The 5k: Quick and Dirty

5ks are quick and dirty. 

reasons to run a 5k

During a 5k, you have two options:

Option 1: You blink and the race is over

Option 2: You take the race out too fast, and it feels like five back to back marathons. 

If you’ve run more than one 5k, you’ve probably experienced both situations.

So why race such a short tactical and precise race?

The half marathon and marathon bug has bit a lot of people.  “Only” becomes associated with half marathoners and new runner has become associated with those training for 5ks.  5ks are one of the most painful and intense races distances despite being one of the shortest.  Thinking out loud, any athlete can benefit from adding a few 5ks into their training plan. 

  1. The need for speed: They make you feel fast. Longer distances make you feel strong and shorter distances make you feel fast.
  2. 5ks are quick and dirty. 5ks are all of a distance “race pain” in a short amount of time.  This means the race is more mentally challenging and much more intense.
  3. If you have a terrible race, try again next week: I’ve had some terrible 5ks only to be chased by an awesome 5k the following week.  A few years ago, I raced one of the most mentally challenging and grueling 5ks I’ve ever run.  It was slow (for me), my legs were fatigued, and I felt awful.  I had high expectations and fell hard.  I rested and recovered and ran an entire 90 seconds faster the following weekend.  Have a poor marathon? It’s much harder to have a come back the next weekend.
  4. Consistency and benchmarks: with 5ks you can see improvement over the course of time. You can mark your progress.  I’ve raced 5ks for the last 11 months, and I’ve been able to track my progress from starting at a 20:20 to recently an 18:13. For some people, myself included, seeing progress is motivating.  I like to feel like my hard work is paying off!
  5. They are fun. It’s one of the few distances you can see a range of people finish.  It could be someone’s first 5k or someone going for a PR.  Either way, most racers stay for the entire race!

Questions for you:

What is your favorite race distance?

When was the last 5k you ran?

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  1. 5ks are painful for me because speed does not come natural. I have to work ridiculously hard for it. I love the marathon because it’s like you said, makes me feel strong. But man it wears the body down. I’ve recently added more speed to my training though and have added 5k-half distances and have been really enjoying them. It’s a nice break from the long run drudgery.

  2. I’ve just started doing 5ks as part of training (I wouldn’t call it a plan) and it’s the only distance I’d want to run, my attention span just isn’t there but I do love 5k for some reason. Haven’t run 5k as a race though, what would be a good time to aim for just starting off (just I don’t end up last!)

    1. You would not end up as last ha ha! I think you should definitely give a 5k a shot and see how it goes, let me know if you do 🙂

  3. I just ran a 5k 3 weeks ago, and boy was it hard! There’s no room for error… one slow mile and you can’t do much to make it up! I’ve got a buttload of respect for people who can go and gut it out through a 5k. I’d love to work on shorter, faster races this summer before another marathon cycle this fall.

    Personally, my favorite distance is the half marathon; while I love marathons, I can push myself harder for a half without wrecking my body and my mind doesn’t get tired the way it does during a full. It’s the long distance that I’ve got the mental fortitude for!

  4. Someone once told me that after running a couple half marathons they didn’t see the point in running “just” a 5k anymore and that a 5k was too easy. I told her that if a 5k felt easy she definitely wasn’t racing it right. Painful and intense is definitely the right description for a 5k.

    1. That’s crazy but I suppose shorter distances can feel so much easier when not raced hard. I agree with you Heather!

  5. I think my last 5k was back in december. Not a lot of 5ks in the winter in these parts.

    I really do like all distances (except marathon; I’ve never tried that). They all have their own challenges!

    Non runner friends & family always think a 5k must be so easy, since I’m used to the longer distances, and I tell them every distance is hard! And 5ks are definitely hard!

  6. The 5k is quickly becoming my favorite race. I used to think of it as an intro race into running, and that serious runners ran longer distances. Now, you’ll get no argument from me that training for a half or full marathon is a MASSIVE commitment and very difficult. But the 5k has its challenges too.

    I’m actually backing off most other race distances to focus on the 5k and get my speed back! The last 5k I ran was in February, but I’ve got one coming up in a few weeks.

    1. I can’t wait to see you get back into it too Ashley. Maybe er can do one and finer afterwords together 🙂

  7. Great post! I haven’t raced a 5k in years, mostly because I’m not fast, and I can’t justify spending $30+ to run 3 miles… I can totally see why it’s your race of choice though! My favorite race distance is probably 10 miles, but I have been doing a lot of speed work, training for a 25k and marathon this fall, and have really enjoyed doing workouts that are basically super fast (for me) 5k’s. They really do make me feel fast, which is a fun change from the slower paced, long run. 🙂

    1. I agree that 5ks can get more expensive. Some marathons are 200+ dollars I suppose and if you only race one a month and a 5k each weekend, I suppose it’s more comparable.

  8. Very interesting, I’d never thought about it this way! I’m training for my first ever half-marathon this autumn, so I’ve been focused on increasing my mileage – but thinking about it, it might do me a lot of good to throw in a 5k race along the way! It would be a nice change and a completely different challenge 🙂

  9. I’m definitely an Option 2 number gal, and I guess in some ways, it’s a good reminder for me to keep praying the whole race, knowing that God gives me the energy to make it through every mile, whether I feel good or not. I’m definitely prone to running way too fast at the beginning.

  10. Oh man. When I first started running I thought 5Ks were too short to bother with. I ran my 2nd ever 5K last weekend & plan to make my summer about speed & racing the 5K before I head back for a goal HM in the fall. I have lots of room for improvement & can’t wait to see what I can do.

