As a long distance runner, attempting to race a 5k often feels foreign, uncomfortable, and downright hard. During a marathon or half marathon, many runners slow down and take things easy. However, during a 5k, many runners take the opportunity to really give it their all.
As a shorter distance, it’s easy to assume that running a 5k is “easier” than a 10k or half marathon – but this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. The 5k distance presents many opportunities to push yourself, expand your comfort zone, and really see what your body can do.
How to Run a Fast 5k
Training for a 5k race is no easy feat. 5k is a tough distance that pushes you out of your comfort zone and then keeps you there.
Whether you are starting a 5k training plan for beginners, or you are gearing up to run your 100th 5k race, these tips for running a 5k will help get you ready.
These tips for running a 5k will help you understand your pace, and allow you to keep pushing even when your body is telling you to slow down.
1. Run Slow To Run Fast
Runners often overlook the importance of a slow, easy run in their 5k training plan. Easy runs are manageable yet stimulating efforts that set us up for success on our faster, harder training days.
So how do you know if you’re in that “easy zone”? After all, everyone is different. The best way to measure this is by tracking your breathing. An easy effort is a conversational effort.
You don’t necessarily need to talk the whole time, but ask yourself if you could hold a conversation while you run. Would you be skipping words to catch your breath? If so, scale your effort back a little.
These easier runs are aerobic efforts that serve as springboards for our faster, “race-pace” efforts as we train for a 5k.
2. Breathless Efforts
Once we’ve set that foundation with our easy run, we need to practice strong, threshold-effort running. This means that we cannot hold a conversation or even get out a word during the effort. A good format for this is two 8-minute runs at a strong effort level, resting 3-4 minutes in between.
If you have a stopwatch or a tracking app, use it to find what that pace is. From there, you can set proper goals given your time or distance in that 8-minute span.
Also, feel free to play around with structure once you know your goals. Bump the work out up to two 10-minute runs, or maybe three 8-minute runs. Mix it up for an ongoing challenge.
Keep in mind, we’re not quite at race-pace here. You’re going to put it all on the line when you run your 5k. Here, we’re slightly slower than that pace, but we are focusing on other things.
For example, these strong efforts are crucial in practicing run form at a quicker pace. Maintain proper, upright posture as you complete your efforts. At this pace, your form is still controllable, so take advantage of that and set up good habits.
And if you need to back off of your pace a little here to correct your form, do it! Making these adjustments now will make it less likely that you need to stop and adjust on race day.
3. Glory Runs: Hard Effort
Last but certainly not least are the hard runs. These are the race-pace glory runs that you want to show off. But remember, these runs don’t exist without the easy runs and the strong runs.
These hard runs are anaerobic. You will be breathless, and you’ll be training at a speed that is faster than what you think your 5k speed will be on race day.
Terrain is going to take your training to the next level here. For these hard workouts, try starting them uphill.
Running uphill is less stress via impact on the body, and it’s over-training your fitness for a flat race.
An example of an uphill workout: six 1-minute runs. Run up the hill for 1 minute, jog back down, and repeat that six times.
Try to rest more than you work, so your jog down should take a minute and a half or two minutes.
Next, you can move that same effort to a flat surface. The nice thing about starting on an uphill is that there is a lot of room for progression on the flats.
You can run faster, you can knock down your rest time a bit, or you can add reps.
4. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
A 5k race is the epitome of sitting and staying in the range of discomfort.
You need to be ready to start at a fast pace and then maintain it. This is a very tough skill, so training at these different levels, and even over-training in those “glory” runs are going to train you physically and mentally to keep going when you feel like you want to slow down.
Always remember the work you put in leading up to the race, and how much faster you’ve run on some of your training days.
It will come down to mental toughness, and knowing your body’s capacity, which you learn on your training days.
Holly is a personal fitness trainer and professional contemporary ballet dancer in San Francisco, CA. She firmly believes that anyone is capable of change. Currently, she works with The Run Experience, a prominent online community that specializes in providing various training programs for runners. She trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength. She has an answer for all your running related queries, like how to improve your running, preventing running injuries, how to prepare for a marathon etc. Get in touch with her to learn more!
More tips to increase your speed:
- 4 Simple Variations for Your Next Tempo Run
- 3 Running Workouts to Increase Your Speed
- The Ultimate 400 Meter Running Interval Workout