I’m no expert but I thought, when I first started running I would have loved to have a simple list of specific things I could do to improve my times. I started off as a 22 minute Parkrunner (a weekly, free timed run), currently on 18:46 PB and aiming for sub 18m this year.
Over the last two years, I have read the various running magazines, websites and blogs, umpteen books on running, I go to two running clubs and talk running with a lot of folk – this is my accumulated knowledge from these reads/conversations on how to improve your Parkrun/5k time:
1. Set yourself a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal)
When I was running a 22 minute Parkrun, mine was sub 19 minutes. Now it’s sub 17. It’s good to have a really big great goal to aim for. Just about realistic but something that if you ever achieved it would make you jump around in celebration!
2. Set yourself a series of realistic time improvements.
Gradual progression is what you’re after, in order to avoid injuries and make your training gains sustainable. I’m aiming to get under 18minutes at the moment which is an improvement of 46 seconds. This means I have to run each km 9 seconds quicker. Doesn’t sound a lot but when you’re at 5k pace that extra effort seems impossible! So instead i’m going to try and knock 9 seconds off each week. So next week 18:46 (I need to get back to that time as last week was a disastrous 19:24!), the following week, 18:37, next 18:28 etc etc. We’ll see how that goes…
3. Run More
If you want to run faster at a distance of 5k then a mixture of speed work and longer distance is required. You need to get a good ‘base’ of running down as this gets your body used to running – your muscles will get more efficient, your heart will get better at pumping blood around your body, the ligaments, tendons and muscles will get stronger and YOU will feel more confident and more like a ‘runner’. Increase the number of miles you run per week by 10% a week. So if you run 15 miles a week, up that to 16.5 and so on. Again, gradual progression is key to avoid injury or illness. Mo Farah runs 100 miles a week, but there’s no need to go that far! I’m aiming for 25-30 p/w at the moment.
4. Run faster
There’s a saying that goes, ‘if you want to run faster, you need to run faster’! If you’ve only recently started running then just doing a 5k Parkrun every week will be enough to get a PB each week. However there will come a point where you need to get doing some speed work in order to get faster. For me this means a Tuesday night track session of which I’ve blogged about in detail previously. Basically you break down the 5000 metres in to a series of smaller, faster units. So it could be 5 x 1000m circuits, run at your target 5k pace with 2-3 minute rests in between. Or it could be a combination of 400mx800mx1000m, the important thing is that you’re running a total of 5k, FASTER than you would usually. This makes your heart work harder so improving it’s efficiency while also improving the lactic acid threshold for the muscles in your legs, meaning you’ll be able to run further and faster before your legs fail you.
It doesn’t have to be a track though. Fartleks allow you to run faster between streetlights for example or a tempo run means you gradually get faster throughout your run.
The Run Britain website has some good schedules and guides on this, for example this is their guide to running a sub 18 5k
5. Run harder
Resistance training such a hill repeats are often touted as the best way to improve your running as they work everything hard!
As Runner’s World say:
“Training on hills improves leg-muscle strength, quickens your stride, expands stride length, develops your cardiovascular system, enhances your running economy and can even protect your leg muscles against soreness. In short, hill running will make you a stronger, faster and healthier runner”
I usually just try to make sure there are a good few hills on my long run as I don;t have time for a dedicated hills session. A couple of weeks ago I did get a spare hour so I did a 4k easy run followed by 10 repeats of sprinting up the steepest hill in the village (about 80metres long) and then a 2 k warm down. No matter how much training I’m doing, I ALWAYS feel a hill session for day afterwards in my legs, usually at the back of my thighs. That’s when you know it’s doing you some good!
Also make sure you not just running too many junk miles. Really FEEL it after a run.
6. Warm Up Before
I never used to warm up before a Parkrun. Particularly on a cold winter’s day, I’d sit in the car until the very last moment before jumping out, walking to the start line and going. At 9am this is a bit of a shock to the body – you need to warn it about what’s coming! Now I always try to do at least a 10 minute jog to get the old heart pumping, I stretch my Achilles and do ankle rolls (as I have a dodgy ankle) and do some dynamic stretches (leaps, heel flicks and knee raises etc). Once I’m fully warmed up I throw in a few short sprints to get those fast twitch muscles ready! Then, when it comes to the off my heart and muscles are all ready to go (even if my brain is still dreaming of being back in bed.)
Is not so important for a 5k as it is for a marathon. Most humans have enough energy in reserve to be able to run 5k without the need for energy drinks or bowls of porridge. However it’s important not to fill yourself up too much before a 5k as you’re going to be running relatively fast and best not to have all that porridge, tea/coffee/orange juice swilling round while you run – reward yourself afterwards.
8. Know your field
When you start running the same Parkrun every week you’ll begin to recognise the people around you. Speak to them, make friends with them and then remember who they are while you’re running. I use a Garmin but I only glance at it a couple of times during the run. I know exactly who I should be in front of and who to chase. I know that if I come in just after that guy, then it’s going to be a good time, buy if that guy overtakes me then not so much. I find this a lot easier than concentrating on minutes per k and stats.
9. Do the Parkrun pacer events
I’ve got a PB every time I’ve done one. Basically this is where a group of volunteers wear bibs with a time on. So if you’re aiming for 25 minutes, you follow the lady wearing the ’25′ bib, and she’ll get you round in that time. I think a lot of people stay within their comfort zone and this allows you to really go for it. The next Poole Parkrun pacer event is on Feb 8th I believe…
10. Enjoy it!
The great thing about Parkrun, is that it’s held every week so if you don’t do as well as you’d hoped this week then never mind, just come back next week! There’s evidence to suggest that those who enjoy their running, do better. Look at Haile Gebrselassie – always smiling!
Speed session on the track!