The 5K race is one of the most popular road-race events in the world, with millions of runners of all backgrounds and sizes crossing the finish line every year.
The current world records (as of 2020), according to the International Association of Athletics Federations is 12:37 for men and 14.11 for women. These record times are, of course, set by elite athletes who run for a living, but what about the rest of us?
Anything under 30 minutes is a good 5K finish time for most recreational runners. But for those seeking to challenge themselves and reach their full running potential, joining the sun 20 minutes 5K club is a true accomplishment.
Fewer runners will ever be able to run a 5K under 20 minutes without some serious training and, of course, good genes. This is especially true for recreational runners.
If you want to crush your PB and become a member of this club, then today, you’re in the right place. Here are some tested and proven guidelines to help you smash through that elusive 20-minute barrier.
Note- Keep in mind that you’ll need to be pretty close to 20 minutes already to make the needed improvement in 8 weeks. How fast you can get to the sub-20-min 5K depends on you—your current conditioning level, your gender, your age, response to training, and natural talent.
Break It Down
So, how hard is it to run 3.1 miles under 20 minutes?
Regardless of fitness level, experience, gender, age, or any other factor, to run the 3.1 miles under 20 minutes, you’ll need to be able to run under target race of 6:25 minutes per mile for the whole distance—or roughly 4 minutes per kilometer.
For most, running at that sort of speed demands some dedication to training. That’s why if you’re serious about running your best 5K race or reaching any other challenging running goal, you must break it down smaller, more easily achievable milestones.
When you do so while training hard and staying committed, you’ll, sooner or later, find yourself at the finish line.
To understand what it takes to run a good 5K, let’s make sure we all understand just how far the race is.
- A 5K is 3.1 miles in the distance.
- Sub-20-min is anything less than 20 minutes.
- Divided by 3.1 miles, that’s roughly 6.4 minutes per mile.
- That equals to 6:26 running pace.
So, if you run the first 3 miles at 6:26 per mile, you’ll reach the 3-mile mark at 19:18, then you still got 1/10 of a mile to make it to the end. If you keep up the pace, it will take you roughly 40 seconds to run the last one-tenth of a mile, rounding up at 19:58 race time.
So how do you get there? Simple: get faster.
Train For Speed
To sustain speed, you need to prepare your body’s to run at a much higher intensity than it might be used to. This means doing some training at your target race pace and slightly faster.
The most efficient way to add this is to start incorporating intervals into your training runs a couple of times per week.
Here’s an example.
- Start with a 15-minute dynamic warm-up.
- Perform ten 30-second controlled sprints at 80 to 90 percent of maximum effort, getting your heart rate as high as possible. Recover for one minute between each sprint.
- Cool down jog for 5 minutes.
For more 5K specific interval training, here are some suggestions and routines that can be performed on the track or the road.
- 5 x 1km at race pace with three minutes of jog recovery.
- 10 x 400m with 60 seconds jog recovery.
- 6 x 800m with two minutes of jog recovery.
Take Time to Recover
Practicing good recovery is also key for optimal racing performance.
Don’t shoot yourself in your own foot by running your body into the ground just before race day. Keep in mind that it a few days to fully recover from the hard session.
Here’s what you need to do to ensure you’ll be in good shape on race day.
Sleep right. You can train hard all you want, but skimping on sleep won’t do any good. Also, pre-race jitters may keep you awake the night before the race. Shoot for at least 8 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep during the night time.
Stop any hard training. Take two days completely off from any type of exercise. Ideally, train hard on a Monday or Tuesday and race on a Saturday or Sunday. Spend a few days leading to race stretching and relaxing.
Eat right. Make sure you have enough fuel in the tank. Opt for high energy and easily digestible food. Drink plenty of water too. Your body is just like a car—you need to put good fuel in it to have performed its best—no way around that.
Get there early. Make it to the race site at least an hour before the start. This will give you enough time to take care of the many things that need to be done on race morning, including parking, using the restroom, packet pick-up, etc.
Warm-up. Race day is not the day to test out a new warm-up routine. Instead, perform the same warm-up routine as you did during training.
Find Your Pace
The 3.1-mile race is relatively short, so it’s easy to assume that all you need to do is to dash to the finish line. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, sprinting right off the gate will more than likely result in accumulated fatigue and poor performance.
Sure, research shows that starting a 5K race a little bit faster than your goal pace may help, but don’t start with a sprint.
Instead, opt for an even pace, speeding up gradually and as you go.
Begin by setting into a good rhythm, where your breath and heart rate are sustainable.
Ideally, aim for a pace about five to ten seconds per mile slower than your goal pace the first mile. Keep in mind that it might feel slow, even too slow, and might be getting passed by runners you want to beat.
As soon as you clear the first mile, start to increase your effort and pace into the goal pace range. Then run the last tenth as fast as you can. Push your body harder than you ever had before.