The 5K is arguably the most popular long-distance race in the running world. At 3.1 miles it’s not too far that it’ll leave you crawling, but it’s far enough for a decent challenge. You won’t need to train like Mo Farah, but you’ll need to be relatively fit. Ever wanted to run a faster 5K?
In this article, we drill down 5 tips to help you run a faster 5K. Let’s get a move on!
Examples of when you might run a 5K
Saturday morning at 9 AM, thousands of runners across the country complete a 5K at a location in their local area. Parkrun is a free, community lead event you can get involved in today (if you’re not already signed up!).
If you want to sign up, click here.
There are many reasons to sign up; parkrun will optimise your running life.
Organised 5K charity runs are incredibly popular. Runners choose to represent a charity, collect money in the form of sponsors or by holding charitable events in the lead up to the race, then run 5K. The money is donated on the condition of the 5K being completed, so it’s a good incentive to finish!
3.1 miles is an optimal distance for training. 5K is an ideal combination for developing speed and endurance. It’s short enough to push hard but long enough to condition your body.
For optimal 5K training
Establish a steady pace (7 minutes 30 seconds per mile for instance) then try holding the pace for the whole run. You may feel a burn, it could get difficult, but it makes for great training!
In athletics competitions, 5K is an event whereby runners compete against each other on the track for the fastest time. It’s an all-out showdown to see who can run 3.1 miles (12.5 laps on an outdoor track) the quickest.
We’ve all seen a 5K during the Olympics. The determination, blood, sweat and tears, as dreams are either made or smashed. Nail biting stuff, but great entertainment all the same.
‘I stopped making 5K progress’
Initially, most runners see large increases in their progress when they start 5K running. The time one week might be 23:35, followed by a 22:40 the next, then with a 21:50 time the next week. One day though, progress seems to plateau and level off.
This occurs in all wakes of life, not just running. Piano players experience tremendous gains in the first two months, then improvements are much harder to make. Fantastic chefs have to focus really hard on tiny details before noticing a difference in their already amazing dish. Progress normally starts quick, then levels off.
All hope seems lost…
How can I run a faster 5K?
Never fear! No matter how fast your current personal best (PB), you can definitely improve your 5K time. Okay, you won’t run faster than the current world record holder Kenenisa Bekele, with a time of 12: 37, but we’ll certainly speed you up.
1. Add a weekly speed session to your runs
Your pace is an important factor to run a successful 5K. Incorporating a weekly speed session will increase your fitness threshold, so you can run faster for longer.
Structure of speed sessions
Go for a run on a familiar route, ideally no more than 5K. Run at a quick pace, above what you’re comfortable with, for 1 minute straight. Walk for 1 minute to recover then repeat. Repeat this for at least 6 reps on your first speed session.
As you get quicker and find the pace easier to maintain, increase the time to 1 minute 30 seconds and the reps to 8. Keep increasing the time and reps as you get comfortable with each level.
The high-intensity running, for the extended period, will condition your body to hold a quicker pace for longer, equalling a faster 5K.
2. Have correct technique
is instrumental in a successful 5K. Common amongst runner who sits at a desk all day or those who may drive is the ‘sitting’ running style. This is where the hips seem to ‘sit down’ into the running stride, meaning energy is directed to the ground. Stand tall and lean forward from the ankles.
When your running, keep your chin down a little bit but don’t look at the floor. Imagine there’s a string going through your body, keeping you centred. Look where you’re going and try not to look behind you. Keeping the head nice and still means a relaxed, focused and steady 5K run.
Try landing within the midfoot and the ball of your feet, so the shock of hitting the floor is reduced and distributed evenly. This way, you can establish a steady rhythm and work smoothly throughout the race.
If you strike the floor with your heel first, your ankles are coming up against lots of pressure. Not only can this be painful and lead to injury, it can lead to a slower 5K.
3. Use a running watch
Find out your pace with a quick glance at your wrist. If you’re slacking, you can up the speed for a faster 5K. If you’re going too fast (yes, you can go too fast and risk injury!) you can bring it in a bit.
