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How to run a faster 5km - Running tips for beginners

By Sarah Finnan

August 3, 2020 at 2:38pm

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Ok, it's been a couple of weeks now which means that if running was your goal - you've probably managed to clock a few miles since I wrote about how to run a 5km. More on that here, if you missed it.

Starting out is always the tough part, I think you'll agree. Building your stamina, trying to stay consistent, learning to ignore the voice in your head that says 'not today'- that's where the real work is but now that you have the basics down, maybe you're looking to improve your time and run that little bit faster.

Yes? Good, read on.

Now, I know it's a Bank Holiday Monday which probably means that the most physical activity you plan on doing is walking between the couch and the fridge. Fair. But, there's always tomorrow, this weekend, next month to get back to it so make sure to save this for when you do.

I spoke to Donal Mulligan, chairman of the Longford Athletics Club, a couple of weeks back and he gave me some handy tips on how to improve your pace/speed/time.

"If you've spent time completing a Couch to 5k type programme and have continued to run regularly since, then you're in a great position to train towards getting faster or running further.

A base level of running fitness is important before increasing your training volume or intensity.  You can build a good aerobic base by running regularly at an easy pace."

Here's what he recommends for beginners aiming to run a faster 5km: 

  • Increase your training load gradually, as this gives your body a chance to adapt to greater training demands. Going from 0 to 100 is not smart or realistic.
  • Up the number of runs you do each week - aim for at least five or six if you want to see good improvements  (keep increases in running volume/intensity the same for three to four weeks before making changes)
  • Consistency of training over time is key
  • Don't ignore rest/easy run days - you need them to allow adaptations to take place during harder days

According to Donal, a typical week might include two or three easy runs, one longer easy run, one longer threshold run (running at a pace that is faster/harder than your normal easy run, but that is slower than your 5K pace) and one interval or repetition session of between 30 seconds and three minutes. Along with some strength training once or twice a week.

In very simple terms:  keep running consistently - add in more runs per week and make sure to include a shorter quicker interval session every second week. These could be anywhere between two minute and three minutes long uncomfortable hard runs with a recovery of one to two minutes, depending on your fitness.  Aim for your race distance or less so if your target race is 5K and you cover covering 500m in each interval, then 10  intervals is more than enough with a total distance of 5k.

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