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How To Improve Your 5K Running Time

What are some of the best ways to improve your 5K running time? We asked some experts for their top tips

How To Improve Your 5K Time
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So, you’re looking to improve your 5K time?

The 5K distance (which is 3.1 miles) can be a great introduction to running for beginners, and it’s also well-loved amongst more experienced runners.

But sometimes it can be difficult to break past your own 5K personal best despite your best efforts.

One of the best ways to improve your 5K time is to practice other forms of activities rather than simply running more 5Ks over time.

In this article, we’re going to cover some of the best expert-recommend ways to improve your 5K time so that you can continue to make progress over this popular distance.

We asked two fitness and running experts for their top tips when it comes to the best ways to improve your 5K time.

Here’s what they said.

Run Faster Than Your Target Pace With Interval Training

Thomas Watson, UESCA-certified Running Coach and Founder of Marathon Handbook

The 5K distance is a great yardstick in terms of measuring your medium-distance running ability, and one that runners of all experience levels and backgrounds regularly work on.

For most of us, running a 5k means sustaining a challenging pace and exertion level for somewhere between 18 and 35 minutes.

It’s a good medium-length target – not short enough that you should be sprinting, and not long enough that you have to worry about bonking.

Many intermediate runners find that once they have established their 5K PR, it’s hard to make further progress with it.

It’s common to try in vain to pull a fast 5K out of the air by consuming energy gels or choosing a flat course to do it, but in order to really improve your 5K times you’ve got to train towards it.

Woman Running in Park

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Here are my tips for running a faster 5K:

1) Run Faster Than Your Target Pace With Interval Training – The first step to training towards a faster 5K is figuring out your target 5K pace, then training faster than that pace over shorter distances using interval training.

Interval training means you’re running several intervals of short, sharp bursts followed by a rest period. A great place to do intervals is on a 400m track. Run one fast (exertion level = 80-90 percent) 400m loop, then rest for the same length of time that you spent running.

Repeat this six to 10 times. My advice is for runners to find their 3K pace (the fastest they can complete 3K) and use that as their training pace for interval sessions.

Athletics at University

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2) Improve Your Anaerobic Threshold With Tempo Runs – Studies have proven that one of the best predictors of your 5K finishing time is your lactate threshold.

This is essentially the point at which your muscles begin to fatigue, as lactic acid is building up faster than the rate at which your body can flush it out. Runners can actually improve this threshold through training, and perhaps the most effective method is through Tempo Runs.

A Tempo Run is a run performed at a defined pace; in this case, your pace should be 30 seconds per mile (or 20 seconds per kilometer) slower than your 5K target pace.

For your first Tempo Run, try to run at this pace for 2 x minute intervals, with a three-minute break in-between. As you improve, decrease the length of the break until you can remove it completely and run for 20 minutes unbroken at your tempo pace.

3) Run Hills For Leg Strength And Speed – Regardless of your running goals, hills are a powerful training tool in improving leg strength, running form, and speed.

Find a hill with an incline is steep enough to be challenging without being so steep that it affects your form. Over a 100m interval, run uphill at 80-90 percent exertion, focussing on good form, then turn around and run gently downhill to recover.

Repeat this six to 10 times, adding another repetition each time you perform the workout. The idea with hills is to focus on your form – ensure you’re driving your knees upwards, and keeping your upper body upright throughout.

4) Make Your 5K Conditions Favorable – Whenever it comes time to aim for a new PR, you want to ensure all the conditions are headed in your favor (without cheating by, for example, choosing a route that goes gradually downhill). Find a route that’s as flat as possible and smooth underfoot. Try to time your PR attempt for a day when the weather is cool and there is no wind or inclement conditions.

If you can, run alongside someone who you know can complete the 5K in your target time – they’ll provide a good mental boost. Have your favorite high-energy music ready to deploy. Make sure you’ve fuelled well beforehand, and are well-rested without any underlying minor injuries or issues with gear. And go for it!

Work On Your Cadence And Stride Length

Michelle Montiel, RRCA Certified Coach

In my coaching experience, a sure-fire way to improve your 5K time is to work on your cadence and your stride length.

More strides per minute and shorter stride length will reduce the braking effect of longer, heel striking strides.

You will need to strike more mid-foot to achieve this shorter stride. Mid-foot striking will promote faster turn-over.

This not only makes you faster but reduces the impact of heel striking and braking which can also reduce injury risk.

Man Running

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Try Adding Some Strength And Power Training To Your Regime

Jordan Duncan, Owner of Silverdale Sport and Spine

According to the Journal of Applied Physiology article, entitled Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements, people who run faster do so by generating more force on the ground rather than simply moving their legs faster.

The more force you exert down on the ground causes more power to be generated, which results in a longer stride length, which translates to faster running times.

More power also results in shorter ground contact times.

The ability to run faster, therefore, depends on how much force you can put into the ground, and how fast you can put that force into the ground.

To improve this rate of force development, and ultimately running faster, strength and power exercises are very important.

Woman Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

These include well known exercises such as kettlebell swings, deadlifts, squats, and push presses, as well as plyometrics such as box jumps. Bridges, donkey kicks, hip thrusts and resisted c-skips are great exercises to target hip extension power.

Another great dynamic exercise to improve the rate of force generation is jumping rope.

Strength and power training used to be viewed as a supplement to running training, but we are at the point now where strength and power training is seen as a requirement if you want to run faster.

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