The watches are so effective because they let you monitor your performance and make adjustments mid-run, so you have the best chance of a 5K time you’ll be pleased with.
If you’re a regular 5K runner you will be aware of those who dart off like The Flash to begin with, only for you to overtake just minutes later. The reason this happens is that these runners don’t pace themselves properly. A common mistake amongst 5K runners.
An easy way to monitor your pace is with a running watch. Make a note of what you’re comfortable with during training for a 5K, say 7:00 per mile. If you shoot off the line, look down at your watch, and notice a pace of 5:40, you’re likely heading for disaster. Whilst it’s good to listen to your body, it can be effective to adjust your pace as necessary by looking at your running watch.
Start steady, finish strong
If you want to run at a faster pace than you’re comfortable with at any point, start steady then finish strong. Run the first 2.1 miles calmly, at a relatively challenging pace before putting your foot down on the home straight. Make the last mile count.
5. Develop your aerobic system by running more
A 5K race is typically 90% aerobic, which refers to how effective your body is at using oxygen for activity. If you have a high aerobic capacity, you use oxygen more effectively to fuel physical performance.
Running more miles means your body becomes more effective at distributing and using oxygen. Try increasing weekly mile by 10% each week. For instance, if you’re currently running 15 miles a week, make next week 16.5 miles and so on. Once you up the weekly mileage, your aerobic system will dramatically improve and your 5K time will quickly increase.
The power of long runs for aerobic development
Adding a long run to your routine is great for upping weekly mileage and is a powerful way to develop your aerobic system. Long runs also improve endurance, meaning you can run for longer at a specific pace. 5K runs fly by in comparison to your weekly long run, and they should seem comparatively easier.
If your usual running distance is 3 miles, try running 8 miles for your long run. You may run 2 miles, in which case try a 6-mile-long run. The long run doesn’t have to be 100mph, but don’t feel tempted to drop your pace just because of the longer distance.
Run more miles on a weekly basis, and you will quickly see the powerful benefit it will have to your 5K time.
6. Eat properly for a faster 5K
Would you drive 50 miles without fuel? Leave the house without charging your phone? Expect a cold fridge without any power going to it? Of course, you wouldn’t!
Cars, fridges and phones, all need fuel to function. You are no different. To run your best 5K and get an optimal time, you need fuel. No two ways about it.
Carbohydrates are your go-to pre-run fuel source. They raise blood sugar and glycogen levels, so your muscles can function properly during the demanding 5K. A banana, peanut butter or jam on wholegrain toast, an energy bar, Greek yoghurt and berries, or porridge and almonds, are excellent choices.
For more information on fuelling for the 3.1 miles, read the article here.
7. Sleep well
Get plenty of shut-eye so your body is restored and ready to take on the challenge. 5K races are usually early in the morning, so will require you go to hit the sack at a decent hour the night before.
Not only is turning up to the starting line dazed and confused no fun, it will hurt your chances of a personal best.
Watching coronation street on catch up, messaging the squad on group chat, doing a crossword puzzle or watching funny YouTube videos the night before, won’t help. Trust me!
How much sleep I you need?
Everyone is different. Some need 6 hours whilst others need 9. You know better than anyone what works for you.
Turn off your phone, set your alarm, and get some shut eye. Come 5K time, you’ll be well rested and ready to set a new PB.
8. Practice on the 5K course you want a fast time for
No two courses are the same. Some are flat, some courses have hills, some are on trails, and some on the road. Each course will have it’s subtle differences here and there. Maybe there’s a corner at mile 2, perhaps there’s a bridge to cross, or even a narrow footpath. Being aware of the course you want a faster time for will pay off come 5K day.
You’ll be familiar, knowledgeable, and able to imagine whats coming next, so you can focus solely on your time and not the environment.
It pays to get some practice in, on the course you want a faster 5K time for. For instance, parkrun is always held at the same location each week. You could practice on the parkrun course throughout the week to get more familiar and comfortable with it.
There you have it! 8 tips for a faster 5K. Good luck, and happy running!