Well for a start any more serious training will NOT improve your PB. You won’t get the exercise benefit by this Saturday. Nor probably next Saturday for that matter.
So with that in mind here are a few tricks you can use to boost the effects of your training and maybe, just maybe, get that PB. Of course ‘tricks’ only work for a while. Any serious runners that find their way to this page will probably not find anything new; if you do parkruns then hopefully you WILL find something new to add to your running kit bag.
Ultimately you have to train a lot to get a lot better. But not for this coming weekend you don’t…you have to maximise the training you already have done.
All the suggestions are starred:
*** 3 stars. IMHO it will work
** 2 stars. It might work
* 1 star. Can’t hurt
X 1 cross. It CAN hurt if done wrong.
1. *** Don’t train AT ALL!! A 3 day abstention (taper) should suffice for many levels of runner i.e. Wed/Thur/Fri – do nothing. More serious runners will benefit from activity during a taper, even the day before a race (see later).
2. **X Warm up properly on the day as if you pull something you won’t get a PB. Get a few race pace strides in that warm up. Personally, I jog a mile to get there…or I cycle or drive. The consensus view these days that any stretching you do before a race should be ‘dynamic’. Look at track cyclist between races. They stay ‘warm’ by using stationary trainers for a reasons – simplistically the muscles are pumped full of blood right from the start and are ‘ready to go’. Jogging to the start might actually be a good idea.
3. ***X I’m very tempted to say get a new pair of race shoes if you only have regular trainers. These should make a noticeable difference. The downside is that you will not necessarily have had chance to get used to them. Then again you are only running 5k and not a marathon.
4. * Get someone to pace you who you can rely on to run at the desired speed. Try and stay in front of them.
5. * Kit: Other bits of kit are probably not going to make any positive difference if you go out and buy them. I would say however that I’m assuming that you have the right kit in the sense that what you wear does not make you either too hot or does not help keep you warm enough. If, for example, you are too hot you will run slower.
6. * Kit: Compression gear might help. Either full length leggings or calf guards. The argument is that they stop your muscles wobbling and so you either waste less energy or use your muscles better. They have other benefits too. Then again how many Olympic gold medallists wear such kit?
7. ** Gadgets: Unless you are a very good runner you will not know the exact speed at which you are running. A GPS gadget will give you feedback on your race pace and let you know whether or not to speed up or conserve energy. I use one. A tactic is to set it to beep at you when you are going at a pace that is, say, 4 seconds per Km faster than your target pace. When it bleeps slow down BUT otherwise run as hard as you can.
8. *** On that point. Just running as hard as you can should do it! But of course if it were only that simple you could do that week after week and continue to improve.
9. ** On a windy day run behind someone in the bits that are against the wind. Don’t worry if they get annoyed. But a PB on a windy day? Maybe not.
10. * Get to the course early to start stress free and warmed up.
11. *** Eat as little a breakfast as you can as long before the race as you can. You have enough energy for a 5k. Big breakfast = discomfort + weight + blood moving to your digestive tract rather than your muscles. Some people need something solid to avoid feeling/being sick.
12. *** Drink as little as you can on race day (assuming an early race). You are PROPERLY hydrated from yesterday and previously right? 500ml tops if you need something. Although if you feel thirsty you should DEFINITELY have something. To be clear you must be sufficiently hydrated but you don’t want litres of excess liquid in your stomach.
13. *** Drink coffee (caffeine). It is a legal sporting stimulant that used to be banned for serious competition. Go figure!If you weigh 68 kg you require 2-5 mg caffeine per kg body weight for a 2 hour event (sorry not 5k). You take 136-300 mg once an hour before competing. One espresso is about 100mg IF you are lucky. Or try a Red Bull energy shot (also contains tuarine). Caffeine has as many PROVEN benefits as all the illegal stimulants you may or may not have heard of BUT the effects and side effects of caffeine are known and understood and legal. Other caffeine-taking protocols will have you taking, say, 200mg of caffeine 5 mins before a race. (Look at the High5 energy sachets, for example, or their excellent race-nutrition web site which funnily enough recommends their products). Bear also in mind that TOO MUCH caffeine MAY stop lactate being flushed from the system…you don’t want that, follow the guidelines above. Caffeine wears off after a couple of hours so for longer races you will need topping up ONLY for longer events. Personally I would take 300mg 1 hour before the event, I would take supermarket own-brand version of PROPLUS (which has a coating that you don’t want to race on), personally I have 1-2 coffees a day and I would not change that consumption pattern at all.
