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Road races
Lowering your 5K time

09/25/14
By Joel Bergeron



 5K road races have gained a lot of popularity over the past few years. It has something to do with the fact that they are just long enough to be challenging but short enough so that a casual exerciser can still participate. Whether you’re a competitive runner or just out to walk the course to support your favorite cause, chances are you can find a race close by. We’re all interested in seeing how fast we covered that 3.1-mile stretch when we cross the finish line.

Decreasing your race time takes a combination of strategies on race day, but it is also related to the preparation leading up to race day.  Here are five tricks for running a faster race:
 
1.  Swing Your Arms Correctly. The easiest way to lower your time is to focus on the way you run.  When you swing your arms, they should move in a forward to backward motion with your elbows bent about 90 degrees. If they are swinging across your body or up and down (similar to playing a drum), then you’re wasting a lot of momentum and energy. By the end of the race you’ll have more fatigue than had you run with better mechanics.  
 
2.  Focus On Your Leg Strides. The way you take each stride affects two important factors: stride length (the distance you cover on each step) and stride frequency (the number of strides over a given period of time). If you increase both stride length and stride frequency, you’re going to run a lot faster.  You can improve your stride length simply by picking your legs up higher on each stride. This may seem obvious, but as you run, focus on lifting your knees a few inches higher.  Initially, this may feel strange, but if you become consistent you’ll see your time drop. Doing situps regularly helps improve your hip-flexor strength, which will improve your stride length. To improve stride frequency, you just have to train consistently and pick up your pace.
 
3.  Run Upright. The posture you run with has a direct correlation to how you perform. Run in an upright position with your shoulders directly above your hips and shoulders back. Avoid hunching over, similar to a slouch position you might have while sitting in an office chair and leaning forward. Running in a forward-hunched position limits your range of motion at the hip and consequently shortens your stride length. This will bring fatigue on quickly and put minutes onto your time.
 
4.  Eat Healthy. Although 5K races are short compared to full or half marathons, your pre-race nutrition still plays an important role.  Most people run 5K races in 20 to 35 minutes. Your body relies primarily on carbohydrates when exercising. Make sure you eat a solid dinner the night before and avoid any unfamiliar or spicy foods. Eat a light meal a couple of hours before the race, made up primarily of carbohydrates, with very little fat or protein in it (fat and protein take 8 to 16 hours to digest).
Hydration status also impacts on your ability to perform as well. Depending on the time of year, the temperature can be cool and comfortable or humid and stuffy. The warmer the weather, the more you’ll sweat, so make sure you’re well-hydrated (urine should be clear).  
 
5.  Train for the Race. As obvious as this may seem, many people just show up on race day then wonder why they were left gasping for air a half mile into the race. Remember the old adage that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Take a look at your calendar and make sure you start running at least four to six weeks before race day. Start gradually; run two to three times the first week if you haven’t been active in a while and don’t be surprised if your get sore. Each week, increase the distance of your runs a slight amount or try to run the same distance at a faster pace. Change your training run distances around too; don’t just repeat the same run over and over again. Take a run longer than the race distance one day; on the next, run a shorter distance but at a faster pace. Don’t be afraid to mix some hiking or weight lifting in either — those can both help you run faster by building leg strength.
 
If you follow these simple tips, you’ll be rewarded with faster race times — and you may just decide that you’ll be ready for a 10K soon.
 
Do you have a question about health and fitness that you’d like answered in The Healthy Hippo?  Email Joel Bergeron at info@nlpstrength.com. Joel is a former NCAA D1 and professional sports coach and holds a master’s degree in sport science. Be sure to check with your doctor before changing your eating habits or embarking on a new exercise program. 





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