How to Improve Your 5K in 4 Weeks

I remember my first 5k race. It was a warm January day in 2004. I was in my first year as a high school track coach. The outdoor season began in late February, so I decided to sign-up my distance runners for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King 5k race, which happens each year on King holiday in the Liberty City section of Miami, Florida. It was a pre-season race for them, and I also wanted to challenge myself. I had never run more than 3 miles in my life up until that point. I actually did pretty well, running just under 24 minutes.

But throughout the race I saw runners far younger and much older than I; making it look easy. I wanted to know how they did it. After 17 years of coaching experience I can now answer that question. They did it by planning and putting in the work. After taking several years off from running, I slowly got back into it, in 2013. In 2015, I told myself, that I wanted to break 20 minutes in the 5K. I had gotten close so many times. In 2014, I ran a then personal best, 20:36 at the Percy Sutton 5k in Harlem, the following year in 2015, I ran a 20:03 (so close). But it wasn’t until I got focused and developed a plan that helped take my 5k performance to the next level. The summer of 2016, I set out a plan to come back and sub 20 at the Percy Sutton. And I did just that, running a personal best, 19:33! I was actually getting faster with age.

Race results from my first sub – 20 minute 5k at the 2016 Percy Sutton 5K in Harlem.

Not only did I break 20 minutes, I surprise myself and crushing my own personal record by nearly 1 minute, running a 18:39 later that fall, at the Trenton 5k; something that I didn’t even think was possible at the time.

Trenton 5K , Trenton, New Jersey, October 29th 2016 is when I ran a personal best, while training for the New York City Marathon, while still incorporating interval training.

5k Improvement Plan

  1. Goal Setting: Set a goal for the finishing time that you want to run. For example, I want to run my next 5k in 21 minutes.
  2. Race Calendar: Find 2-3 races that are at least 1 month apart. This will give you time to properly calendar and schedule workouts, so that you can track your progress.
  3. Race Plan: When you set a goal to run faster, then you have to train your body to do so. One of the smartest ways to train your body for a 5K (3.1 miles) is to break down your workouts into 1 mile intervals. For example, if your goal is to run a 5k in 21 minutes, then you need to rain your body to maintain 7 min mile pace. Tailor your workout to maintain your goal pace for at least 1 mile, so that your body can get used to the speed and pace.
  4. Week Workout Plan: Three workouts per week is all you need.
    • Workout A- A 2-3 mile run, at a nice and easy, 1-2 minutes slower than your race pace. The goal is create a routine.
    • Workout B- This should be a longer run, between 4-6 miles, at a manageable pace. 1 to 2 minutes slower than your normal race pace. If you have to take breaks, no worries, as long as you get your miles in. For the final 1 mile pick up the pace and try to get close to your race pace. This workout allows you to build endurance and strength.
    • Workout C- Find a track, trail or route that has mile indicators. You are going to do interval training. Run 1 mile at your goal race pace; to a 2 minute break and repeat this process 2 more times. This workout will allow your body to feel the effort that it will take to run your race pace.

Stay committed to doing these three workouts and you will see result in your next 5k race. As always, you must incorporate your warm up and stretching routine, as well as rest, hydrate and eat foods that will fuel you. More tips on what to feed and fuel your body for races coming soon. Good luck on your new race endeavor. You got this!

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