The Distance May Seem Short But A Fast 5K Requires Tactics, Training And A Big Heart

OK, so it’s short but the 5K distance packs a big punch if you do it right. It’s the run that you get more out of the more you put in. In fact, even for elite runners a 5K race can be the ultimate test of speed and fitness. Running at full throttle for 3.1 miles can be as eye-poppingly difficult as a slow-paced marathon – it just happens to be over a lot quicker. This means training to do a 5K race quickly is a shortcut to blasting through a fitness ceiling and learning to defeat the fatigue, oxygen debt and nagging voices in your head screaming: “Slow down!” Use the RSNG guide to get faster over 5K for new fitness, running strength, wellness and motivational gains...

Speed Up
While a quick 5K doesn’t require an all-out sprint, you will need to run at a pace that’s not going to feel too comfortable. And to race at speed, you need to train at speed. Interval training not only prepares you for the feeling of ‘controlled discomfort’ you’ll experience on race day, it’s also been proven to increase your VO2 Max, meaning that consistent speedwork is a surefire way to become a fitter runner. Add this simple session to your weekly routine: one minute of hard running, followed by two minutes active recovery (a slow jog or a walk), repeated eight to 10 times.

‘Interval training not only prepares you for the feeling of “controlled discomfort” you’ll experience on race day, it’s also been proven to increase your VO2 Max’

Head For The Hills
Hill training is the an often neglected aspect of most runner’s routines – especially those in the city – but hitting inclines regularly is just as effective as any session dedicated to speed (more on those shortly). Incorporating a couple of sessions into your weekly routine will do your body the world of good, and provide you with all the adaptations needed for a quicker race time.

Using a hill for your interval training is a great way to work on both your strength and speed. And slogging up a hill for half an hour also has the added bonus of making a flat 5K feel a whole lot easier. For starters, find a hill that’s steep enough to be a challenge, but not so steep that you can’t hold a conversation when jogging up it. Sprint up it for 45-60 seconds (depending on your fitness levels) then walk or jog back down and repeat six to 10 times.

Choose The Course With Care
All the training in the world is unlikely to get you a PB if your chosen race is something akin to this, ‘the hardest 5k in the world’. To maximise your chances, opt for a flat course, ideally on hard ground, with a field of competitors no larger than 500. Fortunately, the global spread of parkrun – weekly 5k events that, best of all, are free – means there’s plenty to choose from, and you’ll get a sense how difficult each event is from the individual course pages.

Eat Light
Carb-loading is a tried-and-tested strategy for long-distance efforts when your body needs a ready supply of glycogen to tap into for energy, but racing a 5K at full tilt with a belly full of pasta isn’t going to be much fun. Runners can be good at eating like food is going out of fashion – and that can work for anything over 10K – but when you’re only going to be on the move for around 20-30 minutes you can get away with a light breakfast 1-2 hours before and, if needed, a sugar hit (a gel, banana, etc) half an hour pre-run.

‘The hard yards in training count for nothing unless you’re willing to give it your all on race day’

Run Wise
A 5K sounds short and, relatively speaking, it is. But do not underestimate the challenge of racing at close to your max for 20 minutes or more. In other words, don’t go out too hard. Sprinting off at the beginning will only lead to you burning out before the finish, so watch your pace and leave some gas in the tank for later on. It might be useful to pretend you’re running a 6K race instead – that will help you to run well through the tricky 2K and 3K marks, before end-of-race adrenaline kicks in to see you home.

Fine-tune your technique
When every second counts, an efficient running style can make all the difference. A few years ago, running more efficiently meant avoiding the dreaded heel strike – landing heel first – in favour of a more forefoot action. Recently, the thinking has moved away from this to suggest that efficient running depends not so much on how your foot lands as where it strikes the ground – with a concerted effort being made to land with your feet as close to your centre of mass (i.e under your body) as possible. Doing so allows each step to propel you forward, whereas landing with your feet too far in front will jar your momentum and, ultimately, affect your chances of maintaining a PB pace.

Push Yourself
The hard yards in training count for nothing unless you’re willing to give it your all on race day. If you’re serious about getting that PB, you need to be prepared to push your limits. The last 2K, in particular, are likely to be tough, but if you’ve trained smart and consistently for the last couple of months, your legs and lungs will get the job done – all you need to do is silence the doubts and try not to fall over...

WHAT NEXT? Targeting a sub 20-minute 5K? Then this video may help you out…

Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.