70 tips for a parkrun 5k PB next weekend.
I started this list of tips well over 8 years ago and it snowballed from a top 10 tips to a top 70 tips and is continually updated and I’m refreshing and resharing it here for a new audience.
It’s geared towards parkrun which is a UK based free weekly 5k run. So the intended audience is casual-yet-serious runners who just want to do better. There are some good, serious science tips here and also some frivolous ones.
The list is also focussed on what you can do this week as that stops a Top70 list becoming a list of Top 1000 training tips. Most casual runners may not appreciate that serious training will NOT improve your PB potential by next Saturday.
With that in mind, here are a few tricks you can use to boost the effects of your already-completed 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:
- ⭐⭐⭐3x stars. IMHO it will work
- ⭐⭐ 2x stars. It might work
- ⭐1x star. Can’t hurt
- ❌ 1x cross. It CAN hurt if done wrong.
If you want to know How to Run a 5K in under 20 minutes then follow a proper Sub-20 minute 5k training plan for 6-12 weeks and use all the ⭐ starred tips below for race day.
Normal Nutrition & Extra Supplementation
I assume you eat properly all the time. If you do then there’s not so much you need to do with your normal ‘food’ for the week before your race. ‘Carb loading’ will make just about zero difference to you as you have all the energy you need for your race. So the benefits here come from damage limitation from what you eat and then special things which could boost your physiology in some way.
Is this snake oil? Some of it probably is.
You will find people like me who swear by beetroot juice to make me faster on race day. But how do I know that it is the beetroot juice or tapering that has made me faster on race day than I am in training? There is a lot of science but a general problem with the whole food and supplement industry is that some science is paid for by the manufacturer and, surprise, surprise it finds the ‘right’ result.
Luckily enough most of this ‘can’t hurt’. In the sense that it can’t hurt your performance but might hurt your wallet 😉
- ⭐⭐⭐ Eat as little a breakfast as you can as long before the race as you can. You have enough energy for a 5k in your body as carbs when you wake up. Big breakfast = discomfort + weight + blood moving to your digestive tract rather than your muscles. Counter that by eating what you know you need to eat to avoid feeling/being sick. I might have a Lucozade sport &/or a banana.
- ⭐⭐❌❌ Drink as little as you can on race day (assuming an early race). You are PROPERLY hydrated from yesterday and from the week prior to that, 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.
- ⭐⭐⭐ 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 ie probably NOT enough. 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, understood and legal. Other caffeine-taking protocols will have you taking, say, 200mg of caffeine 5 mins before a race – ignore them and do what I say. Also lLook at the High5 energy sachets, for example, or their excellent race-nutrition web site which funnily enough recommends their products. Also bear in mind that TOO MUCH caffeine has no positive benefit and MAY stop lactate being flushed from the system...you don’t want that, follow the guidelines above. Caffeine has a ‘half-life’ and wears off after a couple of hours, so for longer races you will need topping up BUT ONLY for longer events. Personally I would take 300mg 1 hour before the event, I would take a supermarket own-brand version of PROPLUS, personally I have 1-2 coffees a day and I would not change that consumption pattern at all leading up to a race.
- ⭐⭐ 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.
- ⭐⭐ CurraNZ Concentrated blackcurrant tablets. If Beet-it works for you then so might these – either instead or complementary. Take 2 a day all week.
- ⭐Also try creatine mono hydrate, especially if you generally also consume whey protein.
- ⭐❌ Also try Coenzyme Q10, branched chain amino acids, sodium bicarbonate and glutamine. And did I already say caffeine? Well that works as well. These are all legal and apparently harmless. Do some research as they can have side-effects. Then again just stick with the coffee!
- ⭐Rhodolia extract may help lower lactate levels. I’ve not tried this. You can buy it in Holland & Barret – let me know your experience below if you have tried it please.
- ⭐Try Ginger. It helps reduce the stomach distress you may have caused yourself by taking too many supplements 😉
- ⭐⭐ Properly go to the toilet the night before and especially in the morning. Get it all out. Coffee and routine will help.
- ⭐⭐ Have a light evening meal at least 12 hours before the race.
