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Digital Running Club » Ask the Experts, Columns » How to Run a Faster 5K

How to Run a Faster 5K

Hi, I’ve recently started running again after a ten year hiatus.
Initially I just wanted to get fit and to lose some weight, but now that I’ve achieved that I’m interested in running as quickly as I could when I was a teenager. Off the top of my head I was a 2.12 800m runner and I could run 5k in under 20 minutes when I was 15, 16 years-old. Now, at 28, I posted 22 minutes for 5k. Sub 20 seems a long way off … what do I need to do to get there? Is it a case of upping the miles or is speedwork the key?

-Matthew N.,

The answer is “both”. If you’re not already running at least 30 miles per week at a conversational pace, you should gradually work your way up to that. My general rule is to increase your mileage every 3 weeks, but don’t increase it more than the total number of workouts you do in a single week. So, if you run 5 times per week, you can increase your weekly mileage by 5 miles after 3 weeks.

25-33% of your total weekly mileage should be in the form of a “long run”. If you’re running 40 miles a week, then a 10-12 mile long run is appropriate. Again, all of this running should be done at an easy pace, at which you could easily hold a conversation with a running partner.

St. Patrick's Day 5K startOnce you’ve hit about 30 miles of easy running, you can add in some speed workouts. Start with something that will improve your running economy. These workouts are usually short (200-800 m) intervals at a fast pace with a few minutes rest in between. Learn more about workouts to improve your running economy here.

Your fast intervals should account for only about 5-8% of your total mileage for the week. Once you’ve been doing those workouts for a few weeks, you can add in some threshold pace training.

At first, you’ll want to alternate between the two types of speed workouts from week to week. Eventually, you can do both in the same week. If you do that, make sure you have easy days or rest days between the speed workouts. Never do them on consecutive days. Also, you’ll probably want to bookend your long run with rest days and/or easy days. A typical week might look like this:

  • Monday: Easy
  • Tuesday: Short Intervals
  • Wednesday: Easy
  • Thursday: Cruise intervals or tempo run
  • Friday: Easy
  • Saturday: Long run
  • Sunday: Rest

Since you’re already at 22 minutes, you should probably be able to drop below 20 minutes within a year if you consistently follow this schedule.

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

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