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How to Warm Up for a 5k Race

When we're warming up for a shorter race, we're going to need a little bit more than just easy jogging. For races like the 1 mile or 5k, I usually have athletes do some short intervals at their aerobic threshold to open up the lungs. We will then do some faster reps to open up the legs.


I have found that for the majority of people just easy jogging will not have them feeling ready for how hard and fast shorter races feel. The only way to get fully prepared is with a structured warmup.


Nick Hilton and Will Baldwin pacing Tasha Wodak at the Marathon Project in Phoenix

You'll often hear runners say the 5k felt like a sprint the entire time. This is especially true for runners coming down from the marathon. Shorter races like this tend to utilize a higher percentage of our V02 Max system. It can feel very difficult and strenuous on the lungs and muscles to tap into this higher energy system. We literally need to warm up and slightly stretch out both our lungs and leg muscles before we start the race. People usually aren't warmed up enough, and the lungs and legs are somewhat restricted, so we can't utilize their full potential. This is an injury prevention mechanism provided by the body. If we go from just an easy jog into a super high-end continuous v02 max effort, there's a high probability of injury. So, our bodies limit our output so we don't hurt ourselves. If we want to tap into these higher-end systems safely, we need a warmup designed specifically for these shorter, faster races.


The 5k warmup that I use the most often looks like this:

  • Fifteen minutes of very slow, easy jogging. Might even be slower than a regular easy day.

  • 3-minute walk

  • 2-3 times 1 minute at Threshold pace with a 1-minute walk/jog recovery

  • Another 3-minute walk

  • 4-6 times 20 seconds FAST strides with a 1-minute walk/jog recovery

  • Another 3-minute walk

  • 5-10 minutes light, easy jog to flush


You can easily alter this warmup to get prepared specifically for how you're feeling on the day. If you're feeling extra flat, start the warmup even earlier and really try to run FAST on the 20-second strides, potentially going up to 8. Sometimes, we need to shock the system to wake the body up, getting it into race mode.


If the lungs still seem like they haven't fully opened up, we can either add 1-2 more 1-minute reps or take one of the reps up to 2-3 minutes.


Ideally, we start this warmup 55-35 minutes before race time. We want 10-20 minutes between the conclusion of this warmup and the gun going off. We might need to use the bathroom again after this warmup, and we might still need to handle any last-minute needs such as uniform adjustments, shoe changes, more water, or getting in a gel really quickly before the gun goes off.


Doing some mobility drills before and after this warmup is an excellent idea and highly recommended. There are almost no instances where I recommend static stretching, but some active flexibility is a good choice. Things like hugging your knee to your chest, walking lunges, and pulling your heel to your butt. Here's a simple video to demonstrate some of these movements. Key in on any tight or problem areas and use these movements to get those muscles extra warm and loosened up.


Cool-Down

At the conclusion of the race, we want to take 10-15 minutes to fully let our heart rate settle and calm down. We might drink some water, preferably a mix of carbohydrates and electrolytes.


We then transition into our cooldown. There are endless possibilities when it comes to the cooldown, and it all depends on where a runner is at in their training and what events they have coming up.


For most runners, we'll just want 10-20 minutes of light jogging to flush out our various systems and do a body scan to see how everything is feeling post-race.


For athletes in the middle of a marathon training block, we often have an extended cooldown of several miles. This could be up to an hour more of extra running. Since we just raced hard, our blood is warmed up, and our hormones are heightened. The fatigue from the race hasn't fully set in. We want to take advantage of this period and get some extra easy aerobic training in. It's expected that in a day or two, the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) might kick in, and we might need to take a down day or rest day. So it's advisable to utilize this period of being warmed up and firing on all cylinders to our advantage.


Post Race Nutrition

Recovery after races is crucial. With how jazzed up our adrenaline system is, we might not tap into the cues our body is sending us about needing fuel. We must be proactive in helping our bodies recover from these more strenuous efforts. Recent science has shown carbohydrates and electrolytes are just as crucial to sports recovery as protein is. So we want to have high-quality options that address all 3. I famously love smoothies after hard running efforts because they make it easy to get a lot of absorbable vitamins and minerals. Some other good options:

  • Sandwich or wrap with a high-quality protein source, avocado, and greens.

  • Salad with high-quality protein sources, avocado, and greens.

  • Yogurt or oatmeal with nuts and fruit.

  • Coconut water and a protein bar.

  • Stir fry or a Burrito that has some vegetables in attendance.


If you haven't yet, please read the article I wrote on how to best prepare for race day.

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