How to Improve your 5k time

12 June 2020 - By Scott Darney

With 1 race down in the Virtual 5k Summer Series and 2 to go in June and July (see link) many of you will be keen to improve your 5k time from Race 1, especially as the winner of the competition will be the runner that shows the most improvement over the 3 races. However, even if you missed the first Race there is plenty of opportunity to improve your times and become a stronger and faster runner.

In this article, I will try and explain to you without getting into too much detail, how to train for a faster 5k time. I must add however, that this guide is for those that are keen to improve speed and are willing to put the work in. This is not necessarily for everyone and I am certainly not saying that we should all strive to run faster. For some running is about distance, for others it’s about the social side of running or the sense of community and these are all valid and welcome reasons for being a member of WRC. As the Coaching Cordinator however, one of my jobs is to help you become stronger, faster, better runners so that is what I am striving to do here!

There are many aspects of training and it can get extremely complicated but I would like to give you some guidence around changes that most runners can make in order to ensure that they can improve over the coming weeks.

Here is a list of tips that I recommned each of you consider when planning your week:

1. Goal Setting
It’s very difficult to have a plan without a desired outcome. Think about a goal race (in this instance hopefully the Virtual 5k Race 3 in July will suffice) and think about a target time – it can be difficult to predict your potential progress but you get better at it the more you do it.
I would recommend that your goal is achievable but not easy. An easy goal won’t motivate you as much as a hard one will and it won’t get you out running on the days when you don’t want to. Looking further ahead, it is worth considering a long term goal and treating this short term goal as a stepping stone to achieving that bigger goal.

2. Consistency
The basis of any plan from 5k to marathon will always be consistency. Plan your week in advance and make sure that this structure remains throughout any phase of training. Make sure you perform specific sessions on specific days. Make sure that your mileage is consistant from one week to the next with no increase or decrease of more than 10-15%. The more you do this the more it becomes ingrained in your lifestyle and before you know if you are running regularly and consistantly.

3. Regular Speed Work
WRC Speed Development Sessions are now listed for all Thursdays through to the end of July and the final Virtual 5k (you can find the plan here). Running speed sessions every week will help you and your body get used to runnig at 5k pace or faster and will make a big difference to runners who don’t currently perform any kind of speed work. The WRC speed development sessions are designed to touch on the required systems such as Speed Endurance, Lactate Threshold and, in small doses, V02.

4. Long Runs
Long Runs are important for building endurance, which is vital for 5k through to marathon. If you do not have a strong aerobic engine then you won’t be able to carry your speed for the duration of a 5k or 10k race. 5k runners do long runs and so should you. We only really need to be looking at long runs of 10-14 miles or 90-120 mins for 5k and 10k and these should all be performed at an easy pace – easy being either conversational pace or 5k pace + 2mins per mile, no faster. Note that building a strong aerobic base can take a long time, often years, but it is absolutely worth working on.

5. Slow Down
Most runners run too fast too often. It does not have to be a lung-buster to be too fast either. Runners running “Steady” or “Comfortable” are not runnig easy and often they are running in a deadzone that isn’t really working any particular system that will improve their fitness or speed. Sadly this includes running Tempo for 5 miles on a Tuesday. Whilst Tempo runs have a place in training, runners at our level do not need to run 4-6 miles at a time at tempo pace (tempo being Lactate Threshold or roughly 10 mile race pace). This is WRC’s most attended run of the week when we are meeting and I would urge runners, when we can, to make the most of the opportunity to run with friends and have a catch up rather than tiring themselves out needlessly. It also does not leave you and your body enough time to recover so that you can perform Thursdays speed session properly and this is the most important speed session of the week. Go for it on Thursday, Easy pace every other day.

6. Lifestyle
Think about the other aspects of your life that can affect your ability to train and recover. The 2 biggest gains can be made with your diet and sleep. You don’t have to be an expert to know if your diet is detrimental to your running and often your guts will tell you something is not right and that you need to make some changes. Sleep is also incredibly important and we should try and get 8 hours of good quality sleep every night if we can. Sadly we are not professional athletes so this is not as easy for us, but maybe we can make subtle changes in order to gain just a few more minutes in bed.

It is difficult to write a guide that covers everything but I have tried to provide some advice which caters for most of the runners at the club. Ideally we would write a training plan for each and every one of you who wants to improve your 5k time but sadly we just don’t have the time.

Hopefully this will help some of you take the steps to start training with some purpose towards a faster 5k time.

If you have any questions feel free to post in the comments below or on the Facebook post.




  1. Becky Grimwood Becky Grimwood says:

    Very clear article Scott, thank you.

  2. Simon Scott says:

    Hi Scott, will cycling as well as running apply to help gaining faster 5k times with what you have just talked about? Obviously cycling has less impact.. but harder on the knees. Or I could combine cycling & running in one day. Cheers.

  3. Scott Darney Scott Darney says:

    Thank you Becky!
    Hi Simon, it depends on how abitious you are with your goal setting but in reality you can certainly utilise cross training to help you.
    If you want to cycle, I would suggest that you should make sure you perform the speed session and long run and that you make sure it’s low intensity so that it doesn’t leave you too tired to run as fast or as long as you need to.

  4. James Montgomery James Montgomery says:

    Great article Scott. Point 5 in particular as runners are well known for over-training, hence the need for the “taper” towards a big race. I’m a great believer in go slow to go faster.

    Hi Simon, yes, cycling will help your run fitness but it can take time to show through and you may even have a downturn in your running in the short term. The big advantage of cycling is that it does have much less impact on the body – if you’re finding it hard on the knees, in my experience this may be more due to your position on the bike and the pedaling efficiency and action, rather than the cycling itself. If you’re keeping the intensity low, you need to increase the time you spend on the bike to get the benefits. That said, you are better off doing several 1 hour rides a week, rather than a single 3 or 4 hour ride. If you do a high intensity session, this should be shorter and be aware that you will still need a proper recovery, a 30 minute very easy spin (on a turbo trainer preferably) the day after is perfect for that.

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