Secrets of a fast 5k

Improve your running speed

5k is a unique event that can be approached from the speed or endurance side. Many 1500m runners can make the step up and run a fast 5k, and 10k runners can make the step down in distance. The beauty of a 5k is that for most people it is a manageable distance, and working on your 5k speed will ultimately help you to run faster at the longer distances too. So, what are the secrets to a fast 5k?

Written by Louise Damen

Louise is a two-time England Cross Country Champion and a former European XC Trials winner. She has also represented GB at various international events and her marathon PB is 2:30:00.

Nailing your pace judgement

If you usually run longer distances then it is all too easy to view 5k as a sprint. The trouble is this is a dangerous attitude to have as it usually means that you will start too hard and the last mile or 2km of the race will be painful and not very pretty. As with the longer distances, the best approach is to try and run even splits or if possible, a negative split (which is where you run the second half of the race slightly faster than the first).

To work out your splits you need to set a time target and then work backwards. If you have run a race (over a standard distance) recently you could use an online pace calculator to predict your potential over 5km (there are lots of different pace calculators you could use). But bear in mind that these tools should only be used as a guideline though, as there are many other variables that can affect your performance.

You can also use your times from some of the specific 5k training sessions below to help guide your time target.

Specific speed work

In order to run a fast 5k, you need to prepare your body's physiology to run at a higher intensity than it might be used to. This means doing some training at your target race pace and slightly faster. Interval training is a great way to do this. Here are some suggestions for some specific 5k workouts that can be done on the track, on the road or on the grass, to time rather than distance.

6 x 800m with 90 seconds - 2 minutes jog recovery

12 x 400m with 60 seconds jog recovery

5 x 1km with 90 seconds - 2 minutes jog recovery

2-3 sets of 800m, 600m, 200m with 90 seconds recovery

Strength endurance

Although it is one of the shorter distances, endurance still plays a key part in the 5k. Improving your strength endurance will enable you to use your strength for longer and therefore finish races faster and stronger. One of the simplest and most effective ways of improving your strength endurance is to include some hilly runs at an easy pace in your training programme.

Be prepared to hurt

Running a fast 5k should be a little bit painful towards the latter stages, as the lactate levels in your blood rise more rapidly. If it's not, then you probably aren't running quite hard enough. The best way to look at it is to embrace a little bit of pain as a good thing en route to a personal best. And if it helps, remember that everybody else will be feeling it too in exactly the same way.

Don't forget to taper

If you want to give yourself the best possible chance of running a fast 5k then you will need to taper your training in the week before the race so that your legs are fresh and ready to roll. In the final week you should cut down the length of your runs and your last speed session should be four to five days before the race. Make sure you rest up because by then, the hard work should all be done. You really just can't get any fitter in that final week.

Editorial credit: Vsevolod33 / Shutterstock.com

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