Want to Set a 5K PR? Learn Pacing!

If you’re in the hunt for an upcoming race, the distance you’ll see most often is the 5K. Though half marathons are super-popular, you just can’t beat the number of 5K races available at any given time in Central Texas.

Pacing is key for setting a PR: going out even a little too fast can radically alter the outcome of a race.

The great miler Steve Scott, who has run more sub-4-minute miles than any other person (136), once remarked that the 5K race is a perfect blend of strength and speed.

While many articles focus on how to train for a 5K, few explore the best strategy for actually racing them. While some studies point to “even -pacing” which works for distance like the half-marathon and the marathon as the most scientifically proven strategy for the 5K, others allow for a slight variance.

Let’s look at that.

For starters, it’s worth pointing out that learning to properly pace yourself is one of the most critical skills a runner can develop. Experienced runners develop a fine-tuned sense and can tell the difference between a 7:45 per mile pace and a 7:55 per mile pace.  The reality is, that when it comes to racing, even a small variance in pace can change the outcome for better or worse.

The 5K is relatively short, so there’s really not much room for error. Go out too fast, and you’re going to fall apart, just like in a longer race. But what of you went out only slightly faster than your goal pace?

You’re in luck, because studies have shown that running the first mile of a 5K as little as three percent faster than your goal pace can yield the best results. Watch out though, because running the first mile more than six percent faster than goal race pace and you’ll end up dragging yourself through the last mile or may not even finish the race. Six percent is a pretty obvious pacing error— for someone shooting for a 21:45 5K, it would mean going out at a 6:35 pace versus a 7:00 minute pace.

In contrast, going out only three percent faster would mean starting off at a much more manageable 6:47 pace.

As you can see, the margin between success and failure is pretty small: we’re talking about a 12-second per mile difference here. But throw in the excitement of the race, the competition, your rivals, and it’s easy to see how so often people end up saying, “I was on PR pace for the first mile and a half, and then I just lost it.”

The lesson? There’s a small window between a PR and a slow race, and you will nearly always face consequences of going out too fast if you are seeking a personal record.

Upcoming races: Saturday, August 5, Duck Dash 5K at 8:00 a.m., at Yettie Polk Park, 101 South Davis
Belton. Saturday, August 12, 5K for Clay at 7:30 a.m. at the Clay Madsen Recreation Center,1600 Gattis School Road, Round Rock.

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