There are many reasons why runners race. Finishing is victory in its own right, but getting an age group award at a race is icing on the cake. It does take hard work and strategy, but it is possible to place at a 5k.
I hadn’t been nervous for a race in a really long time. The butterflies felt foreign the night before as I lay in bed thinking about the morning that lies ahead. Soon they rested their wings as I envisioned crossing the finish line as my feet flew. Instead, the cheerleaders in my head clapped their hands with pride. There was no doubt that I had put in the hard work, I would just have to deliver. This is because I had my eyes set on a prize: finally placing at a 5k.
And while this has secretly always been a goal in the back of my mind (what runners doesn’t want to “win”?), what I really wanted was to have a sub 30 5k officially under my belt.
It turned out it was a big race for me because I was able to crush both of these goals.
How To Place At A 5k
Unless you are a professional runner, most of us participate in races to set and reach goals for ourselves and challenge on our times. We are often our biggest competition. And in search for PR, we sometimes work hard enough to actually place at a 5k.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think my running would be where it is today. And while I didn’t just win the NYC Marathon, coming in 2nd place for my age division is a huge accomplishment for me. And it actually is a really obtainable goal for any runner.
To place at a race and get an age group award you just need to put in the hard work.
Placing at a 5k starts with the proper training.
Looking back, I used to run 12 and then 11 something minute miles back when I got serious about running about 4 years ago. And while it was the best I could do at the time, consistency with my runs and proper training has led me to where I am now. This includes running my fastest mile at 8:31.
Training For A 5k
- Know your current pace
First, establish how fast you can run a mile. This is your base. Then do a time trial 5k to see where you stand. You might be a seasoned runner and have done a few 5ks, but if you want to place this means competition against others who are faster.
The only way to get on that podium and have that moment to shine is to train.
- Increase speed & build endurance
Placing at a 5k means the runner must have the stamina and speed to get them across that finish line the fastest they can. Allow for a few weeks to properly train.
To increase speed, runners should do a few different types of training runs.
Do lots of speed work during your runs. Called interval training, it consists of a warm-up, then shorts bursts of sprinting (1 minute) followed by recovery time (2 minutes), then repeat until the workout is done.
Also throw in some tempo runs. These are runs that has a pace that is 25-30 seconds slower than your 5k pace, which is your lactate-threshold pace.
And make sure you run hills! Hills suck, but they aren’t the enemy. Defeating these dragons will make you victorious in the end. Running hills is the best way to strengthen legs while avoiding injury.
- Find a coach
I did see the results I wanted to see until I started working with my incredible running coach Jen Vieth of She Runs. From training me for my next half marathon. Getting this PR is just an added bonus.
I highly recommend a running coach, given they are helpful, motivating and inspiring like mine is. She has become a great mentor and friend.
- Follow a training plan
There are plenty of training plans online for those who don’t want to go that route and hire a coach. But following a plan even for seasoned runners is beneficial when it comes to placing at a 5k and getting that age group award.
Aim to run three times and week and cross train including strength training and stretching like yoga. Build a strong core and work on all muscle groups.
Doing Things Right
Arriving at this event, I had a mental checklist already going of all the things I would do differently this race. This included actually eating a breakfast (toast with peanut butter), stretching and warming up by jogging around the parking lot. I wanted to make sure my body and muscles were warmed up. The gun went off and I was on fire.
Despite how fast I was running—and trust me, I looked at my Garmin quite a few times to make sure I was on target pace—there were lots of others ahead of me. And as each person passed me, I tried to not let that discourage me. I knew it had it in me to run a sub 30 since I have done it before during a training run while running with my “fast” friend who pushed me. And I have finished a 5k at 30:02 before this year. My goal was 29 and whatever seconds, so I am so proud of my 28:39.
In short, get there on time, warm-up and get in the right headspace. Then give it all you got.
How It Felt
There was a part of me that wanted to slow down that first mile because I worried about burning out. But I held it steady, telling myself just take it a mile at a time. By a mile and a half, I needed water bad and had already passed the aid station. It was hot and I was going full force. I was dreaming of a sip. This was an out and back race, the Eatontown 5k on Labor Day, so on my way back I grabbed a water bottle, slugged it hard and drenched myself.
Mile 2 was a slightly slower 9:18. I am the worst at negative splits, but as long as I saw a 9 on my watch I knew I was still in good standing to meet my goal. I almost stopped to walk at one point, and I’m not going to lie, I was tired towards the end. But I knew I had some gas in there somewhere. Your heart just takes over and drives it home. That’s exactly what I did, for my 9:48 mile 3. I knew I had a few more minutes before reaching 30 minutes and less than a half a mile to go. I was in full sprint mode and gave it all I got to finish strong.
Joy overcame me crossing that finish line so I knew I finally got my sub 30. And after looking at my unofficial results I couldn’t believe that I placed second for my age group! It has been something I sought after for so long, and it just is a physical memento to remind me of all the hard work that I’ve done—and that putting in that hard work yields results.
Small Events, Larger Chances
I have to say that the Eatontown 5k was a small race of just 96 participants. So a trick of the trade is to shoot for a PR and to place at these smaller events where there is less competition.
A win is a win when it comes to age group awards!
Some events only give prizes to the top finishers. But a race like this one handed trophies to all top 3 age group award winners.