As you turn the corner you see the crowded finish line area ahead. Your legs feel like lead, your chest heaves with effort, and your ragged breathing comes in quick gasps, but you’re focused on one thing: finishing strong. The sound of the applause lifts your spirits, your pride forces you to dig deeper as you hear your name announced over the PA system, and you cross the line with your arms raised and a smile across your face. Finishing your first 5K is a big deal. Congratulations!

There were about 6.2 million 5K finishers in 2012. The 5K is the most popular racing distance in the U.S. – Running USA

medals, running, saltmarshrunning.com

Your next running goal will be to improve upon your previous 5K time. As beginning runners become fitter and develop their endurance they usually see their race times drop significantly over the first year of racing. It’s a wonderful feeling to set a PR (personal record) and know that you are improving.

Soon, you may find yourself vying for age group awards. Your chance of winning an award will vary greatly depending upon the size of the race, the value of the race prizes, and the local running scene. But, if you pick your races wisely and use new training methods to boost your performance, you might find yourself on the podium. Here are some guaranteed ways to improve your performance and run a faster 5k:

Long Runs

Long runs are the hallmark of the serious runner. Long, slow runs are great for improving your endurance, building mental toughness, and developing running efficiency. For a 5K runner, a long run once a week of 8-10 miles is a great goal. Running 3.1 miles seems easier after running these longer runs.

Training Tip: Long runs are meant to be run at a slow, easy pace (about 2 minutes per mile slower than 5K race pace).

Hills

Hills are tough. That’s why they are good for you. Hills are a great way to build strength, improve your cardiovascular system, and develop speed. You can do repeats or just pick a hilly course and challenge yourself to accelerate on the hills. More…

Training Tip: Pay attention to form. Head up, eyes up, knees high, quick steps and pump your arms.

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs train your body to run at a fast pace for longer duration. What is unique about a tempo run is that it consists of three distinct phases: a warm up, a tempo (faster) period, and a cool down. For a 5k runner, a tempo run might look like this: 1.5 mile warm-up, 2 miles at race pace plus 30 seconds, 1.5 mile cool down. More…

Training Tip: Tempo runs are tough. Give your body time to recover by building in a rest day or a few easy training days following a tempo run.

Intervals

Interval training is also called speed work. Intervals are usually run on a track, but can be run over any measured distance. Interval training consists of alternating periods of high intensity running with low intensity running. For a 5K runner it might look something like this: 1 mile warmup, 400m @ 90 seconds, 400m walk/jog, 400m @ 90 seconds, 400m walk/jog, 800m @ 3:10, 400 walk/jog, 800m @ 3:10, 400 walk/jog, 400m @ 90 seconds, 400m walk/jog, 400m @ 90 seconds, 400m walk/jog, 1 mile cool down. Total workout distance: 5.5 miles

Training Tip: Your effort should leave you breathing hard after every fast interval. This workout is done at a fast pace that pushes your limits.

Warm up on Race Day

This is something that most runners do poorly. Warming up properly before a race is very important. Run slowly at first, and then increase your pace as your body warms up. This process may take up to 15 minutes depending upon the weather. You should arrive at the starting line having already broken a sweat. This let’s your body know it’s time to race, and allows you to focus mentally for what’s ahead.

Training Tip: Your pre-race warmup benefits will last for up to 10-15 minutes after your warm-up activity. Don’t be late for the start of the race.

You don’t need to incorporate each of these workouts into your weekly schedule. Most of your runs should still be done at a comfortable pace. As you begin incorporating these new workouts into your routine, you may want to keep a log or use an online tool to track your training methods. When you set that new PR you can look back and see what helped you get there.

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