Many runners start with 5k, thanks in no small way to parkrun and couch to 5k programmes. But as we pursue longer (or shorter) races and faster times, how much time do we spend trying to nail that 5k personal best? We’ve put together some tips to get you faster over this classic distance.
It can get very comfortable doing all your runs at the same pace week in, week out. But if that’s all you’re doing, you can’t expect anything to change when it comes to racing. To improve your 5k time you need to be running a minimum of three times a week, with at least one run that takes you out of your comfort zone. Interval work is where you build your bite, so go for hard and short repetitions that get your heart rate up.
Try something like a classic pyramid session of one, two, three, four minutes hard with the same amount of recovery, before coming back down with four, three, two, one minutes with shorter recoveries. Regular timed workouts like five sets of three minutes hard with two minutes jogging recovery between each interval can also challenge you to push yourself. Make sure you sandwich a challenging session like these with a 10 to 15 minute warm up and cool down.
Making fitness gains relies on the time you take to recover properly, especially from a tougher workout. Don’t schedule fast sessions the day before your race. Plan time in your training week to take at least one full rest day and don’t run hard on consecutive days. Not only will you lose the quality of those workouts, but giving your body inadequate time to adapt means you won’t gain as much fitness as you could. Run hard, recover hard.
The popularity of parkrun means you have a massive choice of timed 5k runs every Saturday wherever you like. All parkrun course pages have maps and course descriptions to help you make a choice. If you’d rather go for a more traditional or formal road race, it’s just as important to find a route that suits you. Work out whether you like loops, out and backs or point to point courses, and always make sure your target race has a flat course with a good surface underfoot to help you fly.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good warm up! Starting with a 15 minute jog should get everything loosened up, but adding in some basic activation work and strides will get you polished and ready to perform. There are loads of great ideas for drills on YouTube, but we think this video from Gwen Jorgensen is a great place to start. Add to that five or six sets of 50m strides (flat out bursts of running) with walk backs and you’re ready to go.
It’s all too easy to go off like a rocket in a 5k but an over enthusiastic start will mean you’ll pay for it later on in your race. Keeping an eye on that first kilometre split even if everyone else around you seems to leave you behind will keep you in control. Let the tide go out and you will gradually catch it back up!
Run as close to even splits (the same time in the first and second half of the race) as you can, and give it whatever you have left in your last kilometre.
Make it count!