14. ** Properly go to the toilet the night before and especially in the morning. Get it all out. Coffee and routine will help.
15. ** Have a light evening meal at least 12 hours before the race.
16. ** Don’t eat (too much) protein the day before – it’s hard to digest. Basically you want to eat digestable things that replenish your muscles and hydrate you AND that you are able to fully pass out of your body before the race.
17. **XX Don’t eat/drink sugary things (ie things containing simple sugars). Simple sugar avoidance was cited here previously as a good strategy however having done more research my opinion now is that it makes no difference. So simple sugar is GOOD…BUT…only if you are exercising. And as a PS carbs or isotonic drink take 30 minutes to work so they won’t help a 5k much either, unless consumed 10-20 minutes beforehand.. Anyway, a Mars-a-day really might help you work, run and play (but it won’t help you rest AT ALL). Also if you look at the contents of Lucozade Sport you will see it contains….sugar (glucose) !
18 ** Know the course. The ups and downs, the windy bits on the day, etc.
19. ** Positive mental attitude. You ARE going to do it.
20. * Lucky charm. Hmmm.
21. *** Run at an even pace (flat course) use cumulative pace for the Km on your GPS device.
22. ***Choose a flat & firm course.
23. *X Run ‘correctly’, with the ‘correct technique’. This will be difficult to change by the weekend. However try leaning forward a little (from your ankles NOT FROM YOUR HIPS THAT WILL INJURE YOU EVENTUALLY – although many with Achilles problems might benefit from running more UPright) whilst keeping your body relatively straight. Breathe through your mouth. Running on your toes (fore-foot strike) or ‘flat-footed’ (mid-foot strike) is argued to be faster by many, but really you need to have trained for this.
24. *** ‘Sprint’ the last minute, will only make a few seconds difference. No I mean faster than last time! And those seconds do count. Try and sprint with 2 minutes to go and when you feel your legs going just hold off (slow down slightly) for 5-10 seconds and then sprint again all the way to the finish.
25. *** Run in straight lines. ie run 5k not 5050m from wandering all over the place. That extra 50m will take you probably at least 10 seconds to run. Running ‘straight’ requires great focus throughout the race and involves NOT following the person in front of you (usually)!! Think about it if you don’t at first get what I am saying. Also if you are using GPS pacing remember you run further and so need to pace slightly yourself slightly quicker than what the GPS/HRM says to take that into account.
26. ** If you can’t run an even split. My understanding is that for most people the best tactic is to run the first 1 or 2 Kms slightly faster than the 3rd and 4th (you sprint the end of the 5th which is faster, invariably meaning you weren’t trying hard enough earlier)
27. * I bought a pair of Nike XC (Cross Country) lightweight spikes for £10 from Sweatshop who were selling off loads of these last season’s models. I hadn’t planned on using them for a parkrun and still haven’t. However in post-purchase hindsight it strikes me that 2km of Bushy Park is grass and the other 3km could be run just off the ‘path’ or on the path on a ‘soft-underfoot’ day. Also, for example like others, Deer Park parkrun is 100% grass. Spikes should help your time as well as bringing similar benefits to a lightweight running flat as described earlier…hmmm. I might try this one myself later in the year! Update: tried it and it didn’t work for me, didn’t hurt though I still did a good time.
