8 Tips To Running A 5K Faster

I want to cover a few tips to running a 5K faster in this post that I hope you can at least take a few ideas from to get you to your next race motivated.

I arrived to Malone College (now University) wanting to break Ira Wentworth’s school record time of 13.52.

I, like you, had big dreams back then and nothing much has changed since.

If you don’t set the bar high you’ll never truly challenge yourself. I never came close to breaking my good friend Ira Wentworth’s 5K school record.

I had a personal best of 15.46 from a road 5K that I ran during my senior year in Wheeling, West Virginia upon arriving to Malone University in 1995 and although I did improve while at Malone I would call my 5K personal best the weakest I own at 15.19.

I don’t consider myself to be an outlier by any stretch in this sport but if your like me, you pride yourself on giving it your best shot and I did.

Are there things, looking back, that I could have done differently? Absolutely, but I haven’t let up since and that is key. You have to keep hustling for what you want.

1. Never rule out success in other events if you don’t run up to what you think your capable of in the 5K.

A 15.19 5000m time does NOT equate to a 2.19.35 marathon or a 1.07.06 half-marathon, my PR’s for the half and full marathon distances.

In fact, according to the Mcmillian running chart a 15.19 5K time is equivalent to a 1.10.55 half-marathon and a 2.29.15 marathon, respectfully.

If you look at the Japanese men and women the majority of them have what the world would consider ‘pedestrian’ (what an elitist would say, not me) bests in the 5K to 10K distance, yet they go out consistently running world-class times at the marathon distance.

One of the most common mistakes (and it is completely normal) is that most people quit too early in this sport never realizing their full potential or they are not progressing their training over a long enough period of time as extensively as they should.

Let’s face it. This sport isn’t easy. You have to have an enormous interest in this sport, in anything, to succeed and you have to be willing to endure. You have to find a purpose for what you are doing.

How many days have you asked yourself. Why am I doing this or how after all these years why am I still getting up before the sun comes up?

You have to maintain your enthusiasm and that isn’t easy to do over years and decades as I am sure you know.

Always remember if you are slower in one event than continue to work and test your body in other distances. It doesn’t mean you can’t still improve at the shorter distances but you do have to be tenacious and not lose in your joy for what you are doing.

2. Research different courses you wish to race at

I have never bought the ‘fast course’ idea.

What makes a course fast is if you have done your homework in training to race fast.

I ran one of my worst marathons on one of the fastest, supposedly ‘fastest’ courses in the United States and my fastest marathon on a course that I personally do not consider fast at all.

First train properly, than research a flat course that you feel you can run a fast 5K on.

Racing is about maintaining pace, not on just racing on a fast course. You may be the type of runner who prefers rolling courses.

Perhaps you are more of a downhill runner and want to test out your ability on a net downhill course.

Find a course that best suits your strengths.

I have known runners over the years who were fantastic hill runners and ran times that I couldn’t run on a flat course over hilly terrain.

Seek out a race layout that fits your strengths and you will be well on your way to running a personal best in the 5K distance.

3. Seek out a mentor, someone you look up to and that is faster than you.

Find out what runners faster than you have done in their own training to run a faster 5K.

This is among the best tips to running a 5K faster that I can share.

I have been running for 22 years and still seek out mentors who have run faster then me.

I read everything I can on racing strategies, nutrition, mindset.

Never stop learning.

Your competition is seeking what you might not have taken the time to learn.

The idea that if you keep doing the same things you have always done you will keep getting the same results you have always gotten is true.

Change up your training strategy. Try something in training that you have never done before and see what it does for your enthusiasm and for your racing.

Holding on to the same monotonous training routine you have always followed may be holding you back from greatest successes in not only the 5K distance but longer events as well.

Part of growing in this sport as a person and athlete is seeking out help.

None of us have all of the answers.

I take it very serious that I have readers who visit RDA that have set personal bests or have found a new way of thinking having visited this site, but that being said I also learn from my readers as well.

Everyone has something to share, regardless of ability level, no matter if they finish last in every race or they win every competition they enter.

It is so important to not be selfish, to seek to elevate someone else who may just need the knowledge that can share with them.

4. Train hard

Easier said than done but the truth is the more you adapt yourself to paces that exceed what you envision yourself racing at, makes the race all the more sweet, all the more in control and will allow you to compete with zero nerves and with all the drive any runner could want come race morning.

5. If you want to run a 5K faster practice patience

Wait, I thought this was about how to train for running a 5K?

I don’t care how much training you do for preparing for this distance, if you are impatient, if you take yourself too seriously it will sap the mental and physical strength out of you.

