So you want a straightforward sub 20 minute 5k plan? One that will get you there quickly? One for someone who probably only has 3 or so hours to run each week? (it’s further on in the post…sub 19 is the same training but harder to achieve).
For mere mortals doing 5k in less than 20 minutes is an achievement. For top athletes and even for relatively casual amateur athletes it is a trivial achievement. But you didn’t want to hear that. You wanted to know how to do it!
Can YOU realistically EVER do a sub-20 5k? Well firstly get an idea of just how easy or difficult it is going to be for you. This depends on whether or not you are male or female and how old you are. I don’t want to be sexist or ageist but those are key factors. For a 48 year old woman it is a heck of an achievement, much less so for a 20 year old man where very many of you should be able to do it from a good fitness base.
Here is a table showing the approximate age graded time that 20 minutes represents over a 5k. Most people can achieve a 70% performance with a bit of hard work and time. An 80% achievement is another kettle of fish totally. If you are just averagely fit now then to get more than 80% will probably take you a few years of hard work and continuous improvement … maybe 4 or 5 years if you are ‘getting on a bit’, whatever that means
So 20 minutes for a 5k equals:
vm45-49 71% age grade MOST DO-ABLE
SM35-39 67% age grade
sm20-24 64% age grade NOT SO HARD
vw45-49 82% age grade VERY HARD
Sw35-39 75% age grade
sw20-24 73% age grade
So now you know how serious you need to be in this little escapade of yours.
* My home page is a static page giving tips and tricks for a PB this coming weekend, it’s OK honest! *
Here is a rough WEEKLY PLAN of what you should be doing to improve quickly over the next couple of months, to maximise the endurance base you have already built up. The first 3 exercises should all be exhausting (and you have to know what that word means!), if not exhausting then go faster or rest less. These first 3 sessions all work. If you are strapped for time AND DEDICATED don’t waste your time doing anything else (such as the 4th one). Do them and do them HARD. *BUT*. Always rest the day after a hard session, always have every 4th week slightly easier than the previous 3; always have at least 2 days off before racing. Rest is FAR more important than you think it is, honest!
Obviously I’m not claiming this or any plan can perform miracles. If you are currently a flat-out 25 minute 5k runner then this plan will most probably NOT work for you to get to sub 20 minutes in a 3 month time frame. Sure it will get you faster. But you will struggle soon enough if you lack a proper endurance base.
So, here is the straightforward plan. Same each week. If you can’t run non-stop for an hour (however slowly) then please do not consider doing this plan. Ideally you will already have a reasonable endurance base and what that very simplistically means is that you can run at an unchanging speed in Heart Rate Zone 2 for an hour.
Always start the new week at exercise number 1. and forget the previous ones you missed:
1. 5x1k at 5-10 secs/km faster than next race’s target pace if you can. 3-5 minutes rest in between efforts.
2. 5 mins at 30 secs/km slower than your target race pace no rest then 3 mins at 5-10 secs slower than target race pace. Repeat with no rest. Then rest for 6 minutes and re-do all 4 effort periods again with no further rest.
3. Short speed intervals, typically 12 x 1 minute, 1 minute rest: at faster than target race pace. This should be faster than your 5x1km speed above, say at least 10 secs/km faster. With this one you can INcrease the recovery time up to 2.5 minutes providing you increase the effort-period pace.
4. An ‘intensive endurance long run’ of 60-90 minutes where you push the limit of where you can ‘just’ speak (so, 4-6 repeats of: 10 minutes in HR zone 2; plus 5 minutes in HR Zone 3; no rest) OR, if you don’t like ‘long’ runs, do 2×20 minutes with 6 minutes rest. Do each 20 minutes at target race pace less 30 seconds/km – this approximates a SWEETSPOT run (minimal damage/speedier recovery).
5. Re-test your 5k PB once every 4-6 weeks after a 3 day abstinence taper and re-adjust your training PACE accordingly. Taper properly for your big race.
That’s about it (read the caveats, below). I can go on a bit in detail but that should keep you busy for 2 (maybe 3) months!! If you are not closing in on achieving 20 minutes with this plan after 2 months then a longer time-frame plan would be wise and this will increase longer mileage training. If your improvement stops happening with this (or any other) plan then you need to immediately re-evaluate/change your training. If this plan has not worked within 2-3 months then you will probably becoming psychologically fatigued with the continuous hard effort…take a rest, change your approach, review your stats to see how hard you really were trying and how well you were resting. Good luck.
Didn’t like that plan? Try this more scientific approach to a 5k plan using VDOT.
9 Caveats (Sorry I couldn’t think of another to make a round 10):
1: Do you think the plan has insufficient miles and no long slow run? Then <read this>. Whatever you read, just plodding along in HR Zone 1 will not help you much at all. That is too slow even for a long slow run. Remember it assumes you already have an endurance base.
2: If you are in one of the groups where a sub-20 minute 5k is much more of an achievement then you might want to make the intensive endurance/long run (No 4. in the ‘plan’) of higher importance each week to make sure you do actually do it weekly.
3: If you are *WAY* off achieving 20 minutes at present then, again, the intensive endurance/long runs will help significantly and maybe this plan is not YET for you. I would say a current level of 23 minutes for youngsters and 25 minutes for over 30s is quite a way off…but you probably know best
4: The target race pace is your next immediate target NOT your ultimate sub-20 target. Be smart about setting these targets.
5: Ideally; week-on-week, you should change the exercise stimulus you give to your body. So in my straightforward plan adapt and complicate the plan by resting a bit less the following week or by going just that little bit faster the following week. Remember to really ease up every 4 – 6 weeks for a week and rest a bit more. Then get cracking all over again. I didn’t include this change in the plan as it complicates the broad thrust of the straightforwardness of what you need to do.
6: Don’t get waylayed by marathon runners telling you to do lots of long slow runs – it’s right for them of course; you are training various bodily systems differently to marathon runners. Basically more LSRs are of no massive 5k benefit in themselves to your imminent 5k PB (you’ve already got your endurance base sorted, right?). One way of looking at them is to say that they DO benefit you by ‘putting miles in the tank’ this means that you can spend those miles by training more intensely at a later date (ie when you are doing a plan like this). & also consider that the Zone 2 HR runs that I point to above should not actually be that slow for you – I guess it depends on your definitions of ‘slow’ and ‘long’. & also consider that obviously I do agree and understand that LSRs are important to building up any athlete’s endurance base.
7: You will need PROTEIN and CARBS and WATER immediately after exercise – for the sake of argument let’s just say ALWAYS after every exercise in my plan. Protein repairs, carbs refuel, water lubricates – all pretty important really. Do some research on diet. Glass of milk and a banana will do nicely.
8: Your running technique/form is important. HOWEVER, you don’t want to try to change it in the next 3 months. You’ll get injured. Don’t waste your time on this (yet!!).
9: This is a hard-to-execute plan, if you keep doing it for longer than 2-3 months then you MAY WELL get injured.
Remember I never said it was an easy plan, just a straightforward plan