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How to run a faster 5k: The ultimate guide
How to run a faster 5k: The ultimate guide

Want to know how to improve your 5k performance? Here are all the tips you need to send your 5k time in the right direction!

Steph avatar
Written by Steph
Updated over a week ago

Whether you want to build your general fitness, train for a race or tear it up at Parkrun, there are a host of factors that all tie together to help you push your 5k time in the right direction. From improving your training to nailing your recovery, if you can master the following items, you'll be cruising those five kilometers!

How to run a fast 5k: What types of runs should you add to your training program?

To become a faster runner and improve your 5k time, you need to add a few different types of workouts to your routine. Let's see what each one entails.

Speed work

Ultimately, to run faster, you need to start practicing running at faster speeds. To do this you need to do two particular types of training sessions; Tempo and Interval sessions.

An Interval session is typically where your run faster than you can run continuously for, with true rest periods (walking!) in between. This forces your body to adapt to running at these faster speeds and as a result, the pace you can run continuously for will increase with time.

As well as running faster for short periods of time you should aim to build up your tolerance for running at faster speeds for longer and this is where Tempo sessions come in. Here you'll run at slightly faster speeds, but for longer. You'll also continue jogging between sections.

Long runs

You might be thinking "why do long runs" when you're training for a shorter goal such as a 5k, but it's still crucial to build up your endurance alongside the faster training you do.

By building up your body's endurance to run longer at slower speeds, it'll help you run your faster paces for longer, too!

Easy runs

Easy runs are often the most neglected part of runners' training regimes, especially when training to run a faster 5k.

Running slowly when you're aiming to run faster might feel counter-intuitive, however it's for a good reason. Running fast is very fatiguing on your body, with heightened injury risk and longer recovery times. There is no set pace for easy runs but the slower the better! By spending most of your runs running slower and easier, it means you can still build your leg strength and endurance but also feel fresher for your quality speed sessions.

Like they say, it's quality over quantity. A popular rule to bear in mind is the 80/20 rule; you should be looking to spend 80% of your time doing easy running and only 20% of your time training at or above threshold pace.

Cross training

Adding cross-training to your running plans will not only help you to optimize your training, but can also reduce your injury risk.

For runners, cross-training options include cycling, elliptical, hiking, rowing or swimming, but, most importantly, do what you enjoy the most. It will add variety to your routine when you are running fit and healthy, but it will also make it a lot easier to adapt if you are injured or need a few days off of running.

Set yourself goals and challenges whilst you can’t run – you will enjoy it a lot more!

What weekly mileage should you aim for when training for a faster 5k?

Your weekly mileage is another important area to consider while training towards a improving your 5k performance. Here's what to keep in mind:

  • Start with a mileage (and number of runs) that your body tolerates well: First of all, you should start with a mileage that your know your body can tolerate; do not jump in all-guns-blazing! Start with a volume that works for YOU; this is key to reduce your risk of injury. Also, look to avoid jumping up significantly in the number of runs per week than you are used to.

  • Increase your mileage by no more than 10%: As you build up your mileage over time, you should look to never exceed a weekly increase of more than 10%. For example, if you can comfortably run 40km per week, next week run no more than 44km.

  • Add deload weeks: While you should look to increase your mileage over time, you should also add in deload weeks. A deload week is where you'll drop your weekly mileage every 3-5 weeks to allow your body to recover from, and adapt to, all of your recent training. This will reduce your injury risk and help you to feel both physically and mentally fresher into your training moving forwards.

Find out more about deload weeks here:

What's the role of recovery for improving your 5k time?

To help your body adapt to the hard training for a faster 5k and also recover properly to avoid injuries, there are some essentials that you should be doing on the recovery side of things, too:

  • Sleep: Aim for consistent 8 hours of sleep every night.

  • Mobility work: Secondly, whether it's Pilates, Yoga or simply stretching, you should look do to at least some mobility work each week.

  • Massages: Other ways to optimize your recovery include sports massages or even using at-home massage tools such as massage guns or a foam roller.

Listen to your body throughout your training and be prepared to take an extra day of rest or move the sessions around within a week if you find that you need a little extra recovery.

Find out more here:

What's the role of nutrition for becoming a faster runner?

To get faster and stronger at your 5k, you'll need to nail your training sessions but also make sure you're fueling your recovery and making health-conscious nutrition choices.

To help optimize your recovery, look to keep your protein high and take on plenty of carbs before your tougher sessions or races. If you're looking to really push the pace or distance, don't be afraid to experiment with caffeine, too.

Read more here:

How about shoes?

Your shoes are going to be a huge part of your training and investing in a good pair will help protect your body from the impact with the ground; plus, there are shoes that are specifically designed to help you run faster.

Go to a shoe shop that specializes in running shoes and has a treadmill in-store so that you can test a few different pairs. If you're looking to shave a few seconds off your 5k time, you could even look to invest in a light, carbon-assisted pair of shoes!

Read more about how to choose the right shoes for your training and your next races here:

How to stay accountable and consistent when training for a faster 5k

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of training is being consistent and holding yourself accountable.

Try to start off by developing a routine around your running and get used to getting out that door two, three, four, or more times per week. You can even look to put your running sessions in your calendar/diary to help integrate them into your day-to-day schedule. We'd also suggest tracking your progress as you go and using this as a tool to look back on how far you've come and motivate yourself to lace up for those harder sessions.

One of the best ways to do all this is to use a 5k improvement plan, which will enable you to stay consistent and track your performance over time. If you choose Runna, you'll get all your training sessions mapped out for you, week by week, helping you achieve the right balance between threshold workouts and easy runs.

Look to make your training social, from telling your close friends your goals, to joining a community of runners either online or in your local area, to organizing to run with people that you know.

Additionally, what better way to hold yourself accountable than signing up to a 5k race, knowing you have a deadline when you can put all of your hard work into practice?

How to pace a 5k

Pacing your 5k is essential to managing your energy throughout the race.

Before you start, have a clear idea of your goal finishing time based on your current fitness level and past performance. This will help you determine your ideal pace per kilometer or mile.

Then, during the race, think of the 5k in three parts. Start at a controlled pace for the first kilometer or mile, pick up the pace slightly in the middle, and then push harder in the final third. This will help you manage your energy and avoid burning out too early.

Here's a simple 5k pacing chart you can use to determine your target pace based on your finish goal.

Find out more here:

For the best results, follow a 5k improvement plan

Finally, maybe the best thing you can do to level up your running is follow a training plan.

A good 5k plan will take care of everything that we've mentioned in this article, from setting out all of the sessions for you, to automatically adjusting your mileage and incorporating deload weeks, to balancing the right types of running for your ability.

Having a plan will also help hugely with accountability, meaning that you can focus purely on your running game!

Whether you have signed up for an upcoming race or are just hoping to build a good base level of fitness one of our plans may be for you. To check out our personalized training plans, join Runna today and get your first week free!

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