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How to Improve your 5K Race Time

Updated on May 15, 2007

"Long, slow runs make long, slow runners"

Tips & Warnings

  • Take into account the other stresses in your life. Modify your schedule when necessary.
  • Always warm up before doing any speed work.
  • Consider using a heart-rate monitor, especially for speed work.
  • Cool down by running slower and then stretching.
  • Find a training partner or group - this is particularly helpful when doing speed work.
  • Consult an experienced runner or a coach for advice.
  • Change directions when training on a track, if possible. This will balance the stress placed on the inside leg.

If you are like many runners you may be frustrated at racing 5K distances and never being able to run them faster. I hear many running stay that when they begin running for the first few months their times keep decreasing and they are so pleased with the results, but than they hit sort of a "wall" and their times flatten out and they just can't seem to get any faster. Some runners even find that their 10K pace is not much different then their 5K pace even though they are running twice the distance. Have you plateaued? Possibly, but more likely your body has become comfortable running at a certain speed. The more you run that speed the more programmed it becomes.

Running 4 miles after work at a slow steady pace 3-4 times per week is beneficial, however, it also programs your body to that slow pace. If you want to race faster you need to run faster to reprogram your body. You will also get the added benefit of working on race form.

The following tips can help runners improve their race times. It is important to gradually build on difficulty and endurance, going too fast or too hard right off the bat will only result in injury and put you back in your training. The following tips should be used by runners who are comfortable running 3 miles or more.

1. Increase distance, but do not decrease speed, try to go further at the same pace, this will make the 5K distance seem like a piece of cake. Try running 6 or more miles 2 time a week.

2. Add speed work. Running intervals (faster segments interspersed with a jog or walk) of 1/2 mile to one mile is good training.

3. Do your speed work at least once a week; two to three faster-paced sessions are ideal.

4. Time your speed work against your racing pace goal. Try to run your mile at least 30 seconds faster than your desired racing pace.

5. Try uphill running. Do either uphill repeats or run uphill during a normal training run. Running uphill builds strength.

6. Perform fartleks. Fartlek, or "speed play" in Swedish, is picking up the pace of your running for random distances.

7. Put some stride-outs into your runs. At the end of a training run, open up your stride three to five times (for about half a block). This will help improve leg turnover.


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