How to train to run your fastest five kilometres

With the growing popularity of distance running, the prevailing mentality is to run longer and longer until like me, your Physio is on speed dial and you're contemplating your first ultra marathon. But what if you could train hard and get a buzz from competing while still having a life?

Go for speed over distance. Or in other words, try running your fastest five kilometre.

If you're wondering whether you'll still feel a sense of achievement from running "only" five thousand metres, don't fret. It's not as easy as you think, and requires you to build a combination of endurance, strength and speed.

Breaking the barrier

Tim Crosbie is head coach at the Crosbie Crew, a Melbourne running group that provides training opportunities and programs for runners of all abilities. He says elite male runners can finish five kilometres in less than 13 minutes and 15 minutes for women.

"Most runners complete 5K from anywhere between 20 to 35 minutes," says Crosbie (whose personal best is 15:30). "With the growth of parkrun, times in excess of 35 minutes are becoming more common as new runners use these events as an introduction to endurance running."

He says five is a great distance because it's a true test of speed endurance. "Once you've mastered the endurance side of your running, which must come first, you can then work on your speed to bring the times crashing down."

A different kind of energy

Besides the distance, what are the key differences between running a fast five and endurance running?

Crosbie says true endurance running uses different energy systems and places a different strain on the musculoskeletal system.

"To run a marathon you must train your energy systems to cope with the outputs by balancing nutrition and hydration," he says. "This isn't a factor for five kilometre races as you just go for it from the start, with no need for fluid replacement, unless in extreme heat."

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Tips to success

If you're ready to take on a new fitness challenge follow Crosbie's helpful tips give running your fastest five a red-hot go:  

1. Achieving balance

"Too many runners find striking the right balance of speed and distance hard, but getting the right training elements into your program will help the most," says Crosbie. He recommends buffering your fast or long runs with absorption runs (very low intensity short runs). "Over time as runners become more proficient they will increase both intensity and distance, which will deliver improved results, but if both of these elements aren't handled properly, injury will follow," says Crosbie.

2. Mix it up

You need a mix of training styles to get the best performance. Training should consist of long runs of more than 10km, hills, speed, tempo and fartlek, which is fast running intermixed with periods of slower running.

3. Set a target

When setting your target time, Crosbie advises being conservative at the start and brave near the end. "You must also be prepared to face into some discomfort through the mid to latter stages of a run, but if you've trained well you know what this feels like and can embrace it," he says.

4. Pace your race

Anyone can get to three kilometres on pace, but the last two is where the five is won or lost. That's why being on pace and not too far ahead at 3K is vital. Crosbie says if you're going to run a slow km split, make sure it's the first. From there if you pick up you'll likely start passing people and by keeping your emotions in check this may well continue all the way to the finish.

5. Race day ready

Having the right food onboard to fuel your fastest five is important, and so is warming up.

"With food the key is to follow your normal routines. Stick to what you train on and don't be silly enough to introduce the latest South American superfood just because a Hollywood celebrity is promoting it," says Crosbie. He adds that warming up is essential to a good performance because it prepares the body for what's to come. "A gentle run followed by some glute activation, dynamic stretching and then some faster paced run-throughs will have you ready for the starter's gun."

Have a tip on how to beat your PB? Let us know in the comments section below.

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

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