There’s no silver bullet when it comes to running a faster 5K — beating your personal best takes good old-fashioned hard work. But you can stack the deck in your favor with a few tricks for boosting endurance, improving your nutrition strategy, and upping your mental game.
So what qualifies as a “good” 5K pace? That depends on your experience and your fitness level. The current world record for the fastest 5K time is a little over 12:37, but the average runner finishes a 5K in 25 to 30 minutes. A finish time below 20 minutes may get you a spot on the podium for your age group. If you walk the entire course, you’ll most likely finish in about 45 minutes.
No matter what pace you’re running at now, these simple steps can help you increase your speed and improve your 5K time. Whether you’re running your first 5K or you’ve got a drawer full of finisher medals, here’s how to run a faster 5K.
1. Add Strength to Your 5K Training Plan
Research shows that strength training can help runners drop their 5k times. And in a study of experienced runners, strength training was found to increase time to exhaustion by more than 20 percent — meaning you’re less likely to burn out halfway through the race.
“Strength training can give runners major gains in core stability and running economy,” says Meghan Kennihan, a USA Track & Field and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach. “More muscle means you can create more force, which means faster, more powerful running.”
On top of that, pumping iron has also been proven to reduce your chances of getting injured, which means you’ll be able to put in more days of quality training.
2. Mix It Up With Your Running Workouts
Variety is the spice of life—and running. Research shows that people not only enjoy exercise more when their training is varied, but they also work out longer and harder.
Likewise, your 5K training runs will be more effective if you keep them varied. This means including everything from the long, steady-state runs to hills and speed intervals in your training plan.
“Running the same workout every day is not only boring, it keeps you from improving,” Kennihan says, explaining that variation encourages continuous adaptation while monotony stymies it. “To get better, you need to increase your training load over time through volume or intensity.”
3. Brush Up on Your Race Tactics
Taking some time to brainstorm your race strategy can be invaluable when you step up to the starting line. Running a faster 5K isn’t just about physical training — it’s also vital that you map out how you’ll approach the beginning, middle, and end of the race, rather than simply reacting in the moment.
“If you can, practice training on the course so you know the tangents you can take and where the hills are,” Kennihan says. And on race day, she adds, “Do not start off too fast — ease into the race.”
4. Work on Your Nutritional Strategy
While a 5K race is short enough that it doesn’t require a special diet, taking in healthy foods on a daily basis will support your training. Pay attention to when you feel good and when you feel sluggish — nutrition may be one of the culprits (others might include lack of sleep and overtraining). Work on establishing a diet that gives you energy and keeps your stomach in check when you’re running. (Keeping a journal can help with this.)
On race day, avoid eating anything new. “Just eat what you have been eating during your training,” Kennihan says.
5. Get Your Mental Game On Point
Studies show that visualizing a competitive event ahead of time can improve performance. Practice with your workouts, taking a moment before you begin to imagine yourself crushing each speed interval or running strongly and confidently during a long distance session. That practice will prepare you to do the same thing more effectively before a race, increasing your chances of achieving your goal.
“Visualizing your perfect race from warm-up to finish is so helpful to having a successful race,” said Kennihan. “Use all your senses and envision yourself running the entire course. See the people around you, hear the cheers, and see yourself crossing the finish line pumping your fist.”