Whether you’re getting ready for your first 5K or your 50th, here are some tips to remember during training and on race day to ensure a better race experience (if not a PB).
Showing up to the starting line dehydrated is a no-no. While there is some research suggesting that mild dehydration during training may not be as detrimental to race-day performance as originally thought, when “go” time finally does arrive, aim to show up to the starting line with a full (note: not bursting) tank. While some researchers continue to go back and forth on exactly how much fluid an athlete should consume before or during a workout, the majority position on hydration suggests that dehydration (loss of two per cent or more of your body weight through sweat) should be avoided. Many runners agree that not only does “cotton mouth” lead to a rough race, it also can result in slower race times. Since no one wants to go slow on race day, sip on fluids during the hours leading up to the race and be sure to give yourself time to use the port-a-loo before the event begins. Since lines can get long, plan on getting to the start a bit earlier than you think necessary to give yourself ample time to use the facilities.
Drink up, or don’t.
While a 5K may seem like it goes on forever, in reality it’s shorter than many races. There’s likely to be one (maybe two, if it’s an out-and-back course) fluid stop along the way. Fluid stations usually hand out water and, on occasion, sports drink. These stations can be a godsend on hot and humid days, or if you didn’t arrive at the start line properly hydrated. If you’re thirsty or if your mouth is dry, grab a cup of water or sports drink (the sports drink isn’t necessary over the course of five kilometres, but if it’s your preference, there’s no need to abstain) or keep going and rehydrate at the finish. In other words, you’ll probably do just fine if you choose not to sip so don’t lose sleep or bother turning back if you miss grabbing a cup of fluid.
Be a minimalist.
When it comes to fat and fibre, that is. In the hours before a 5K, you’ll want to fuel up on easy-to-digest carbs and round out your meal with muscle-building protein in moderation. Avoid eating heavy, high-fat foods since these items take much longer to digest and likely won’t be converted to fuel by the time the race starts. Avoid lots of high-fibre foods like whole grains and raw veggies unless you look forward to GI distress mid-race. These filling foods are essential for runners but not in the hours before a race. Aim to fit them in at the finish-line party or once you get home and put your feet up.
There is no wall.
I once raced a 5K with a guy who brought along three energy gels. I couldn’t help but wonder at which kilometre marker he planned on taking them… and at which kilometre marker his gut might explode, since consuming that many gels over the course of 20 minutes is overdoing it, to say the least. When going five kilometres, you can leave the energy gels, fuel belt, and even the sports drink at home. Most high-octane sports nutrition products were designed for the long haul – events lasting more than 60 minutes – and since you’re unlikely to be out on the course that long, a solid meal a few hours before the race and a recovery meal after will guarantee you won’t hit the wall somewhere between kilometres four and five.
Don’t forget to recover.
If you think there’s no need to nutritionally recover from a 5K, you’re wrong. Proper recovery, that it to say rehydrating and refuelling, allows you to make training gains and prevent fatigue during your next run. In other words, by consuming fluids, protein, and carbohydrate within 30 to 45 minutes of crossing the finish line, you’re primed and ready to tackle your next workout or race. Don’t be tempted to avoid recovery simply because you think the kilojoules ingested post-run will “undo” the kilojoules burned over five kilometres. These kilojoules (note: it doesn’t take an entire pizza; 10 to 20 grams of lean protein and two to four times as much carb will do nicely) are instrumental in replacing muscle glycogen stores and starting you on the path to muscle rebuilding and recovery.