Setting yourself the challenge of a 25 minute time might seem difficult, but it's completely achievable and will make you a better runner long term.
The 5K and smashing the 25 min barrier is all about visiting the hurt locker and deciding just how long you want to spend there. When it’s hurting, you just have to carry on, hang in there and push on through it all.
Running a fast 5K is tough and is as much a test of mental strength as it is endurance, speed, strength and economy if you are chasing a fast time. Your plan will require long runs, threshold and tempo work, hard interval sessions, speed work and plenty of conditioning.
Here are a few tips to help you master this popular distance.
Firm foundations – the long run
The long run puts the tiger in the cat. Aim to complete a weekly long run building eventually up to a regular 90 mins or more. Always mix the terrain on which you run, including trails, hills, and grass if possible. Most of your long runs should be completed 60-90 secs per mile slower than 5K race pace.
Try this – Run at a conversational effort and as you get closer to race day try to wind up some of your long runs in pace. In a regular 90 min run you might complete 45-60 minutes at 60 secs per mile slower than 5K race pace, then in the last 30 minutes build the pace by 10-15 seconds in each 10-minute block. The last 10 minutes is run quickly and just outside your 5K race pace. Hard but a great way to build confidence and endurance.
Feel the tempo – threshold and tempo runs
Threshold running is the essential element of any distance runner’s weekly training. Running at a ‘controlled discomfort’ helps to develop your running economy allowing you to sustain a race effort for longer. It works for all distance runners and getting this into the weekly mix helps you to remain strong for the full 5k without fading. Remember, this isn’t racing, its working in the top portion of your aerobic zone, which for most is about 80-85% max heart rate or 3-4 word answer pace or controlled discomfort.
Try this - Build blocks of running at 3-4 word answer effort at between 10k and HM pace within a 45-60 minute run. Ensure these blocks progress through your plan building up from, for example 5 x 5 minutes to 3 x 10 minutes and even a continuous 20-25 minutes. Use your heart rate monitor if you really want to get this right.
An upward curve – hill repeats
Hill training builds strength; power and leg speed and can give you a massive boost to finding that 5th and 6th gear and running at pace. Increase power and speed and those times will tumble as paces increase. Try this – Incorporate some 45-60s bursts of fast hill running into your weekly training. Complete 8-12 reps with a 90-120s jogged recovery focusing on running with a tall posture, quick, light foot-strike and generating power from driving your arms. A great session could be10 x 45-60 seconds fast uphill with 90 sec jog recovery. Then after a 5-10 min jog add 3-4 x 1k at 5k pace on the flat. Sounds tough, but so is a fast 5K!
Power to the finish – progression runs
Nailing your race will mean you need to finish the final 2-3K running strongly, when you body is beginning to fatigue. Practice this with progression runs that build in pace as you begin to tire.
Try this – practice running ‘progressively’ in your training. Don’t try to nail your paces straight out of the front door. Including sessions such as 10 minutes easy, 10 minutes steady, 10 minutes threshold then 5 minutes at race pace. This could progress to 10/10/10/10 seeing the last 20 minutes run as threshold then 5k race pace…
Visit the hurt locker – interval training & VO2
In the final 6-8 weeks of your training plan it's time to get specific. If you want a sub 25 min 5k you need to be able to run 5 x 1k at 4.59 pace without stopping. This is where interval training comes into play and top VO2 max sessions such as 5 x 1k, 6 x 800m’s and 3-4 x 1200m’s come into play. Run the intervals at race pace of 60-90 seconds progressing the volume or reducing recovery over the weeks. You have to be fit to run these sessions and focus as the session progresses, so build that fitness base first before attempting.
Feel quick – speed endurance sessions
In the final weeks you may even run intervals at quicker than race pace with sessions such as 10-12 x 400m’s at 3k pace off 60 seconds recovery… the icing on the cake for getting you sharper and building confidence. Maybe break this session down if new to speed endurance work with 2 x (4x 400) at this higher intensity. Each interval isn’t a sprint but is definitely quicker than your target 5k time! This all helps make the race day pace seem comfortable and initially easy to hit when the gun goes.
Mix it up
Training well doesn’t have to just mean running. Cross training and strength and conditioning can really help boost your cardiovascular fitness, whilst also leaving you a stronger and less injury prone runner. Include a weekly cross training sessions and a couple of shorter core strengthening sessions to give your running a boost without putting your body under additional strain.
Race day – have a strategy
The warm up is crucial to your 5K going well. Jog for up to 15 mins but make the last 5 mins progressive with perhaps a few mins close to threshold effort and even the final minute closer to race pace. Open up the energy pathways and get the oxygen flowing.
Add a few dynamic drills if used to these and then some strides (4-6 x 60-80m efforts at about 70-90% max pace) focusing on technique and feeling good. You are now ready. Focus on the goal in hand and paces you have trained at.
As the gun goes, breathe and don’t get carried away. The adrenalin will send you flying off but its time to play a game of control V sustained pace. Spend the first 1k easing into your planned race pace and then locking into it. Tick off the 2nd and 3rd kilometre feeling strong and keeping to the plan. The race really begins at 3k as lactate levels are high and you have to begin the game of chasing the vest in front, holding onto the pace and believing. The final kilometre is all about desire and pushing to the finish line, race those around you don’t lose that focus.
Cross the line and try to jog as soon as you can as this helps to clear the lactate helping you to feel better. Well done!