The 5k is an often underestimated challenge and with the rise of parkrun it has become one of the most popular distances for runners with thousands lacing up each week.
While some will say time isn’t important, deep down 99% of runners, regardless of ability, all want to get faster – whether that is breaking 15 minutes or 25 minutes for the Olympic distance.
When coaching I get asked quite a lot about improving 5K times, what are the secrets? what training sessions should I do? Truth be told there are numerous things you can do to take a slice of your previous best and equally it depends on the individual too.
However, there are five key pieces of advice that I pass on to everyone; get race experience, practice at race pace, don’t be afraid to run less, train with a group and lastly, find a fast race.
1) Get race experience
The beauty of the 5k distance, compared to something like a marathon, is you can race again a lot sooner between your last and next event.
This will allow you to experiment and learn what gives you the best push, maybe a certain season suits you better or racing at a different time of the day. Also, everyone races differently and motivates themselves in alternative ways, so you could be a natural front-runner like Steve Prefontaine or love chasing other runners down in the final sprint like Mo Farah. It can be a bit of trial and error, but finding what works can make a big difference in your results.
2) Practice at race pace
Speed Intervals can be a key part of your 5k training, but don’t just go out as hard as you can and hang on until you can’t go any longer. Target the pace you want to run your 5k at and break it down into sections.
A good rule of thumb is to have 5k worth of intervals at 5k pace or 10k worth of intervals at 10k pace, so 5 x 1km at your goal 5k pace, reducing the rest as your training progresses, would be a great session.
Matt Clowes, a runner who has a 13:58 5K personal best also advises about training beyond the 5k distance.
“Training to run a fast 5k requires a good mix of speed and endurance,” says the Cardiff AAC runner. “Going over and under the distance gives a wider scope to crack the distance.
“A typical track session I do when training specifically for a 5k is 6x1k @5k race pace with 90 seconds recovery between each interval.”
3) Don’t be afraid to run less
While it’s important to develop your endurance base, like Matt advises, do not simply on miles to the detriment of your quality sessions, and always pay attention to how you feel and your level of fitness.
With 5k running coming under the VO2 Max bracket of training it’s not all about endless miles, but about the quality as well. If you need to reduce the mileage a little bit to really hit your key sessions then don’t be afraid to.
4) Train with a group
If you are not currently a member of a club, have a look online for a running club in your area or group from your local parkrun.
Find a group that has a similar goal. This can help keep the motivation high, whether it’s getting out on a recovery run and keeping the pace sensible or just pushing the pace to where you want to be on your speed intervals. If you have to suffer, might as well have company.
5) Find a fast race
Not all races are created equal and if you’re running a parkrun with two muddy hills and a hairpin bend on every lap or a road race with more hills than you can count on one hand, then it might not be a PB course.
Investigate where fast times are run or go to a certified 5k road race.