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!
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 proportionally. 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 and keeping jogging between sections.
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 too. 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 are often the most neglected part of runners' training regimes. Running slowly when you're aiming to run faster feels 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.
Incorporate cross-training within your running plans will not only help you to optimise your training, but can also reduce your injury risk. For runners, cross-training options can include cycling, elliptical, rowing or swimming, but we would advise you 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. Set yourself goals and challenges whilst you can’t run – you will enjoy it a lot more!
Your weekly mileage is another important area to consider while training towards a faster 5k. 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.
As you build up your mileage over time, you should look to never exceed a weekly increase of more than 10% (e.g., if you can comfortably run 40km per week, next week run no more than 44km). Additionally, 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 you injury risk and helping you to feel both physically and mentally fresher into your training moving forwards.
To help your body adapt to the hard training and also recover properly to avoid injuries, there are some essentials that you should be doing on a recovery side of things too. Firstly, sleep; aim for a consistent 8 hours of sleep every night. Secondly, whether it's Pilates, Yoga or simply stretching, you should look do to at least some mobility work each week.
Other ways to optimise 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.
To get faster and stronger at your 5k, you'll need to nail your training sessions but also make sure you're fuelling your recovery and making health-conscious nutrition choices too! To help optimise your recovery, look to keep your protein high, take on plenty of carbs before your tougher sessions and if you're looking to really push the pace or distance, don't be afraid to experiment with caffeine too.
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. We recommend going to a shoe shop that specialises 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!
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 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. 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.
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 organising to run with people that you know. Additionally, what better way to hold yourself accountable than signing up to an event, knowing you have a deadline when you can put all of your hard work into practice?
Follow a plan!
Finally, maybe the best thing you can do to level up your running is follow a plan! A good plan will take care of everything that we've mentioned in this article, from setting out all of the sessions for you, automatically adjusting your mileage, incorporating deloads to balancing the right types of running for your ability. Have a plan will also help hugely with accountability and mean 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 personalised training plans, join Runna today and get your first week free!