28. * Shave. Especially for men this one: shave or clip your torso hair (both sides if applicably hairy) . On a sunny and warm June-to-September PB morning this might make your core stay cool just that little bit longer. Then there’s always the legs…
29. *** Use a running track and spikes rather than a parkrun and trainers. A running track, other things being equal, will give you a PB perhaps 20 seconds faster than a parkrun. Quite possibly more. This is the way to go for a PB !!!
30. *** “Aim to broadly run at an even pace. Know that you are fresh enough and able enough to do that pace. Believe that you will do it. Then just run at that pace. When it hurts a lot keep running AT THAT PACE. When it hurts more, again KEEP RUNNING at that pace. You’ve done your training and everything is right enough for today’s run. Really, you can do it. It’s not easy, but you can do it. If you slack you won’t do it. There are always plenty of excuses, don’t get yourself in a position where you have to make them.” That’s basically I think what my mindset is on the days where I perform. Once I, and probably you, lose that belief or determination or concentration then it is very difficult to run that time. Even if you lose it for the 4th Km it is hard to gain it all back on the 5th and the sprint (you sprinted last PB, remember?). You get to the end and suddenly you are >30 secs off your PB when you could have done it.
31 *X Lose 100g in weight. That should gain you just over 1 second over the 5k – although if you try to lose too much weight in less than a week you will probably lose either water or muscle so I’m not sure it would help really!! But the rule of thumb holds for every 0.5kg you lose in weight you will gain at least 6 seconds. This weight loss time effect thing links in partly with some of the earlier points about getting all the old food from yesterday out of your body before the race. So going back to hydration: 1 litre of excess fluid will cost you 12 secs!
32. *** Race at an ambient temperature of no more than 16 celcius. For each degree above that you will lose 3 seconds over 5k.
33. * Train at altitude. About 7,000ft above sea level!! Ideally you will be **living** at altitude but training at a lower altitude beforehand!
34. * Beetroot juice (source of nitrates). Take 0.5l of beetroot juice containing approx 6.2 mmol of nitrate 2.5 hours before you start. Bike tests show this boosts power by nearly 3%. That’s rather a lot, but is it true ;-) Don’t use mouthwash with it though. Also try creatine, Coenzyme Q10, branched chain amino acids, sodium bicarbonate and glutamine. And did I say caffeine? Well that works as well. These are all legal and apparently harmless. Do some research. Then again just stick with the coffee!
35. *X So you plan to do the 3-day taper mentioned earlier. If you’re not so supple then on the first of those days set aside 30-45 minutes for an intense stretch session, stretching everything on your legs and core as much and as far as you can without doing yourself an injury. Be aware of how far you stretch and this should feel like a workout in itself. 2 days to recover. On the saturday do a quicker easier stretch and not quite so deep. If you are more flexible on Saturday there is less resistance to overcome within your body and you might go faster. I’ve taken this suggestion on from someone else, not sure if it will work so quickly and I haven’t tried it.
36. ***X Look at ‘proper’ tapers if you are of a reasonable standard. Short bits of speedwork leading up to the big day BUT AT THE RIGHT TIME AND FOR THE RIGHT DURATION/INTENSITY will help you stay fresh but don’t get it wrong. Scientists say that a proper one week taper will make you go 22% faster than a 1 week total abstinence taper…that’s a lot but is it true? Although note that in ‘proper’ tapers not much is done on the last 3 days so the 3 day abstinence taper is easiest to follow for very minimal performance opportunity-loss.
37. **X Race day sports massage – someone told me these help. No personal experience. Personally I would NOT do a race day sports massage unless very light for warming up purposes. HOWEVER I would and have had a sports massage 2-3 days prior to the event, the idea there is that this frees up knotted muscles tissue and hence reduces internal tension/friction and also increases range of movement slightly. But remember lots of “slightly” is what we are looking for to see that PB tumble.
38. *X Insoles. Many of us have one leg longer than the other for a variety of muscular/skeletal reasons. You can’t change that by the weekend. BUT if one leg is a few mm shorter than the other an extra insole will balance your legs and might give you a bit more power. Or it might distract you from the balance you have already got used to. But you should find out if your leg lengths are different as this may also eventually lead to injuries.