- ⭐⭐ Don’t eat (too much) protein the day before – it’s hard to digest (eggs are not so bad). Basically, you want to consume digestible things that replenish your muscles and hydrate you AND that you are able to fully pass out of your body before the race.
- ⭐⭐❌❌ Carbs or isotonic drink take 30 minutes to work. So they won’t help a 5k much either, unless consumed 10-20 minutes beforehand! 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) ! Apparently glucose+fructose drinks offer 2x energy pathways into your body…perhaps leave that for the long distance people?
⭐Caffeine chewing gum is apparently chewed by Premier League footballers at half time during matches. This is because the caffeine is more readily absorbed in the mouth in a matter of minutes rather than 10 minutes…think about chewing tobacco as an analogy to how that gets in the bloodstream and you’ll know why it sounds sensible.
- ⭐ The smell of peppermint might help. don’t ask!! Just have a polo mint or two, it can’t hurt!
- ⭐⭐ Ensuring you are stocked up on these essential supplements/vitamins might help; magnesium, iron, vitamin B and B12. They are all involved in energy production. You might find that athletes need more than the RDA of many vitamins, I generally take multi-vitamins on a ‘just-in-case’ basis. However some vitamins, like VitA, I believe can be stored in the liver if you take too much of them and you do NOT want that to happen.
- ⭐⭐ Following on from the previous point if you get cramps then it could be due to deficiencies. You might want to try MAGNESIUM OIL SPRAY. It’s really cheap. *IF* that stops your cramps then that is a sign that you are magnesium deficient. Whilst that directly shouldn’t impact your 5K times it implies something is amiss in the energy production going on in your muscles. Again…can’t hurt, FWIW I do this but mostly for longer races.
- ⭐❌ 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!).
- ⭐⭐⭐❌ Apparently Sodium Phosphate and Bicarbonate of soda help as their alkalinity offsets lactate acidity enabling you to push harder for longer. Individually I think they work for me and I have not tried together. The Hammer Race Day Boost product recommends a 5-day loading strategy whereas simple kitchen baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) can be taken a couple of hours before the race.
- ⭐⭐ Use the week prior to the race to increase blood plasma volumes. Why? More blood=better temp regulation=faster. How? Just drinking water, as you hopefully already do, will NOT be as good as using electrolyte/isotonic drinks which INCREASE absorption AND increase blood plasma volumes. This takes a day or so to achieve rather than a few hours. So plan ahead. Many suppliers of electrolytes offer these: eg H2PRO, High5, OSMO Nutrition and others. Milk is good at rehydration (and protein provision)
- ⭐❌ Lose 100g in weight. That 100g should gain you just over 1 second over the whole 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 save at least 6 seconds on your 5k time. This principle links to other points in this list such as getting all the old food from yesterday out of your body before the race. Going back to hydration: 1 litre of excess fluid will cost you 12 secs on your 5k as it weighs 1kg!
- ⭐ HVMN Ketone supplementation is a newly available endurance fuel. It’s a FDA Generally Regarded as Safe naturally occurring product that is WADA approved. Essentially Ketone supplementation gives you a bit more easier to access energy when you metabolise fat as you race. You WILL still be using a large proportion of fat for your 5K so this might help. However the manufacturers are targetting it for >1 hour races. It will NOT make you slower for sure.
- ❌❌❌ Drink alcohol the night before, have no water and have lots of red meat. Go on…waste all those hours of training.
If this were a section on cycling then it would be a book. But it’s for running so, other than a decent pair of shoes, there’s not too much you can buy to make you faster.
- ⭐⭐⭐❌ 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 the chance to get used to them and may injure you. Then again you are only running 5k and not a marathon. How do you know if your existing trainers are any good? Answer: they’re not. If they were ‘racing flats’ then you would already know exactly what they were and why they made you faster. Read this to understand why it makes a BIG difference.
⭐ 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 certainly run slower.
- ⭐ 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?
- ⭐ Wear compression gear. Boosts blood flow to muscles and reduces the risk of injury.
- ⭐ Don’t wear compression gear. It adds extra resistance and tires you more quickly. 🙂
- ⭐ 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 my parkrun is grass and the other 3km could be run just off the ‘path’ or on the path on a ‘soft-underfoot’ day. Spikes or a good tread pattern should help your time as well as bringing similar benefits to a lightweight running flat as described earlier…hmmm.
