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Run a faster 5k - Smash a parkrun

Run a faster 5k - Smash a parkrun

Published March 17, 2018, Author John Gladwin

Go quicker!

Setting yourself a target of completing a 5k is how many of us get in to the sport be it a charity fun run or a local weekly Parkrun. It might also be for seasoned runners, a great test of speed endurance.

After you’ve built up to the distance, your thoughts might turn to improvement – “how am I going to get faster?”

We’ve set out these simple principals which will take some effort on your part, but will certainly improve your fitness and improve your PR.

The other great thing about attaining this level of running ability is that it’ll enable you to run faster for longer which will undoubtedly help over other distances.

Running a faster 5k will take both physical and mental effort and although 5k is a relatively short road racing distance, concentrating in a fairly high degree of discomfort can be hard challenging.

Factor in a mixture of the principals and sessions below and they will pay dividends. Oh, and repeat the mantra – “it’s not pain, its discomfort…!”

First things first, you’re probably going to need to be running 4 times a week (or more), to bring your time down significantly, and we’d always suggest making one of the runs a long conditioning run.


The Training

Long Run

The long runs are great. They give time to explore somewhere different or areas you don’t get to on your regular short runs. They give you time just to run slowly, to think and unwind. Just make sure you’re prepared for them (Have you eaten? Are you hydrated? etc.) and build up to a decent distance. For a 5k, you don’t need to be running further than an hour but sometimes it’s nice to if you’re fit enough. If you can run for say, 40 mins right now, simply add 5 minutes on and run 45 mins for two weeks. Then add another 5 on for a fortnight and so on. Before long, you’ll be running for an hour and the increase will be fairly painless, sorry, discomfortless!

Tempo and fartlek running

These will build strength and endurance at speed and are the first of the sessions to crank up the discomfort!

Let’s start with fartlek. I think this was my favourite winter session. It wasn’t too soul destroying and it was extremely sociable as you can run it in a group of mixed ability. Fartlek involves running over a certain distance, maybe 10k for example, but with the inclusion of a set of ‘strides’; pace increases over varying distances. You could jog to warm-up for a km then pick the pace up for a couple of minutes so that you are striding out, back off and return to a jog – circle around until everyone has caught up hence being good for a group – then after a minute or so, start your next effort. This could be a longer one or a shorter one. Aim for maybe 6 efforts and build up to maybe 12. Make the efforts anything from a minute to 3 minutes. Before you know it, you’re stronger at pace and the average pace of your ‘easy’ running gets faster. This is a great session for those returning to fitness because it is as hard as you make it and it is also a great session for losing a few lbs.

Tempo running is different. It involves you running at pace for a set distance. The pace to run at should be your ‘threashold’; a point at which any faster, and you’ll start getting in to serious discomfort and lactic acid will start to build up in your legs! Threashold is approximately 80-85% of your maximum heart rate and this will be at the top end of your aerobic zone.

Find a route where you don’t need to cross roads ideally or have anything slow you up or get in your way. Try something like 2x 10 minutes or 4x 5 minutes with a slow 2 min jog recovery. After a warm-up, pick the pace up and get in your grove, stay relaxed but remember, this isn’t meant to be easy. You can also try 1 block of time like a 20min tempo run – a great session for those also short of time.

In a race, you’ll find that you’ll be able to maintain your speed (the effort and discomfort) for longer.

Interval Training

Oh the joy – this is where the discomfort really starts – time to leave the heart rate monitor at home.

Sitting on the right pace and holding on basically the premise of anyone wanting to run a PR. Sure, you can run negative splits (a faster second half than the fast) but very few of us have the ability to do that. We are all about staying mentally strong and counting down the k’s!

In order to do that though, you need to practice running at pace. Build up to something like 5x 1k or 6x 800’s. I would be tempted to start at maybe 4 of these and build up with a 3min recovery slow jog. Once settled, I would reduce the recovery to 2 minutes. I also enjoyed running 4x1200’s which we did on a road circuit which was enjoyable. These do not need to be done in a track; a nice stretch of quiet road or grass is great.

You are basically building up to cover the distance at race pace or maybe even quicker in these sessions. Bring the recovery’s down to a couple of minutes and you’ll find that you’ll be able to manage ¾ of your race without really having to dig too deep.

Power Up

Leg power is a good thing to have. It simply helps your speed and comes in very handily when you come to ‘out-kick’ your local rival!

Another great session for a group, find a hill with a decent gradient but not something crazy steep – you do need to be able to run up it. Aim for maybe 5 reps of 40-50 seconds in the beginning, that sort of distance is fine. Turn around at that point and jog down. You can gather up the slower runners as you jog slowly down to the bottom keeping the group together. If you felt OK, then you can increase the reps and pace. Work up to 10 reps.

If you are a regular gym goer, try doing controlled squats with weights (3/4 squats not full) as you’ll build thigh power that way and you could maybe concentrate on one of the other sessions such as…

Mental Cheats

The mental side of running is also important. I would try not to think about what was in front of me on a big session but after a while, I would start to count down saying to myself that “I have done ¼ of them, I’m almost halfway, two-thirds down now…” All the time being positive and congratulating myself. “Keep going, you’re doing great”, that sort of thing. You need help and so you might as well be your own best friend! Try your own ways for getting through the sessions, they come in handy on race day!


Race Day

Be excited, not nervous! You’ve done the work, not it’s time to get your reward. Get the basics done – eat properly, make sure you’re hydrated and have done a little warm-up.

Don’t got off too fast. Most people are full of adrenaline and go too fast too soon. Get in to your groove (it’s the only one that matters) and stay relaxed. Have an idea of what pace you need to run at. If you have a GPS watch you can work out if you’re up or down on pace. Don’t panic either way, it can be rectified. You’ll be fine to halfway but when the discomfort kicks in, try to stay on the pace – all your sessions will enable you to do this.

When the going gets tough play your mind games! Can you focus on the shirt in front? Revert to the ‘countdown’ method – “halfway there, now 3k down just 2k to go, only a km left you got this, 500m to go so stay fast and relaxed…” Try anything to stay on the pace, it’ll be over soon enough!

Hopefully, you’ll be able to congratulate yourself. Jog easily to flush out your legs so that you’ll recover more quickly and get some liquid in to you. Maybe some carbs within 30 mins, it’ll help your muscles replenish quicker and you’ll get back to your normal self sooner.

Have a day off, be smug and plan your next move…


The Training Mix

You cannot do everything, every week. All of these ideas will make you stronger, fitter and faster. They are all largely aimed at improving speed endurance so have a plan. You might want to do some fartlek run and some interval training one week, some hills and a tempo run on another. Try returning to the first week on week 3 and adding another rep on for example. Over time (not long), you’ll notice that you’ll be able to handle the work and will start to enjoy pushing yourself.

Just make sure you congratulate yourself when you break that PR!


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