    I think you’re right. Hard to race back to back HMs if one goes poorly, but 5Ks are relatively common around here, so it’s easy to run a few until you get it right.

    I don’t have pacing down quite yet & the 5K is hard for me because it isn’t really long enough to fix it if I start out too slow, but starting out too fast like you said makes the race feel like 100 miles long.

    I agree with all of this 100%

  11. I agree with all of this! I always forget how tough 5ks are until like mile 2 of one. I’m running one on Saturday and hoping to improve from my last one in January. My boyfriend, who’s not a runner, agreed to run one with me in May and I feel like I’m way too excited haha.

  12. I need to do more 5ks if for no other reason than that I need to work on my speed! It would be so nice to do a race that doesn’t take several hours and I don’t feel like hobbling around for the rest of the day too!

  13. I love 5ks, I did run 3 halfs MARATHON last year and they were fun,but I like the 5ks, your right if u have a bad race here always another 5k in the week ahead. 5K are so challenging and I like that. I went from 21:30 my first 5k to 18:41 PR,still want to improve.
    Happy running.

  14. I am a half marathon girl 1000000%! I use to run track and really focus on speed but my poor body can’t handle that anymore.

  15. I’m not a naturally fast runner, so I love the half. It’s just long enough to be challenging, but I don’t feel like death like I do after a full. But, I’m taking a break from loooong runs this year and am focused more on the 5k and 10k and learning how to run them. I’ve always used them as training runs, so I’ve never really learned how to race them.

  16. 5k’s are still a happy place for me, even though half marathons make me feel like I accomplished something great and 5k’s do not anymore. I love that I feel like I can run a 5k just about any time – wake up and go! Even if it takes me almost 40 mins to finish, it still feels short.

    1. Do you have any Jersey 5ks coming up?

      I definitely want to do the underwear one on long branch! 😉

  17. i like the 5k for a lot of those same reasons but mainly because they make me feel fast. half marathons just arent the same for me right now so its nice to get that boost of speed confidence. you are the 5k queen though!!!

  18. I don’t like 5k’s they hurt! lol! I love the 10k and halfs. It has been forever since I have been able to race so I am hoping to be able to get back into running shorter races soon.

  19. the 5k is my least favorite race distance! i think i have only run 2 of them! i don’t love the feeling of running so fast for a short distance and prefer running slightly slower for a 10k and then for the half. but i can totally see your very valid points of the 5k!

  20. Right now the 5k has been my focus race. I’ve had some really crappy 5k’s in my life. (after 15ish years of running) but what I like is that it’s easy to train for, it’s quick, and it’s much cheaper than some of the other races. Of course, I haven’t been race training for the last several months, but when this baby comes I’m right back at it. I miss racing!

  21. I ran one very informal 5K race on my college campus 8 years ago, and haven’t raced a 5K since then! I’m considering trying some trail 5Ks in the fall to ease myself back into the 5K without a pressure of a certain finish time. I know my 5K time would not be what race predictors say based on my half time!

  22. I ran a 5K 2 weeks ago. I really like 5Ks because you can train hard for them and race them, but if you’re in longer distance mode, you can use them as tempo runs. I hate when people say the 5K is too short, because it is an endurance event, and you can always run a longer warmup or cooldown, or use it as the last part of a long run to make a fast finish long run. It bugs me to see runners who “graduate” to half and full marathons but now believe a 5K is somehow beneath them.

    It also bugs me that I get called a “sprinter” because I like 5Ks.

    I really like that many of the 5Ks here are offering finisher’s medals. A lot of people I’ve talked to hate this, because they feel like it’s giving everyone a medal. But honestly, so many people train for a half or full *before they are ready* so they can earn a finisher’s medal. I have been there, as I was this person in 2011 for my first half and 2013 for my full. I think it is a better idea for someone to run the race that best fits their life/training schedule no matter what distance it is. Looking back, I’d rather excel at a shorter distance I can handle than scrape by and hope to finish injury-free in a long race.

    1. I completely agree with you Amy, too many people train for a longer distance before they are ready. I think if 5ks want to offer a medal…so be it!

  23. It’s been a while since I’ve raced a 5-K (maybe a year?), but I like that distance and the 10-K. I really like the shorter stuff because you can go faster, and you don’t need to completely give up your social life to train for it. 😉

  24. 5ks are very challenging. I want to do a 10k soon because it’s easier. The shorter the distance, the more pressure there is to do it fast.

    1. I think 10ks are a different distance all together. I’m racing one in May and pretty excited to see how it goes.

  25. I can’t tell you how happy I am to read this post! I couldn’t agree with you more. Runners treat 5ks like the red headed step children of racing. You’re right, they’re quick, there really no tapering or recovery time between races, and they’re cheap. What more can you ask for?

    1. I agree that they are generally pretty cheap. If you a bit of research, you can definitely find some good deals!

  26. I used to only run marathons and half-marathons. I didn’t see the point in running 3.1 miles. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate each distance for the different challenges they present.
    It’s fun to challenge my self in different ways. Short races are great because they don’t take as long and usually don’t take as much out of me. A marathon is a big deal and has a big build up, but it can take a few days to recover.
    It’s hard to say which is my favorite. Like most runners, I’d probably say the half. It’s long enough that you feel like you ran a race, but it’s short enough that you don’t get beat up too badly and there is time to drink beer afterwards!

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