- ⭐⭐⭐ 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 !!!
- ⭐❌ 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. You should also check for pronation.
- ⭐❌ Insoles. I use custom insoles in super-light shoes and the insoles correct my slight pronation
- ⭐⭐ With the 2 hour marathon nearly achieved then maybe a pair of Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite wouldn’t hurt? Treat yourself, they are supposed to return more energy after your footstrike. They’re not cheap.
‘Sports gadgets for running’ just really means GPS running watches, heart rate monitors and footpods (Top 10: Running Watches). They are of some general use even to good runners but also provide other abilities with a sanity check or provide some reassurance that you are performing as you planned.
- ⭐⭐ Unless you are a 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.
- ⭐⭐But GPS gadgets will show you the wrong pace if you are near buildings or trees, so you could instead get a footpod which will give meaningful pace if correctly calibrated
- ⭐⭐You can use running power devices like STRYD to give you a measure of your current effort. This will help you to maintain effort rather than speed when running uphill. STRYD will also give you a very accurate running pace.
- ⭐You could run with a metronome to get your cadence right but that would annoy people and you should really have already trained with your ideal cadence and then you will probably just naturally run at that cadence.
- ⭐⭐More advanced sports watches can alert you if you are running too fast or too slow.
- ⭐A basic watch or an advanced watch can each be used in different ways to check if you are on track for that PB. You might use that to speed up if you are behind schedule.
- ⭐⭐More advanced sports watches let you run against a virtual partner who is running at a pre-determined pace. You can then visually see how far ahead or behind that person you are and react accordingly
- ⭐⭐On hillier courses then you will not be running at a constant pace so the previous gadget-feature will not work. Instead, you perhaps load up your efforts on the course last month and race against that effort which, hopefully, will have taken into account hills.
- ⭐ Most people need to run 5K at above that lactate threshold (LT2, AnT). You have to know what heart rate your threshold corresponds to on race day taking into account the effect of supplementation like caffeine. After 1km or so, your heart rate should be up to and above your threshold heart rate. You can use a gadget to monitor your HR. eg Garmin HRM-DUAL should work with just about any app or sports watch.
- ⭐ Heart rate is affected by many factors that alter its reliability. Another approach is to use a muscle oxygen sensor like Humon HEX to determine if you are running at your race limit. I’ve not tried Hex for racing but I HAVE used it before a race to ensure I was properly warmed up (I got a 5k age-grade PB as it happened…first for a long time)
Training, Tapering & Warmup
This section is probably the most important. If you train hard for 6 days and race on the 7th day I reckon many of you will be over a minute slower than you would be had you instead followed a good taper. Tapering is the art of maintaining fitness whilst reducing fatigue.
- ⭐⭐❌ 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) and there is no one fixed and correct taper rule that suits all runners.
- ⭐⭐❌ 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 views 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 reason – simplistically the muscles are pumped full of blood right from the start and are ‘ready to go’ and you have also kickstarted your energy production from fat stores. Jogging to the start might actually be a good idea. If you ever get the chance to use a MOXY or Humon Hex to prove to yourself that you are warmed up. You might even see a similar effect with PERFORMANCE CONDITION metrics in Garmin’s higher end watches but I wouldn’t trust that for a race.
- ⭐❌ So you plan to do the 3-day do-nothing 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 Saturday do a quicker, easier stretch and not 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.
- ⭐⭐⭐❌ 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.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Do a proper taper. are a few more thoughts and plans on that.
- ⭐⭐⭐ 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 or there is a similar one in Training Peaks WKO+ (not free), STRAVA premium might even have it these days too. You’ll need HR data going back at least 45 days and you’ll need to understand that tapering is NOT just maximising race day TSB.
- ⭐⭐❌ Light, race day sports massages are supposed to help. I’ve 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, this might free up knotted muscles tissue and hence reduces internal tension/friction and also increases your range of movement slightly. But remember lots of “slightly” is what we are looking for to see that PB tumble.
- ⭐⭐ Look at readiness-to-train/race software like the Elite HRV or bioforce apps. Use that to limit what you do on the days leading up to your race.
- ⭐ Have a nice warm race-day shower. Get the blood flowing, especially if you are not a ‘morning person’.
