How to run a faster 5K

Having completed a fair few half marathon and marathon distances, I felt recently that my body had become so accustomed to longer distances, yet I couldn’t understand why getting a good time with my 5K was so difficult!

I put the question out to the @UKRunChat community on Twitter and had a few responses back recommending me to run much slower miles rather than to set off too quickly (as I was doing). I have tried this and I will always try and aim for negative splits with any of my distances, but each time it feels my body has been taking too long to warm up and get into my stride. I cannot seem to edge below the 25-min mark! I want to improve my time as I know it will help me achieve better times with my longer distances. So, with that aim in mind I have found some useful tips from researching online, which I’m going to test out myself!

1. Nailing your pace judgement

If you’re like me and usually run longer distances then it is all too easy to view 5k as a sprint. The trouble is this is a dangerous attitude to have as it usually means that you will start too hard and the last mile or 2km of the race will be painful and not very pretty. As with the longer distances, the best approach is to try and run even splits or if possible, a negative split (which is where you run the second half of the race slightly faster than the first).

To work out your splits you need to set a time target and then work backwards. If you have run a race (over a standard distance) recently you could use an online pace calculator to predict your potential over 5km (there are lots of different pace calculators you could use). But bear in mind that these tools should only be used as a guideline though, as there are many other variables that can affect your performance.

Below are some specific 5k training sessions below to help guide your time target.

Specific speed work/fartlek training

In order to run a fast 5k, you need to prepare your body’s physiology to run at a higher intensity than it might be used to. This means doing some training at your target race pace and slightly faster. Interval training is a great way to do this. Here are some suggestions for some specific 5k workouts that can be done on the track, on the road or on the grass, to time rather than distance.

6 x 800m with 90 seconds — 2 minutes jog recovery

12 x 400m with 60 seconds jog recovery

5 x 1km with 90 seconds — 2 minutes jog recovery

2–3 sets of 800m, 600m, 200m with 90 seconds recovery

Strength endurance

I didn’t really think like this before, but even though a 5K is a shorter distance, endurance still plays a key part. Improving your strength endurance will enable you to use your strength for longer and therefore finish races faster and stronger. One of the simplest and most effective ways of improving your strength endurance is to include some hilly runs at an easy pace in your training programme. Hill sprints can be also very effective.

Be prepared to hurt

Running a fast 5K should be a little bit painful towards the latter stages, as the lactate levels in your blood rise more rapidly. If it’s not, then you probably aren’t running quite hard enough. The best way to look at it is to embrace a little bit of pain as a good thing en route to a personal best. After all, you want to show how hard you worked for that PB, right?!

Don’t forget to taper

If you want to give yourself the best possible chance of running a fast 5k then you will need to taper your training in the week before the race so that your legs are fresh and ready to roll. In the final week you should cut down the length of your runs and your last speed session should be four to five days before the race. Make sure you rest up because by then, the hard work should all be done. You just can’t get any fitter in that final week and the last thing you want to do is risk injury!