8 Commonly-Asked Questions About 5K Racing

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If you've been training for a 5K and you're starting to get a little pre-race anxiety, don't stress, that's completely normal.  Even experienced racers get jitters before races.  To help calm your nerves and ease some of your fears, get answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions about 5K racing.

Should I Eat Before a 5K?

Peanut Butter on Toast

Yes, you should definitely make sure you eat something before the race. Most races are held in the morning, so if you don’t eat anything for breakfast, it will have been many hours since your last meal.  The key is when and what you eat.  You don’t want to eat immediately before your race because that may lead to cramping or side stitches. Your best bet is to eat a snack or light meal about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before you start running.

Pick something high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Some examples of good pre-workout fuel include: a bagel with peanut butter; turkey and cheese on whole wheat bread; a banana and an energy bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. Stay away from rich, very fatty, or high-fiber foods, as they may cause gastrointestinal distress.

Also see:

Should I Run the Day Before a 5K?

Woman running past storefronts
Michael Schmitt

There's really no right or wrong answer here. It's good to rest your running muscles in preparation for a race, so many runners like to relax and not run the day before. They say that they feel fresh and ready when they get to the starting line. But other runners will swear by running very easy for 20 minutes the day before a race, saying that it helps them loosen up and shake off the nervous feelings.

So, you really need to do what works best for you. If you're the type of person who gets race anxiety, it might be helpful for you to do a very slow, 20-minute jog the day before. But if you think you perform better on rest, then just relax during those 24 hours leading up to the race. Whatever you do, just make sure that you don't do a long or intense hard workout, like a long run, speed workout, or strength training, that's going to leave you feeling tired or sore the next day. Keep it short and easy.

Can I Run a 5K Without Training?

Runners in race
Yellow Dog Productions

The answer is that it really depends on your current fitness level. If you’re already an active person and have been doing cardio exercise (biking, swimming, walking, etc.), you may be able to complete it even if you haven’t been running on a regular basis.  You may want to use a run/walk approach, which means that you’ll do intervals of running and intervals of walking. Taking short walking breaks allows to run for a greater percentage of the race, as opposed to running without stopping for a distance and then having to walk for the rest of the race due to fatigue. The run/walk technique is also safer for untrained runners because the walk breaks reduce the pounding on your body and reduce your risk of injury

If you still have a few weeks to go before the 5K, try to follow one of these schedules, to give yourself the best case of completely the race comfortably and successfully. 

Whatever you do, don’t try to cram for the race.  If you run really hard and long in the days leading up to the 5K, it could only hurt, not help you.  Your body doesn’t make the physical adaptations until 10-14 days after training, so intense training in the two weeks before will not help you. It may actually have the opposite effect and leave you feeling sore and fatigued on race day.  As you’ll see on the 5K training schedule, it’s better to do two or three easy runs of 20 to 30 minutes during the week before the race. Take one or two days off before race day.

Also see: How to Train for a 5K in Two Weeks

How Can I Predict My 5K Time?

Rudi Von Briel/Photodisc/Getty Images

Predicting your 5K can be tough, especially if you’ve never run a race before. And there are a lot of variables in racing, such as physical and mental preparation for the race, weather, elevation on the course, crowds, etc.

If you've recently run another race at a different distance or have timed yourself racing a mile, you can give yourself a rough estimate of what you're capable of running by using a calculator, such as this race time predictor calculator on Running for Fitness. You just plug in your age, gender, and time/distance from a recent race. The calculator then shows you how you might perform in races at other distances, including 5K.

Also see:   What's a Good Time for a 5K?

Am I Allowed to Walk During a 5K?

Walkers in race
Yellow Dog Productions

Yes, of course you can walk during a 5K!  You may even want to purposely take a walk break to give your running muscles a break.  A short walk interval can also break up the monotony during a race, which can help you deal with the mental challenges and any discomfort you may be feeling.

Of course, if you plan to walk the majority of your race, you should make sure that the race you sign up for is walker-friendly. There are some 5Ks that have cut-off times, a time limit by which all participants must have crossed the finish line.

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What Should I Wear in a 5K Race?

Race spectators cheering
Dream Pictures/Ostrow

The most important rule for what to wear during your 5K is, “Nothing new on race day.” Race day is not the time to try out brand new running shoes or a cute running outfit. If you experiment with new clothes or shoes, they might end up feeling uncomfortable and lead to chafing or blistering. Your race day attire should be your tried-and-true favorite clothes, shoes, socks, and whatever else you need to wear for your race.

Make sure check the weather forecast, so you can plan your race outfit accordingly. Check out these articles for tips on how to dress for different weather conditions:

Don’t forget that you have to wear your race bib (which usually has your B-tag timing device on the back) on the front of your shirt.  That lets the race officials know that you’re an official race participant and it will also allow the race photographer (if there is one)  to identify you in your official race photos.

Make sure you lay your clothes out the night before your race, so you’re not scrambling and trying to find things in the morning.

Can I Wear Headphones in a 5K?

Runner with headphones
Henrik Sorensen

Unless you’re competing for an award in the 5K, you’re allowed to wear headphones. But many race directors still discourage use of headphones during races for safety reasons. If you're listening to music during a race, you may not be able to hear instructions from race officials and other runners on the course. One of the basic rules of racing etiquette is that you can hear others, so you can move out of the way or stop, when necessary.

The other warning about wearing headphones during a race is that you'll miss out on a lot of the race excitement. You won't be able to listen to bands, hear people cheering, or talk to other runners. There's also a chance that your music listening device could stop working during your race, so it's important that you don't get totally dependent on it.

If you need your music to stay motivated or beat boredom during the race, try using it on a low volume or with one earbud out, so you can still hear.

How Do I Drink Water on the Run?

Race Volunteer at Water Stop
Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images

The 5K will have at least at least one water stop on the course, so you’ll have the chance to drink water during the race.  Once you take the cup of water from the race volunteer, don't be tempted to gulp it down quickly. Squeeze one side of the top of the cup, so it's pointed, like a V. If the cup is very full, this will allow some extra water to come out, so it's not spilling all over the place. And holding the cup at the top like that will help keep the rest of the water in and allow you to drink the water slowly and not get it up your nose. Put the pointed top of the cup in your mouth and drink the water. Take your time -- there's no need to drink all of it in one sip.

Also see:  More Tips for Taking Water from Aid Stations

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