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How to Run Your First 5k Race

You’ve prepared for weeks, put in the miles and the effort, and the day has finally come: you’re going to run your first 5k race! But before you dash off too fast and end up gassed before you’re even halfway done with the race, check out this article.

In it, we’ll cover pacing strategy, race tips, and mental tactics to make sure your first 5k is a success no matter what goals you have. We wish you good luck!

runners at first 5k road race

Start Line

It goes without saying that you want to make sure that you get to your race early so you’re not rushed. It’s ideal if you can get to the starting area at least 30 minutes prior to the gun going off.

This will give you time to make sure your gear is in order and your race bib is on, and will allow you time to use the bathrooms if needed. Then, line up near the back, 5-10 minutes before the starting time. If you’ve been training pretty hard and have an aggressive time goal in mind, it’s okay if you go a little bit farther forward, but it’s good race etiquette to save the front for faster runners. Plus, it’s better to start in the back and pass people along the way, than to start in the front and watch others passing you.

If your race has more than 500 people, you’ll want to line up sooner. Many neighborhood and community 5ks will have a couple hundred people or fewer, so you probably don’t have to worry about this. Just ask the number of race participants when you get your bib.

No matter where you end up lining up, try to line up with runners who look like you, so that you are running with people who are going to have the same pace. You can always ask other runners what pace they’re shooting for if you’re not sure.

First Mile

The best piece of advice that you can remember for the entire race, but especially the first mile, is to not start out too fast. Believe me – it can be easy to get caught up in the adrenaline of the race start, but keep yourself at a comfortable, steady pace.

Focus on breathing and settling into your running rhythm. You should be able to maintain a conversation or say the Pledge of Allegiance (or any other thing you can recite from memory…your choice!). If you can’t do either of those things, you’re probably going too fast.

In addition, break the race into one-mile chunks to make it feel less intimidating. Your first goal is to just get through the first mile. Try not to focus so much on the time if you happen to be wearing a watch. Instead, try to just enjoy the time. It will be over before you know it.

If you have space on the course, run the tangents on all turns. In other words, try to run the shortest distance around a curve so that you’re not making the race longer than it needs to be. Over the course of a 5k with lots of turns, this can actually add up to saving a hundred yards or more.

At the same time, be careful when you move across the course, and be mindful about cutting in front of other runners. Especially where there are bottlenecks, you don’t want to cut anyone off or get your feet tangled up with someone else.

Second Mile

As you start into your second mile, stay focused on maintaining an even pace. It is okay to run a little bit faster if you feel good and want to. 

Make sure that your running form is still good and that you haven’t started to slouch a little bit. Concentrate on reaching the next mile marker. Once you reach it, you’ll be over halfway done! 

If there is a water stop, it will likely be somewhere in this mile. Feel free to take water if you need it. It’s also okay to skip the water stop on cooler days, or if you don’t feel thirsty.

If you decide to take water, pinch the top of the cup together so it makes a V, and sip the drink as you run. But if that’s too complicated for you, or if you want a brief break to walk, it’s okay to walk or even stop to drink.

Just make sure that when you throw the cup away, it doesn’t land on the course where it could cause other runners to slip. Ideally, you would land it in the trash can if there is one.

Group of runners in motion blur at forest pathway at the event 5

Third Mile

When you hit the third mile, you’ll want to pick up your pace. Keep telling yourself that you only have one mile left. Depending on how fast you are, you should have less than 12 minutes to go. Tell yourself that!

Pick a runner ahead of you, and work to pass that person. Setting a goal like this helps you pick up the pace in the last mile, and gives you something specific to work toward. Experts recommend imagining that you’re fishing: figure out a runner to “hook” and pass. Once you do, move on to another one, and so forth.

You might be breathing harder now, but don’t worry. Focus on running faster, but keep a consistent pace. You need to make sure that you can sustain the pace you’re currently at until you cross the finish line.

Last 0.1 Mile

When you see the finish line, you’ll probably be near the last 0.1 mile. This is the time to take off. You only have to keep this pace for less than a minute, so give it everything you’ve got. Run as fast as you can, especially when the finish line comes into sight and when you see your family and friends watching at you.


Now is the time to celebrate! But before you do, remember that the first thing you do after finishing should not be to sit or lie down. Instead, take some time to cool down and stretch. After you’ve done that, find some water and any post-race snacks.

Once you’ve gotten some water and refreshments, take the time to celebrate with any friends and family who came to see you! Make sure that you take some “after” pictures, complete with race bling, because that’s what everyone is going to want to see.

And pat yourself on the back! You just finished your first 5k! As the sweat starts to dry and you are exchanging high-fives with the other runners, you might find yourself already looking forward to your next race. Don’t stop after just one! Make it the first of many races. Make it a part of your new running habit. Go home and look up other 5ks you could run.

After a handful of 5ks, you might even consider moving on up in the running and looking into 10ks, 15ks, 10-milers, and even half marathons. Right now, 10 miles past a 5k might seem like a lot—that’s the half marathon distance—but if you can run a 5k, I promise you that you can run a half marathon!

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner