5k: What makes a good sub-20 minute parkrun TRAINING plan?

to 6week plan

You’ve probably been trawling the net or this site for 5k plans. There’s quite a few on this site; some good, some less so. Probably any plan and a certain amount of hard work will get you below 20 minutes but some will do it faster than others because they are better…

The best plan you’ll get will be one tailored to your needs, your abilities, your commitment and your available time. But you’re searching the net so you obviously aren’t going down that route! and why should you? Quite a few people you know have gone sub-20 doing it (the training) by themselves, right?

Yep, it certainly is probably a thing you can train yourself to do.

Well here are a few of the elements that make up a good plan. Some of these elements ARE ESSENTIAL FOR SERIOUS athletes but some less important for us mortals (but if you are going to do your own thing then at least understand them):

1. Continuous exercise WILL kill you. You get better when you are resting, not when you are exercising. If you think about it; it’s true, but many of you will totally ignore this key fact and keep plodding along until you are injured. Exercise is your body’s stimulus to improve, getting fitter is the RESPONSE to exercise. So rest the day after hard sessions. IF you have to do something then make it an aerobic recovery run (ie slow).

2. Build in “periodicity”. Increase the difficulty of your exercises week on week. BUT on the FOURTH WEEK take it down a notch OR TWO – to before where you were 3 weeks ago. Then on the FIFTH WEEK off you go again, make it harder than the third week. And so on holding back every fourth week. Extra recovery. This is especially important as you get older. But as well as being important you will get better, quicker if you rest appropriately. Honest!

3. Diet. If you’re reading this you probably aren’t a serious club runner. You may be a beginner, improver or maybe you’re pretty OK. If you have a balanced diet you probably won’t need to change much. But read the next points…

  • Fuel: Complex carbs are the best way of refuelling your body.
  • Sticking Plaster: protein is the sticking plaster and glue to repair your body. Do your legs ache? COULD be a lack of protein.
  • Oil: Water is your body’s oil. You NEED it to metaphorically lubricate your running and your bodily recovery processes.
  • Nitrous Oxide: makes cars go REALLY fast for a very short while then the engine blows up. Kinda like processed sugar (glucose). Alright occasionally.
  • Cushions: Fat. Yeah you need a bit of that, not too much though. Treat yourself every now and again it isn’t going to hurt too much in reality. Everyone needs a bit of fat on them…if you had 0% fat then where would your body get its energy from?…your muscles probably.
  • Fuel Additives. A lot of exercise can cause thing like the destruction of iron in your blood and the creation of free radicals in your body. You MIGHT need extra iron and you might need WELL OVER the RDA (recommended Daily Allowance) of some Vitamins. I think from memory A, C and E but I’ll check on that and change this bit when I get the right ones.

4. Your gear. You need good shoes and satisfactory gear. You should plan to train and use the gear you ultimately intend to race in – especially shoes.

5. Variety. If you do the same exercise each week you will eventually stop improving much. You need variety to tweak all the various bodily processes differently each week. Most simply you might make your recovery between intervals a bit less as the weeks go by. Or you might do totally different exercises – cross train.

6. Strength, Endurance, Stamina, Aerobic…  With 5k there are lots of various bodily bits you need to improve. It’s not 100m running – where strength is very important. And it’s not a marathon when endurance is the be-all and end-all. (Always beware 5k advice from real long distance endurance runners). You, or your coach, will need to understand what LTHR and VO2max mean and what that means to your training.  Along with your running technique/form these are two very key areas of your body that you need to focus on improving. And you can’t do that until you know what they are in both general terms and in terms specific to your body. So quite a bit of your exercise will be focussed at improving these two things: LTHR and VO2max. Form/technique, strength and aerobic capacity are “obviously” also important.

7. See 6. work out where you are weak and work out how you are going to improve that. Plan to improve in the aspects you are worst at as that is where you will get the easiest gains, providing you are motivated enough.

8. Taper. Before you really go for a 5k PB you will need to have taper off from your training. Normally a taper would require diminished training over 2 weeks or so prior to the big day. Leading us onto…

9. The problem with 5k plans and parkruns often is that they don’t mesh together too nicely. If you want to do a 5k parkrun every week that’s fine but you won’t really maximize the chances to improve your PB as you will need a couple of days off before the saturday which of course curtails the training you can do in any one week especially when I say you should rest one day between intense sessions… a hard balance.

10. As you build up to a race you progressively drop the longer stuff.

11. We’ve mentioned STRENGTH a few times. Really I would incorporate some sort of weights or pilates (core) into your WEEKLY routine.

12. Last but certainly not least. Technique and drills, perhaps plyometrics.

13. Oh yes, stretching and flexibility too.

There you go, food for thought. I’ll add more as I think about them.

Reader-Powered Content

This content is not sponsored. It’s mostly me behind the labour of love which is this site and I appreciate everyone who follows, subscribes or Buys Me A Coffee ❤️ Alternatively please buy the reviewed product from my partners. Thank you! FTC: Affiliate Disclosure: Links pay commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

1 thought on “5k: What makes a good sub-20 minute parkrun TRAINING plan?

  1. Thanks for a very informative post. You recommend 80 percent speed/stamina training. Many other sites recommend only 20 percent which I’ve thought seemed too low. Care to expand?

    ——-yep here we are—————

    The balance will change throughout your training plan but overall as below. The figs below are based on empirical evidence from, i think, Loughborough uni. Can’t remember exactly right now which uni. It will be similar to 10k but i think VERY different from HM/marathon training…and that is where a lot of LAY people quote their figures from often VERY fervently

    Your long slow run 2 weeks before a 5k race ain’t gonna make you faster (on the day) and I would bet money on that (and I’m tight!)….although it might help you to be in a position to improve weeks down the line.

    “16. Overall your training time will be split up something like this:
     60% speed,
     20% stamina,
     15% endurance,
     5% strength”

    I’m no sports scientist. I just quote stuff from other people!! Just like the people who told you about the 20%

    Intuitively i think i am right. At least over a relatively short time frame and for non-elite athlete.

    I turn in pretty good 5k performances for someone WAY past their optimal age and i can do it on 3 run sessions a week…all quality not quantity.

    Then again maybe i would be better if i did 5x the number of hours and more long mileage…but then of course i would be better because i’m training more. Would i be better if i did 5x the number of quality sessions? No probably not !!! as it would cause too much fatigue.

    So I guess I’m coming from the standpoint of a normal person wanting to make the most out of limited hours. Not Mo Farrah (although I bet he won’t do LSRs close to a race!

    Look at periodicity of training. Look at what you are physiologically trying to achieve in your build and peak periods. it ain’t endurance. You build endurance before you start your real training. Of course you do need a degree of endurance.

    Oh and if you look at Carmichael’s book (Lance Armstrong’s trainer, he might possibly know a thing or two) he suggests a point at about 8-10 hours training a week where if you do LESS THAN THAT then you need to focus on the quality stuff – in line with what i say. “The Time Crunched Cyclist”

    So basically it will take a lot to change my possibly flawed opinion!

    Here is some more scientific reading from other people who i agree with!


    Did I see Joe Friel’s name there as well? Who’s he? Oh probably the most respected and widely known triathlete coach in the world. oh dear, marathon runners!

Comments are closed.