39 *** Do a proper taper. <Here> are a few more thoughts and plans on that.
40. *** Do a proper taper appropriate to your CURRENT level of fitness/fatigue. A generic taper might not be best for you RIGHT NOW. Look at TSB (CTL and ATL) on the training load plugin on SportTracks software (Free) or there is a similar one in Training Peaks WKO+ (not free). You’ll need HR data going back at least 45 days and you’ll need to understand (eventually) that tapering is NOT just about maximising race day TSB.
41. *X Minor pain relief on-the-day. If you have a niggling minor injury that might put you off trying as hard as you might. A mild painkiller might help. You should use paracetamol and not aspirin and not ibuprofen (honest!).
41 ** If you are doing a parkrun then start at the front that can save you many 5’s of seconds especially at busy ones like Bushy.
43. *X Running cadence. Aim for about 90-95 strides a minute (180-190 footfalls). If this is quite different from your current natural cadence then changing it for the weekend is unlikely to make a difference – other than a NEGATIVE difference.
44. * Smile. Smile every 1km it will relax you. Can’t hurt?
45. * Pinch yourself hard before that final sprint. (I don’t think this will work but causing a bit of pain might give you a quick adrenaline rush) Only use this for the sprint, apparently extreme amounts of pain prior to competing in other events can give boosts because of raised blood pressure from the pain. One pinch can’t hurt tho right? And I’m not sure how high BP will help anyway.
46. *** Start near the front in busy races. With a field of 1000 at Bushy Park parkrun you will take 30 seconds (yep 30) to cross the start line if you cross at the back.
47. * Don’t start too near to the front if you are smaller and slower (kids) you may get knocked over by faster runners.
48. *Wear compression gear. Boosts blood flow to muscles and reduces the risk of injury.
49. * Don’t wear compression gear. It adds extra resistance and tires you more quickly. :-)
50. ** Familiarise yourself with the course and with your pre-race routine. If you are unfamiliar with any aspect you MAY worry about it. I could go on about this but lack of preparation and familiarisation might affect your race psychology and/or warm-up.
51. ** If you’ve heard people talking about ‘digging deep’ and learning how to do that in a running/racing sense you might have thought was a load of tosh. Well it wasn’t! If you’ve dug deep and held on then you will know what I mean. You have to learn to do this to keep those PBs rolling.
52. * I’ve not yet really looked into this but apparently Sodium Phosphate and Bicarbonate of soda might help (more the former than the latter I think).
53. Just try a few of these at a time. Maybe just one. Not all of them! But then what if something works. How do you really know if it was one specific thing that you changed that helped or was it several things?
54. Write a key message on the back of your hand. Read it and stick to it, even when you feel awful towards the end of the race.
55. Look at readiness-to-train/race software like the ithlete or bioforce apps. Use that to limit what you do on the days leading up to your race.
Assuming that you aren’t doing anything stupid like getting drunk the previous night, then tapering is the best thing to focus on. But if you focus on tapering EVERY week you will soon find you have done very little training…
It’s taken me a long time to research some of this and I appreciate feedback but please be nice if you disagree … after all I’m just trying to help. I make a tiny amount of money from this blog (tens of pounds not hundreds) to help me keep it alive please consider making a donation using the button at the top of the right hand menu or click on the amazon link when you want to make an Amazon purchase and I get a small commission (you still pay the same as you otherwise would do). Thank you!
Even if only one of the ideas helps you then surely that was better than nothing! ;-) If I’m plain wrong tell me and I will make changes.
- 5k running: What if I come last? Should I enter? (the5krunner.com)
- 5k Today: My Bushy Parkrun Not So Good (the5krunner.com)
- 5k parkrun improvement: Running Just 3 times a week? (the5krunner.com)
- 5k parkrun – well off my PB…why? (the5krunner.com)
- 5k parkruns – how good are you? (the5krunner.com)