Time Efficient Training – Reduce your 5k time by more than 20% in just 4 weeks

5k runs are pretty amazing really. They are long enough to test endurance and short enough to test speed. And for most people, 5k walk/runs are the gateway into fitness. While I never really started with a 5k, I started to grow more and more fond of them as I started working on speed. But I realized I had a tiny problem. If I had to train for a 5k run, I needed to put in some running time and that would, one, interfere with my regular workouts and, two, adversely affect my recovery from my usual workouts leaving me sore and unable to progress on strength and speed! This royally sucked ‘cos I basically ended up spinning my wheels.

Was this just a case of trying to do everything at once? Could one not train to grow stronger and run a faster 5k? Like I mentioned above, the 5k run is short enough to be a good test of anaerobic capacity and speed and hence, unlike distance running, should be trainable using methods than aren’t necessarily catabolic. So I decided to try out a few different training protocols and find one that worked best to help me achieve my goal of running a (much) faster 5k while not compromising lean mass or strength gains.

I tried a whole bunch of stuff like 400m repeats, mile sprints, hill sprints, train runs, cross trainers and more, but the one protocol that gave me the best results in the shortest time is the one I’m going to explain now. I’ve had my clients try this with great success and I’ve tried this twice myself with great results. The first time I tried it my 5k time dropped from 25:45 to 23:20 and the next time it dropped from 24:10 to 21:10.

The Plan:

  • If you already know your 5k time and pace, write them down. If you don’t know your 5k time and pace, run a best effort 5k and use those numbers below.
  • Now subtract 0.5 mph (0.8 kmph) off your 5k pace number. This will be X. Calculate 40% of your 5k time in minutes. This will be Y.
  • Day 1: Run for Y minutes at X pace.

If your 5k time is 40min, Y=16 min and X=4.2 mph (6.7 kmph).

If your 5k time is 30min, Y=12 min and X=5.75 mph (9.2 kmph).

If your 5k time is 20min, Y=8 min and X= 8.8 mph (14.2 kmph)

  • Day 2: Run for Y minutes at X + 0.15 mph (0.25 kmph)
  • Day 3: Run for Y minutes at X + 0.30 mph (0.50 kmph)
  • Day 4: Perform a full body (bodyweight/dumbbell/barbell/kettlebell) circuit that lasts for 75% of your initial 5k time. Intensity should be moderate (~ 70-80% MHR).
  • Day 5: Run for Y minutes at X + 0.45 mph (0.75 kmph)
  • Day 6: Run for Y minutes at X + 0.60 mph (1.00 kmph)
  • Day 7: Rest

Repeat this for 4 weeks. Test your 5k pace.

Q & A:

1. Do I need a treadmill for this? If yes, why?

Yes. Preferably. Because you can use the treadmill to progressively increase training speed by small yet accurate increments resulting in controllable and predictable endurance progression.

2. What do I do if I don’t have a treadmill?

Choose a route that is long enough.

  • On Day 1 run (not jog) for Y minutes at a comfortable pace. You should be working moderately hard. It shouldn’t be a relaxed job neither should it be a max intensity run. Mark the spot where you end the run after Y minutes.
  • On Day 2, run for the same Y minutes, but pace your run such that you finish slightly ahead of the spot you finished at on day 2. Use distance run as a tracker. This approach won’t be as well controlled as the treamill approach due to lack of quantifiable feedback, but will still help you get faster nevertheless.

3. What if I am unable to progress after, say, 2 weeks?

If you are unable to progress fast enough to run at the increasing speeds, drop the pace by 5% and continue. If you fuel your runs just right (i.e. neither eat too less becoming skinny and weak nor eat too much and gain fat), you will definitely progress.

4. Running 5 days a week? Isn’t this too much?

Its not. Though the frequency is high, the volume (run time) is super low.

5. How does this jive with the rest of my training?

You can continue with your usual workouts while doing this. Its up to you to figure out the best time to do these short runs (pre-workout or post, AM or PM etc.)

6. Will my regular training affect my progression on this?

It shouldn’t. But it depends on what you mean by ‘regular training’. If you mean running multiple miles for hours everyday, then yes it will affect your progression (and in turn kill your chances of becomes a faster runner). But if you are doing a good mix of resistance training, short high intensity work and low intensity cardio like walking or yoga, then you have nothing to worry about.

