The 5K dilemma: should I go out hard right from the start?

Is running the first mile of a 5K as fast as you can a sure-fire recipe for disaster? Or is it instead the best tactic for PB success?

What’s the best way to start a 5k? We asked two experts whether it’s a good idea to go out all guns blazing from the off…

David Wiener: YES

David is a training specialist for digital coaching and nutrition app Freeletics. He says:

“If you’re trying to improve your speed over 5K, this approach could well be beneficial. Going fast for the first mile and maintaining that speed could be a great tactic to better your finish time. A University of New Hampshire study found that participants who ran the first mile of a 5K race six per cent faster than their baseline pace averaged the best times overall. The even-paced runners posted the slowest times. Though the faster group did slow more over the 5K, it wasn’t enough for the even-paced runners to make up the time on them.

“However, this approach is only recommended over shorter race distances, for moderately trained runners, who may not be starting at a fast-enough pace. If you’re looking to run longer distances, other variables become more important.

“Starting at a fast pace and maintaining it is a tough skill. You’ll need to train yourself physically and mentally to keep going when your body feels the need to slow down, but it can be done. Starting a 5K fast and giving your body a push when you’re fresh rather than when you’re tiring could also be psychologically beneficial, as you’ll be working hard and fighting to maintain the pace throughout, rather than having to dig deep for the last stretch.”


Kate Leiper: NO

Kate is a personal trainer/coach at functional training studio Sweat It London. She says:

“You can try, but you will almost definitely fail. It’s not particularly safe for your body and it’s just not a clever way of training. When working towards a long-term goal you have to make the short-term goals achievable, otherwise you may get disheartened.

“For a better 5K time, try interval training at the speed you want to maintain. For example, I’m currently training for a sub 20-minute 5K, for which I have to maintain 15kph. I practise holding 15kph for 1K, then resting 60-90 seconds and repeating it five times. This way your body gets used to running at that speed even when it’s tired. To progress, next time drop your recovery time or increase your recovery speed.

“Another way that’s worked for me in the past is to run at the speed you want to run at for as long as you can, to set your precedent. For example, you run 15kph until you can’t continue – you check your distance and it’s 3K. So, the next time you run you try and push to 3.1/3.2K at that speed, next time 3.3/3.4K. So each time you run you add a little bit of distance, until you can hit 5K at your target speed.

“Slow and steady wins the race. As much as I understand wanting everything quickly, improving your fitness, your speed, your strength takes time and consistent effort!”


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