- ⭐⭐ it takes your body about 10 minutes to start the process of converting fat to energy. You’ll need that before you hit the 1 KM mark. Finish your warm up at least 10 minutes before you start.
- ⭐⭐ If you try the 3-day abstinence taper before a race, see if that works but then next time try a gentle 30 min easy jog the day before your race that includes 60 seconds at 10% SLOWER than race pace.
- ⭐ Get to the course early to start stress-free and warmed up.
Running the Race
- ⭐⭐⭐ “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 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 a maximal effort. 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 much better.
- ⭐⭐⭐ On that point. Just running as hard as you can do it! But of course, if it were only that simple you could do that week after week and continue to improve.
- ⭐ Get someone to pace you who you can rely on to run at the desired speed. Try and stay in front of them.
- ⭐⭐ 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.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Run at an even effort/pace, use cumulative pace for the Km on your GPS device.
- ⭐❌❌ Run ‘correctly’, with the ‘correct technique’. This will be difficult to change by the weekend. Try leaning forward a little from your ankles NOT HIPS. Many of you 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. Really you need to have trained for this but note that, whichever way your foot hits the ground, your heel MUST at some point touch the ground each time in 5K.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Sprint the last minute – that 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.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Run in straight lines. ie run 5k not 5050m from wandering all over the place – EVERYONE does this to soem degree. That extra 50m (and it really can be 50m) will take you probably at least 10 seconds to run. Running ‘straight’ requires great focus throughout the race and usuall involves NOT following the person in front of you! 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 the pace shown on your GPS to take the extra distance into account.
- ⭐⭐ 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)
- ⭐⭐ Pacing on hills is tricky. For very gentle undulation I would personally favour trying to run at an even level of EFFORT. Something like STRYD or the dual-sided RunScribe Plus could help you do that. However, when it gets a little steeper the best strategy may well be to increase effort by about 5% when going uphill and do the best you can on the steeper downhills. To be clear: you would still run at a slower pace up the hills. I’m talking effort (power) and not pace.
- ⭐❌ 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. If your cadence is a lot lower than that then a longer terms strategy to get it progressively above 85/170 is a good idea.
- ⭐⭐ If you are doing a parkrun then starting at the front that can save you many 5’s of seconds especially at busy ones like Bushy.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Start near the front in busy races. With a field of 1500 at Bushy Park parkrun, you will take 30 seconds (yep 30) to cross the start line if you cross at the back – I timed it once on the B course.
- ⭐ Don’t start too near to the front if you are smaller and slower (kids) you may get knocked over by faster runners.
- ⭐ Smile every 1km, it will relax you. Can’t hurt?
- ⭐ 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.
- ⭐ Slow down at the start. When you get going you are burning the super easy-to-obtain energy from within your muscles. It only lasts a few 10s of seconds. That’s why after 2 minutes you pass all the kids who have ground to a halt after their initial sprint. STICK TO AN EVEN EFFORT THROUGHOUT.
- ⭐⭐ 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.
Choose a Course
- ⭐⭐ Know the course. The ups and downs, the windy bits on the day, then plan accordingly.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Race at an ambient temperature of no more than 16 celsius. For each degree above that, you will lose 3 seconds over 5k. Strange but true.
- ⭐⭐ 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.
- ⭐⭐⭐Choose a flat, firm, smooth and dry course (it’s called a running track). This might help 😉
- ⭐ Shave. Especially for men: 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…then you can go cycling too and not feel out of place 😉
- ⭐⭐ Positive mental attitude. You ARE going to do it. People underestimate the psychological side of getting a PB.
- ⭐ Lucky charm. Hmmm.
- ⭐Train at altitude or buy your own oxygen tent. About 7,000ft above sea level!! Ideally, you will be **living** at altitude but training at a lower altitude beforehand!
- ⭐Just try a few of these at a time. Maybe just one. Not all of them! How do you really know if it was one specific thing that you changed that helped or was it several things?
- ⭐ 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.
- ⭐⭐⭐. I produce a TAILORED 5k, 6-week taper plan for a nominal fee…can’t hurt and you help the blog. People have got below 17 minutes with this plan but it’s geared for people already running at under 23 minutes.
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