More questions? Hit me up in the comments section. No more questions? Well, watcha waitin for? Start training! Enjoyed the article? Please share the knowledge! Buttons below.


11 responses to “Time Efficient Training – Reduce your 5k time by more than 20% in just 4 weeks

  1. Sriram Sridharan June 24, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I am going to try this. Thanks !!

  2. bendiful June 27, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I’m going to trying too! Thanks!

  3. Phil July 17, 2011 at 10:40 am

    A pace is minutes per distance. e.g. 5mins/km.
    Speed or velocity is distance per time, e.g. 10km/hr.

    You mean to say take your “SPEED” for the 5k, e.g. 10km/hr and subtract 0.8 kmph? In other words a slower pace.

    Or do you mean take my pace (5 min/km) for the 5k, and subtract 0.8? (i.e. go faster)The latter doesn’t make sense.

    In your example for a 5k time of 20 minutes, your numbers don’t make sense with the description above it. 40% of 20 mins is 8 minutes. You are asking me to run for 8 minutes at a faster or slower pace? I assume from the Y=14.8 you mean slower but why would I run for a shorter time at a slower pace. I would rather run intervals of shorter time at faster pace.

    And what about warm-up and cool-down?

    • RG July 19, 2011 at 8:22 pm

      Hey Phil,
      Looks like I got the X and Y mixed up. Thank you for bringing it up. Fixed now.

      The reason I want you to run slower for a shorter time is that you will be running slower than you are capable of only for the first few days. Within a week you will running at your 5k pace and within the next couple of weeks you will be running much faster than your 5k pace. And since you will be starting to train daily, you will need to give your body some time to adapt before cranking up the speed.

      Warm up and cool down neednt be too detailed. A short jog will do. Cool down isnt necessary. Just stretch them calves when you’re done.

  4. Bill July 31, 2011 at 1:07 am

    Hey I like this! Think I’m going to start tomorrow but modify it a little. I think I’m going to just run at what feels like close to 5k race effort instead of trying to be specific with the mph and how far I went. Then I’ll just run a 5k in 4 weeks and see if I get a pleasant surprise. Even if I discover I made very little progress, it’s only 4 weeks wasted and I can move on to try something else. My current 5k time is around 25 minutes so if i can at least run below 24 in 4 weeks I will be as happy as a preteen girl at a Justin Beiber concert. Just curious, after you dropped your 5k time initially, why did it go back up to 24:10?

    • RG August 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      lol @ JB concert!

      my 5k time crept back up cos I didnt do any running after that 5k. was just rusty. its easy to lose (and gain) endurance.

  5. Diane October 30, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    As you repeat this each week for 4 weeks do you recalculate at the start of each week, or do you keep you times the same throughout the four weeks, then recalculate after your next 5K?


    • RG October 31, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      No you dont. Stick to the calc right at the start and re-assess after 4 weeks.

      • Dave November 22, 2011 at 7:30 pm

        OK, I think you keep the original times, but it says repeat this for four weeks. The programmer in me wants to be clear that subsequent weeks continue the 0.15 progression e.g., week 2 begins with a speed of x + 0.75? then x + 0.9 etc. Not an exact repeat, Right?

  6. NazM June 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Hi there.
    I want to try your formula out. Just that im not sure I have the numbers right. So if my time is 18 y=7.2 and x=5.8 ??
    now for day 1 I would be Running for 7.2 mins @ 5.3mph?
    And day 2 says +.15 does that mean ots a slower pace @ 5.95? Or Im I calculating wrong? Trying to break my 18 min mark.

    • LM August 23, 2012 at 10:38 am

      5.3?? It would be 9.9. 18 minute 5k is 5:48 pace which is 10.4mph. Subtracting .5 yields 9.9mph.

      “It shouldn’t. But it depends on what you mean by ‘regular training’. If you mean running multiple miles for hours everyday, then yes it will affect your progression (and in turn kill your chances of becomes a faster runner).”

      ^ Huh? How would doing regular running affect your progression. If regular easy runs are leaving you so fatigued you can’t run for a short duration at basically 5k pace or slower…you’re doing something wrong with those runs.

      Also, does this somehow imply that running alot every day kills your chances of being a faster runner?!

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