Running faster – speed up your 5k time

Running faster – speed up your 5k time

Last week one of my clients who started running on a couch to 5k plan said she was disappointed to have not completed a Park Run in under 30min. Now, going for not running to completing 5k in around 32mins is a great effort. But some more specific training will help make a significant improvement to a Park Run PB.

Long runs

Going out and running at steady pace is fine for general aerobic fitness. But running at a steady pace only trains you for running at a steady pace. Increasing the duration of your weekly long run is worth doing. It will improve the efficiency of your aerobic system and train you for running longer distance. But it won’t dramatically increase your 5k speed.

Speed up your Running

If you want to run faster you’ve got to train your body to go faster.  Introducing interval training into your running will get you used to running faster, improve your ability to sustain higher speeds and add some variety to your workouts.

There many different ways you can do intervals, varying the time at speed, length of recovery or the intensity of the effort, and these can be incorporated into a longer run. Two areas to look at for improving a 5k time would be to improve speed and then improve speed endurance (sustaining a higher speed for a longer duration)

Short sprints get you used to going faster. From a steady jog accelerate up to max speed hold for a few seconds and then ease back to a slow jog and walk. The whole thing should take 20-25sec. Repeat this 4 times with 60-90sec slow jog or walking between, building up to 6 times over a few weeks.

Cropped photo of lady runner in warm clothes running in autumn park early morning

Longer intervals will look to develop your speed endurance, or how long you can work at a higher effort. You’re want to run at about 85% of your max effort. Imagine a 1-10 scale where 1 is not exerting yourself at all, and 10 is absolute max effort. Your normal steady pace run would be a 6, here you are looking to maintain an effort of 8.5 out of 10.

Start with 6 x 4mins with 1-2min of slow jogging between to recover. Then move on to do 4 x 6min (with 90-120sec recovery) and then progress to 3 x 10min (with 3min recovery.  Over 6-8 week you’ll see some significant improvements. Depending on your fitness you might need to start with shorter durations (say 8 x 2-3min) and build from there.

Run to the Hills

Once you’ve built up some speed on the flat it’s time to take to the hills. Hill sessions builds muscle and strength endurance in your legs, and prepare you for any hills you find on your runs. You’ll need steep-ish hill long enough for you to sprint up at max effort for up to 15sec.  After a good warn up (why not run there), you’re going to sprint up the hill at pretty much max effort. Then slowly walk/jog back down taking at least a minute to return and recover before going repeating.  Try starting with 4 or 5 x 8 sec sprints once a week. Build up over time to 6-8 x of 10- 15sec sprints 1-2 times per week.

Let’s be clear these are going to be hard and leave you a bit sore at first. After a few sessions you’ll start to adapt and feel the benefits.

Do some strength training

woman practicing lunges outdoors

Strengthening your leg muscles and core means that they propel you faster and it also help you maintain higher speeds for longer.  That doesn’t have to mean heading down the gym. A short routine twice a week including squats, lunges, mountain climbers, step up  will do the trick. Start with just bodyweight exercises. As you get more advanced add in weights (dumbbells) or more explosive movement to increase strength.

Think about your mindset

While physical training is obviously important, so is your mindset. You are looking to do the distance faster than you have run it before, so you need to be prepared for it to be tough. Running intervals and hills will help you build your mental toughness as you get used to going harder.

A few other thoughts:

  • Warming up and Cooling down – too often we neglect or skimp on these. A proper warm up will mean your body is primed to go at your 5k, but it also makes your training sessions more effective. A proper cool down including stretching promotes recovery ready for the next session.
  • Pacing – It’s all too easy to blow a possible PB by getting your pacing wrong. Go off too hard or fail to adjust your pace to the terrain and you’ll come undone.
  • Finally – it won’t always be a PB, so accept that and work towards it every 6 weeks or so. And while you might make rapid improvements initially, as you get quicker the improvements are smaller and harder to gain.

If you want help planning a training programme or developing your strength training to improve your performance or general fitness contact me.