How to run a faster 5K - Women's Running

How to run a faster 5K

Author: Laura Fountain

Read Time:   |  January 19, 2022

You've done your Couch to 5K and now you're ready to build up your speed. Running coach Laura Fountain shares her advice on how to run faster

Whether you’ve just run your first 5K, or you’re a regular at parkrun, after a while you might find yourself wondering ‘how do I run a faster 5K?’ There are several elements that go into getting a PB, including training, race day preparation and a bit of good luck. While we can’t guarantee the last of those, the first two are firmly in your control.

Looking for help getting started? Try How to start running for your first 5K

Training to run faster

If 5K is the furthest you’ve run (or the furthest you’ve done in a long time), extend one of your runs each week to gradually get longer. This will help build the aerobic fitness that you need to run a strong 5K, but will also help with your confidence. When you’ve run 7k or more in training, doing 5K suddenly feels less scary – even though you’re aiming to run it faster.

Introduce some speed sessions to your week. If you’re new to this type of training, start with some ‘strides’. At the end of an easy-paced run, find a stretch of ground free from road crossings or obstacles, around 60m long where you can run a little faster without interruption. Strides are about running strong with good form. They’re faster than your usual pace, but not sprinting.

For the first 15m, accelerate smoothly, then run strong for 30m – think about running tall as though you have a balloon coming out the top of your head pulling you up. Pump your arms concentrating on driving your elbows back and pick your feet up. Then gradually decelerate to the end. Have a 30 second rest, then turn round and repeat for 4-6 reps. Remember, this is not sprinting, this is running strong and you should max out at no more than 90% of your top speed.

You should also practice your race-day pacing. Once you know what time you want to run, work out your race pace and include this in a session. For 5K training, try holding your 5K race pace for 1k, then taking 90 seconds to 2 minutes recovery before repeating. You can do this between 3-5 times depending on your experience.

Running faster on race day

Running a PB means getting your pacing right straight from the start. But pacing the perfect 5K is tricky. Go out too fast (or too slow) in the first kilometre and by the time you hit half way, you’re already running out of road. The best way to hit your goal is to run even splits throughout (unless you have a particularly hilly parkrun course!). Don’t rely too heavily on your watch and try to tap into how the pace feels. If you’ve practiced your goal pace in training, your should have a good sense of it.

If you’ve run the course before, you’ll know where any sharp corners or narrow bits are – make sure you overtake anyone who is going slower than you want to before you hit the narrow parts and position yourself well to hold the racing line round those bends. Most importantly, you’ll know where the finish line is so you can time your sprint finish just right. If it’s a course that’s new to you, take some time to study the course map.

Looking for a training plan? Try our 5K training plans!

About the author

Laura Fountain is a journalist, author and running coach. Her books The Lazy Runner and Tricurious describe her journey from reluctant runner and non-swimmer to finishing 20 marathons and an iron-distance triathlon. She coaches women-only running groups and is a tutor on England Athletics’ coaching courses.

Written by

Laura Fountain

Laura Fountain

Journalist, run coach and author of the The Lazy Runner, Laura has run over 20 marathons

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