7 Ways to Nail your Summer Races

Are you trying to set a personal best at your next race? Whether it’s a live race or a virtual race, there are ways you can make sure you nail it!! But, to do this, you need to focus on certain things during your training and on race day. 

As I got older, I became aware of the concept of “age grading” my times and was intent on getting my age graded time for a 5K down below 20 minutes. In looking at this, that meant I had to get below 25 minutes for my actual 5K time which is about 1 minute faster than I normally run a 5K. So, I did some research on how to train and what to focus on during the race and, lo and behold, I was able to run a 19:57 age graded 5K last fall. 

Below is an overview of what I focused on, and you can follow this plan to nail your summer (or fall) race!! 

During Training 


If you want to run a faster 5K, you must practice running faster; it’s that simple. There are several ways to add speedwork, but I recommend focusing on running intervals during your training. Here’s our listing of 4 Interval Workouts for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Runners, which will help you increase your speed. 

Another good and fun way to add speedwork is to run fartleks, which is interspersing periods of fast runs with periods of recovery runs or jogging; they are not only fun to say, but fun to do. One of the things I did was run with a group and have each person rotate and choose the time and distance for the fast run period. Check out our 8 Types of Runs blog for more. 

Hill Repeats

Hills require strength and endurance, so if you practice them during your training, you'll develop speed and muscle power; hill repeats will increase flexibility in your muscles and tendons, which reduces your risk of injury. 

In your training, tackle shorter steep hills (about six to 10 percent incline). Sprint up for 10 seconds, then walk downhill backwards to avoid pressure on the knees. Repeat, eventually building up to eight 10-second sprints. It's a surefire way to stronger, faster legs. 

Strength Training

Running alone won't increase your speed. You need to strengthen the muscles that make you move so your actions will be more powerful and more efficient. Incorporate variations of squats, lunges, step-ups, calf raises and bent over rows and check out our Strength Training at Home blog for more strength training exercise. 

Run the Route

Obtain a map of the course, and if the route is open (like in a neighborhood or wooded trail), practice running it to familiarize yourself with the hills, curves, and mile markers. Knowing the course in advance will give you confidence and an added advantage over runners who are running it for the first time. 

Race Day!! 

Nourish and hydrate

Eat a low-fiber meal that contains protein and easily digestible carbs. Make sure it's eaten about 2 hours before the race and keep the number of calories at 250 or less. My favorite is peanut butter on a banana or some yogurt with granola but find what works for you. Drink 12 – 20 ounces of fluid with your meal, and if it’s a hot day I’ll add some electrolyte powder to my water. 

Warm Up

It may only be 5K or 10K, but if you warm up with some light jogging about 30 minutes before the race, you'll not only prevent injury, but your muscles will also be ready to go once the race begins. I also recommend some dynamic stretching after your light jogging and about 15 minutes before the race. 


This is where my plan differs, depending upon the length of the race; I recommend employing the “Fast/Steady/Fast” pacing for a 5K but employ a “Steady/Fast/Faster” pacing for anything over a 5K. 

Under the “Fast/Steady/Fast” pacing, you would actually go out a bit faster than your desired overall pace for the race, then steady it down in the middle third so you’re just below your desired pace and then hit the gas again for the final third of the race. 

While this pacing is counter-intuitive, since most recommend going out at a slow pace, for 5K’s studies have shown the most effective way to hit your personal best is to go out fast. One word of caution, this does not mean you burn yourself out running 30 seconds faster than your desired pace but 10 seconds or so will give you a cushion. 

For anything over a 5K, I would recommend starting out about 10 seconds per mile slower than your desired pace; increasing to your desired pace during the middle of the race; then, accelerating a bit more to 10 seconds per mile faster than your desired pace in the final third of the race. Your adrenaline should allow you to maintain this faster pace through the finish, as people are cheering you on and you can see the finish line approach. 

So, go out there and nail it!!

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Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.

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