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Digital Running Club » Ask the Experts, Columns » Ask the Experts: Speeding Up

Ask the Experts: Speeding Up

I’ve been running 5K every other day since I ran my first 5K race on Thanksgiving. I just can’t seem to get my time below 28 minutes. How is it possible for people to run under 20 minutes? Am I just slow?

– Jonathon M., St. Petersburg, FL

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While some people are indeed naturally faster than others, just about anyone can run a 5K in under 20 minutes, given enough of the proper training (the really fast people do it under 16 minutes). We all grew up with the saying “practice makes perfect”. I’m not going to argue with that, but after a certain point, simply running 5K over and over again will yield smaller and smaller results. The trick is to train the individual aspects of your physiology that are required for a fast 5K. You should start by slowing down.

Add a long, slow distance run to your weekly schedule. Your pace on this run should be about 2-3 minutes per mile slower than your 5K race pace. The distance of this long run should be about 25%-33% of your total mileage for the week. Run all of your other runs for the week at a pace 1:30-2 minutes per mile slower than your 5K race pace. Work your long run up to at least 6 miles. 8-10 miles is better. If you haven’t been doing long runs before, this step alone will take a couple of minutes off your 5K time.

After at least 6 weeks, add a speed session to your workouts once per week. Jog a mile to warm up, then run a mile at about 1 minute slower than your per mile race pace in the 5K. Rest for 1 minute and repeat the fast mile 2-3 more times with 1 minute rest in between each repetition. Then, jog a mile to cool down.

After another 6 weeks, add in a shorter, faster set of speed repetitions. Jog a mile to warm up, then run a quarter mile faster than your 5K race pace followed by a quarter mile jog. Repeat this pattern 5-7 more times. Jog a mile to cool down. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of rest in between these speed workouts. Don’t run your speed workouts on back to back days and avoid running a speed workout the day before or the day after your long runs. Ideally, you should have a day of rest, light cross training or a short, easy run in between your speed days.

Once you’re about 2-3 weeks away from your next 5K race, test your fitness with the following workout:

  • Jog a mile to warm up
  • Run 3/4 mile at your planned 5K race pace
  • 2 minute rest

Repeat that pattern 3 more times and end with a 1 mile jog to cool down. If you can hit your target paces on the 3/4 mile runs with only two minutes rest between, you’ll be able to maintain your goal pace in a 5K.

For a personalized training plan with your current time, future goal, schedule and health in mind, contact Coach Brian.

Written by

Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at

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