How To Run a Faster 5k

Running a personal best 5k is much more challenging for many runners than they initially assume.  There’s very little margin for error, and a large percentage of the race is spent in a state of suffering.  At RunGuides we’ve put together a list of 5k training tips that should help you work towards your 5k goal time!


You’ll be able to achieve the biggest race day gains by structuring your 5k race training around improving your power and your short term cardio. Here’s what you’re going to want to work on.

Shorten Your Workouts

Simulate the 5k race environment by keeping your workouts shorter so that you can go at your maximum effort and not worry about burning out. Remember that harder workouts are going to be tougher on your body so make sure to get a good solid warm up in (at least 20 minutes of light activity) before you start pushing.

Intervals for Speed

For speed, work some intervals into your training where you run faster than your target race pace for 1km, walk until you feel recovered, then repeat the interval until you’re unable to run faster than your target time (or until you’ve done 5km worth of drills). Play around with the intervals by giving yourself set recovery times, then shorten them each session.

Bulk Up

The best way to add power is to hit the gym! Add a day of weights to your routine with emphasis on your legs. Squats, leg press, lunges, and hamstring curls are some excellent exercises to start with.

Always remember that harder sessions will increase your chance of injury, so space out your hard days, get enough rest, and listen to your body.


Due to the fact that it’s so short the nutrition plan for a 5k should focus around how you’re feeling at the race start. You’re going to be running hard so you’re going to want to hit the start line with an almost empty stomach and bladder. Eat a small, simple meal (about 250 - 350 calories) early, and give it enough time to fully digest (around 2 hours).  If you aren’t opposed to sugar or caffeine have a small coffee and half a gel around 45 minutes prior to the race start for an extra boost, just make sure that you have enough time for a quick pre race bathroom break!

Race Day

On race day you can either pray for a 30 mph tail wind, or, use these strategies to crank out a faster race.

Get a Good Warm Up

5k racers go from zero to full tilt in a very short period of time, making a proper warm up a massive key to success. Model your race day after one of your hard training sessions, and make sure that you get at least 20 minutes of light activity in. If you start a 5k cold you’ll spend half the race warming up and probably need the run of your life in the last 2.5km to PR.

Shorten Your Strides

A higher cadence and shorter stride length will make you go faster and burn less energy so that you have something left for a kick in the last kilometer. There’s no exact magic number for cadence, but, 180 strides per minute or more is what you should try to shoot for.

Push Your Pace

Try to run fairly hard from the start of the race, somewhere in the mid to fast end of what you feel you are capable of. The short distance doesn’t give a lot of time to make back lost seconds early so you’re going to want to put yourself in a position to run a personal best by the halfway point of the race.

Mental Game

If you can condition yourself to maintain a high level of suffering for a relatively short period of time then you’ll be knocking off personal best 5k’s in no time at all!

Break it Down

Think of a 5k race as a 2k race, with a couple 1km sections, then two laps of a track. Treat each section of the 5k as its own little race where all you have to do is stay fast and strong.

Keep Your Box Small

Your running box is an imaginary area ahead of you that you maintain a type of form (speed, power, or smoothness) in. For a 5k keep your box very small (e.g. next 100 meters, next tree) and tell yourself that you are keeping speed and power while in your box

Gut it Out

There’s no real way to sugar coat this advice, just accept that most of your 5k is not going to feel good. Using a mantra like “I go fast when it gets harder” or “kick for power” can help you gut out the last couple kilometers of the race and hit your time goal.

In Conclusion

Train smart, don’t worry too much about nutrition, have a race day plan, and mentally prepare yourself to suffer.  Follow these tips and you should put yourself in a great position to hit that personal best. Good luck!

Published on Apr 11, 2013