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This post is for 5k runners who are relative beginners and can run 5k in less than 35-40 minutes and who can run for 60 continuous minutes if they wanted to. Typically you may have previously been focusing on getting miles under your belt but have not found that you are getting faster 5k times as quickly as you would like. You may also have found it difficult to find the time for longer mileage sessions.

OK let’s not mess around. You haven’t got much time to read this or to train. Here is a great plan for you time-poor improvers. The plan will work for good 5k runners as well as it is based on pace (caveats covered later!).

The pre-requisite is that you need a GPS device that can show your running pace as well as track your heart rate. The Garmin Forerunner 305 is as good as any. & you need to work in Kms not miles.

Step 1: Go for a 5k PB at a free parkrun event. Use your device to tell me your average pace. As a control mechanism, please also record your average heart rate.

I’m going to give you 3 exercises to do each week. Never do them on consecutive days. Always do them in order. If you run out of time to do the last one it’s Ok forget it and go back to the first one the following week.

Now, if you look closely at the plan below and specifically at the effort-periods, you will see that you only actually have to try hard in your running for 75 minutes a week. It will be hard and it should be hard but the alternative is 180 minutes of drudgery each week so just try hard and get it over and done with!

1. 2x 15 minutes at 5k PB race pace plus 30 seconds. 10 min rest interval (RI). This shouldn’t be too hard for you!

2. 20 x 1 minute at race pace less 15-25  seconds. 1 min RI. Do at least 10, aim for 15. If you can’t do the speed then stop and rest for 5 minutes before continuing. If you can do 20 then after the 20th you should be near exhausted, if not then you need to up the pace next time.

3. 5x 5 minutes @ PB race pace less 5 seconds. 5 min RI. This should be hard.

That’s 75 minutes of trying per week. You’ll get faster smartly and you’ll lose weight. (honest!! but you have to try).

Seriously though, if you can, also go for an hour long nice and easy slow run. Focus on the good technique that you’ve researched on the net.

So if you did a 30 minutes 5k then your pace is 6:00 mins per km. So for the above three exercises your target pace will be:

1. 6:30

2. 5:45-5:35 and

3. 5:55

After a month do another 5k (having rested for at least 48 hours beforehand) and redo the pace figures. Make sure you either improved your PB or your heart rate was the same as before ie this control shows you really were trying second time around! This plan will get the ladies down to 25 minutes per 5k and the gents down to about 23 minutes. It WILL get you faster than those times as well but you probably need to start taking it a bit more seriously at that point as you’re quite good now! Nice problem to have! Look on my blog for different ideas and plans.

How to improve from here? Well my ‘smart’ plan will not be called smart by others as it neglects to build up your endurance base. I’m kind of assuming you have some of that already ‘in the bag’ before you start with this plan. In which case my plan will be OK for up to, say, 12 weeks. At some point you will just have to start putting in those longer and more varied sessions to improve. Look <here> for a bit more on that and look <here> for ways to monitor your improvement.