5 Reasons to Run a 5K During Your Buildup for Something Longer

Janet asks: I’m training to improve my half-marathon time. Would a 5K race or two during the season help?

The 5K race is sometimes snubbed in the long-distance-running world, but it packs a powerful punch and can definitely help you improve your performance in the half marathon (or any race). It’s all about how you use it within your season.

The distance is shorter, and therefore, so is the postrace recovery time. This means you can run harder and race more frequently without having to work through extended phases of tapering or recovery. Run a couple 5Ks during the cutback long run weeks in your training plan, and use them to practice your prerace logistics, race-day nutrition, and race-day pacing strategy.

Expand your running gears.

In one 5K, you can focus on your target race pacing, and in the next you can focus more on pushing hard for the majority of the race. This teaches your body and brain how to run at the hard end of the spectrum. Come race day, you’ll have a variety of gears to reach for during the race, and the fitness to push through fatigue and finish strong in the final miles.

Assess your fitness.

Running a 5K early in the season can help assess where your running fitness level is so you can train from that point and progress from there through the season. Racing a 5K in the middle of the season will help assess how well your body is adapting to the plan and allow you to make changes in your training plan if it’s not working. A 5K race done at the time of your peak training weeks should reflect improvements in fitness, pacing, and overall race-day strategy.

Boost race confidence.

Let’s face it: Lining up at any race where you plan to reach beyond your comfort level can be overwhelming. When you toss in some shorter-distance races during your buildup, you build your confidence with every start and finish.

Calm race day nerves.

One of the leading causes of race-day stress is the fear of the unknown. Every 5K race is an opportunity to hone your mental game. You’ll develop race-day rituals that ground you in tradition and familiarity. You’ll practice seeing your way to success by visualizing your pacing strategy. And you’ll learn to focus your thoughts in the minutes before the gun goes off, as you concentrate on your breath to calm the chatter in your head and connect your mind and body.

What the 5K lacks in distance, it makes up for in training benefits. Plug a 5K or two into your plan this season and you won’t be sorry.

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