance. 

We’re including some quick tips below, but if you want to dig deeper into the pre-race meals, refer to our guide, What to Eat Before a 5k. And remember, these are general suggestions. If you’d like more specific suggestions that consider your personal dietary restrictions and health concerns, consult a registered dietitian. 

Should I Carb Load the Night Before the 5k Race?

Carb loading the night before your 5k is generally not necessary. 

Although it’s intense, a 5k is a short race, and the glycogen stored in your muscle cells from daily eating will generally provide enough energy to power you to the finish line. You don’t need huge bowls of pasta or stacks of pancakes to be well-fueled; just a bit more carbohydrate than usual will do. If you load up on too many carbs, you’ll likely feel bloated and uncomfortable during your race. 

The night before the race, it’s best to have a dinner that’s a bit larger than usual and definitely contains a good sized serving of carbs. Some good examples include:

  • A lean hamburger with a side of sweet potato fries
  • Grilled salmon with a side of rice and some bread
  • A normal-sized plate of pasta and meatballs

The night before your 5k race, you should go to bed feeling satisfied but not stuffed. And remember, go with what works best for your body, which won't necessarily be the same as anyone else!

What Should I Eat The Morning of the 5k?

A common mistake among new runners is arriving at a 5k without eating breakfast. Racing on an empty stomach is not a good idea! 

Instead, have a small, easily digestible breakfast centered around carbs on race morning. Some good examples include: 

  • A bagel with almond butter and a banana
  • A small bowl of oatmeal with berries
  • A couple of pieces of toast with a scrambled egg

You should eat this breakfast three to four hours before your race starts. This will give your body time to digest the food, saving you from potential gastrointestinal distress (also known as tummy trouble) during your race. 

What Should I Drink Before a 5k?

Remembering to hydrate is critical; you need to drink! To ensure you're arriving at the start line well-hydrated, sip on a light electrolyte drink between your breakfast and the start of your event. Some good examples of light, electrolyte-based drinks include: 

  • Water with Nuun tablets
  • Skratch Labs Sport Hydration
  • Water with Precision Hydration electrolyte tabs

You can find all of these items at https://thefeed.com/team/mottiv, and if you go through that link, you can get store credits every 90 days for life.  

If you’re a regular coffee or tea drinker, follow your normal beverage routine. These drinks may help get your GI system moving before the race. Scientists have noted that any warm beverage, even hot water, can help stimulate bowel movements, and taking care of that business before your race is always a good idea! 

MOTTIV athlete Matt Lewellin is wearing a hydration vest in this photo from an IRONMAN 70.3 race, but a hydration vest would not typically be needed for a 5k.

What Should I Wear for a 5k?

We’ve compiled a lengthy guide to dressing for a 5k, which you can access here.

But in summary, make sure that the outfit you choose for a 5k is:

  • Made of sweat-absorbing, sports-specific fabrics
  • Comfortable
  • Appropriate for the weather conditions
  • Tested in training! (Always remember the adage: nothing new on race day, including clothing!)

How Should I Warm Up Before the 5k?

The 5k is a very intense effort. Done well, a 5k should have you running at just below your lactate threshold, which is quite high intensity.

You should do a short warm-up before the race to get your body ready to work hard. Starting up to 45 minutes before your race, try this routine: 

  • A few minutes of dynamic stretching, such as leg swings and walking lunges
  • 5 to 10 minutes of gentle jogging
  • 4 to 6 repeats of 10 to 15-second strides (short efforts building up to near peak speed). Make sure you fully recover between these repeats.

This short warm-up should raise your heart rate and prepare your muscles for a strong effort. 

Where Should I Line Up in a 5k?

Unless you are an elite runner, you should avoid starting a 5k race at the very front. 

The best 5k races are well-paced and conservative at the beginning. The athletes at the front of the race tend to go out very hard - either because they are elite-level runners or not pacing properly. Starting among these “rabbits” may lead you to ruin your race plan in the first kilometer. 

Instead, try to start among runners aiming for the same finish time as you. Some races will have signs indicating the proper starting position for various paces. Alternatively, ask the runners around you how fast they intend to run. Adjust your position if you’re surrounded by runners who are too fast or slow for you. 

Regarding which side of the field to choose, it’s best to line up on the side of the crowd that is the same as the first turn. For example, if the first turn on the course is a left-hand turn, line up on the left side of the crowd. That said, don’t stand all the way to the side or you could get pinched-in or pushed by runners trying to make a sharp turn, which will slow you down. 

Wrap-Up

A lot goes into running a fast 5k, and preparation and planning should start weeks or even months before your race.  

In this article, we’ve discussed everything you need to do before your 5k, including some of the most important pre-race strategies to help you run your best: 

  • Planning your training
  • Tapering in the final days before the race
  • What to eat and drink the night before the race, and the morning of the race
  • How to warm up before the race
  • What to wear for a 5k
  • Where to line up at the start line

Planning ahead before a 5k can make the difference between an average and an excellent race. Do yourself a favor and focus on all of the things we mentioned pre-race. You’ll be glad you did when you finish with a personal best! 

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Amanda Wendorff

| AUTHOR

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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