We are far too hard on ourselves and I continually see athletes who fail at one workout or race feel as though it is the end of the world.

It is crucial that you keep it simple. Training adaptation takes time and races results don’t come overnight.

No one said this sport was going to hand us golden personal bests every time we toe the line. Some of us aren’t focused on racing specific times. Your goal may be just to have a good time with friends or finish the race. We all can learn something from you.

If you are interested in these tips on running a 5K than you will not take yourself too seriously.

I have had a great opportunity to train with some of the world’s fastest middle to long distance runners and one of the greatest characteristics I see out of a lot of them is they keep it fun.

They find other things in life that brings them joy. Once the workout is done, it is done. They don’t beat themselves up if it didn’t go so hot. They simply allow themselves time to relax, regroup and do it again the next day.

Always remember a bad workout or race isn’t the end of the world. Learn from it and keep pushing. Never take your eyes off the process. You do that and you will reach the event (your goal) successfully.

6. Run relaxed the first mile, then attack the last 2.1 miles

This was one of the greatest tips to running a 5K faster that I ever received. I never broke 16 minutes for 5K in a high school cross-country race.

I started running cross-country during my junior year in high school. My best time was 16.16.

This was way back in the dark ages in 1995 in Wintersville, Ohio competing for Indian Creek High School.

What was I doing wrong?

I had to have asked myself that numerous times wondering what I had to do in order to get into the 15 minute and change time frame for the distance.

What I was doing wrong back then was running way too fast for my own good in the first mile and not having done the anaerobic work to maintain that effort long enough.

I was the first student in Indian Creek High School’s history that qualified for the Ohio Division I High School State Cross-Country Championships.

I wish I could go back to Scioto Downs horse track where the State Championships were held in 1995 and talk to that young 17-year old version of myself and tell him to stay calm in the first mile and wait to attack in the last 2 miles.

What actually happened is I went out the first mile in 4.48 and was running 3rd place and ended up running 16.59 to finish in 31st place.

I ended up running a new personal best and breaking the 16-minute barrier winning a road 5K in Wheeling, WV two weeks later in 15.46. The reason? I had a coach who told me to hold back the first mile and than attack the last 2.1 miles and I did.

My first mile was 5.07. Always remember, you can’t win a 5K in the first mile. A patient athlete is a dangerous athlete.

7. Monitor your tension when you race

Always keep in mind you are always in control of your physiology when you race.

If you feel your arms or shoulders riding high the first mile into the race simply take a deep breath, stay focused and if need be shake your arms out as your running.

You don’t need to overly critique yourself when racing but keep your face relaxed and monitor tension in your body. Repeat something positive, ‘I am in control’ ‘I am relaxed’ ‘I’m a pony, I’m a pony’. Yeah, I through that in there as well.

Say something humorous to yourself if need be, anything you have to do to keep your mind off the pain and stay as in control and relaxed as you can.

Keep attacking the pace but stay in control. There are a million little voices going through your head when you are running hard. Keep them under control.

8. Practice running farther than the race distance 

Think of how strong you will be if you want to race a 5K but have dealt with the physical and mental demand of running a 15 to 20 mile long run.

What is a 3.1 mile race then?

Long runs build up capillary beds and mitochondria assisting your body’s oxygen delivery to your working muscles.

The longer you run the more you teach the body to burn fat as it’s main fuel source and conserve carbohydrate. This is a vital training secret that will make you like iron over time as an athlete.

Learning to use fat stores (which we have a lot of) and conserving what we need most for faster, all-out running efforts, will make for s successful run at the 5K distance (and all distances).

Optimally, the magic number seems to be 80 minutes or more in elite circles but immense strength can be gained from even doubling the distance you are aiming to race.

Don’t rush the process.

If the farthest you have went in training is 8 miles, don’t try going out for a 22 miler the following week. Be patient and follow your plan.

Take it one step at a time and before you know it you will be doing 10-20 mile long runs that will yield incredible strength back to you come race day.

I still see myself breaking 13.52 for the 5K distance. Never stop dreaming, keep hustling. Life is too short to let up on your goals.

  • Philip Sears

    This was helpful before my race today. I’ve definitely learned the hard way about hitting the first mile to fast. But I can also relate to underwhelming 5k times. I’m telling myself its never too late to get better :)

  • NatePennington

    thanks for the comment Phillip…one of the hardest things to do, especially in races as short as the 5K is holding back just enough during that first mile to really attack the last 2 miles..we always learn the most from our failures and am sure you are going to crush some new personal bests in 2014 brother.