Your 3-Step Plan to Run a 5K

STEP 3: Race Day: Now What?

You've done every workout, cross-trained, and rested well. You've run three miles—twice—and you're confident that running 3.1 continuously is going to be cake. But unforeseen scenarios on race day can derail your ambitions. The trick is knowing which situations you can run through, and which require a change in plans. Depending on the problem, putting your just-run goal on hold isn't giving up; it's a smart move that ensures you'll be in good shape to try again next weekend.

THE SITUATION: Side Stitch

THE CALL: Slow down and change your breathing pattern. Take quick, shallow breaths for a minute or two, then switch to taking deep breaths for a minute. Keep running slowly for another quarter- to half-mile. If the pain doesn't subside by then, stop and stretch on the side of the road, bending to the opposite side of the stitch, Corso says.

THE SITUATION: Blister

THE CALL: You can tough it out through 3.1 miles, Corso says. Steer clear of this situation entirely by testing your sock/ shoe combo during your training runs.

THE SITUATION: Stomach distress

THE CALL: Assess the issue: Is it anxiety? Give yourself a pep talk and push along. Serious tummy trouble? Time to walk.

THE SITUATION: Thirst

THE CALL: At the next water stop, grab a cup, keep to the side of the road, and walk for a few steps while you're drinking. It still counts as running the whole way.

THE SITUATION: Gasping for air

THE CALL: Cut your pace way back to an easy jog until you catch your breath. To avoid this situation, make sure you pace yourself properly. Start the race by jogging at a very easy pace. "Run the first mile no faster than you usually run," Finke says. "If that feels okay, run the second mile a little faster, 10 to 15 seconds at most. If that feels good, run the third a tad faster."

THE SITUATION: Heat

THE CALL: Run slower than usual—especially in the beginning so you don't get overheated early on. If you had a time goal in mind, let it go. Drink plenty of fluids, and take the pressure off yourself. "The weather is out of your control, but it's the same weather for everyone entered in the race," Finke says.

THE SITUATION: Rain

THE CALL: Run through it. Rain alone doesn't usually make the road slippery. But getting tangled up with other runners can cause a fall. "Don't start at the front of the pack," Finke says. "You'll get mowed down." Line up in the back.

STRETCH IT OUT

Long, slow runs aren't just for half-marathons and marathons, says Jon Sinclair, a coach in Fort Collins, Colorado. They train your body to become more efficient at moving oxygen to your muscles, so you're able to hold a faster race pace—at any distance. Add five to 10 minutes per week to your longest run until you reach at least five miles. If you can, continue to add time every week.

GO UP

Hill work develops strength. "Running uphill makes you a faster runner on the flats," Sinclair says. "Hills build strength, and make the flats feel easy!" Find an incline that takes one to two minutes to ascend. Run up it at a comfortably hard pace. Jog back down. Do three repeats. Add one repeat each week until you're up to eight.

RUN FAST

Fartleks get your legs and lungs accustomed to the hard pace of a fast 5K. Warm up, then run a mile at your regular pace. Pick up the pace so you're running hard (but not all-out) for two minutes, then jog for two minutes. Repeat four times. Gradually shorten the recovery interval to one minute or increase the hard effort to three minutes.

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