How to run a faster 5k in just six weeks

Our running expert shares how to improve your 5k time, whether you’re a seasoned runner or relative newcomer.

Whether you’re new to running, discovering all the benefits running has to offer, or a seasoned veteran, how to run a faster 5k may be a question you find yourself asking on a regular basis. 

Whoever you are, from the world-record holder to a Couch to 5k newcomer, you’ll be happy with your latest outing for about five minutes before pondering how to increase your 5k time. It’s a bit like your bank balance – never fully satisfactory. With that in mind, we’re here to help you achieve that all-important improvement and show you how to run a faster 5k.  

People competing in a 5k road raceCredit: Shutterstock / Rawpixel.com
Running a faster 5k is all about recognising your fitness and working from that point

Faster 5k for beginners

Coaching points to run a faster 5k

If you’re wondering how to train for a 5k with a view to improving your time, here are some pro tips to consider:

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Take your time

The key is to understand that seemingly nothing happens for weeks, then you can move forward in terms of performance all at once. Consistency is the key to everything. 

Set a routine

Coach Fatima Painda, a fitness coach for Muslim women says she always uses 21 days as the minimum length of time a client needs to turn up as benchmark for anyone she is helping get fit. However, it’s probably better to allow more than 100 days for habit building to become effective. It’ll take time – almost a year for some, quicker for others. Stick with it. 

Add strength training to the mix

Strength training for runners is more important than ever, and not only because your muscles simply aren’t as strong as they might have been a decade ago. While gym work may not inspire you, it’s worth understanding the importance strength and mobility have in helping you support the same body position and biomechanics you enjoyed throughout your younger sporting life. 

Six-week improver’s training plan to increase 5k time

If you’re now looking to move up a notch, then take a look at this programme, designed to help you improve on what you’ve achieved already. 

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Week 1

Monday: Easy 20-minute run followed by five minutes of stretching. Start with loosening your neck and shoulders, then work on your chest, before moving to quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Easy 20-minute run followed by five minutes of stretching. 

Thursday: Rest. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Easy 20-30-minute run followed by stretching and three runs over 100 m, just feeling smooth and easy – pick up the pace a touch, but not sprinting. Walk recovery. 

Sunday: Rest. 

Week 2

Monday: Easy 20-minute run followed by five minutes of stretching. 

Tuesday: Rest 

Wednesday: Easy 20-minute run followed by five minutes of stretching. 

Thursday: Rest. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Thirty-minute run, but warm up slowly for five minutes, then run for 10 minutes at a relaxed, fast pace; cool down by alternating walking and running for 15 minutes. 

Sunday: Rest. 

Week 3

Monday: Easy 30-minute run followed by five minutes of stretching. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Easy 20-minute run followed by four runs over 100m, just feeling smooth and easy – pick up the pace a touch, but not sprinting. Walk recovery. 

Thursday: Rest. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Warm up for five minutes, then run for 10 minutes with one minute fast, one minute jogging or walking. Cool down for 15 minutes, alternating walking and running. 

Sunday: Rest. 

A woman checks her watch during a runCredit: Prathankarnpap/Shutterstock
Time to get on with the spadework. Watches at the ready

Week 4

Monday: Run for 30-40 minutes on a hilly course, surging up each hill. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Run for 20 minutes at a slow pace. 

Thursday: Rest. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Warm up for 10 minutes, then run three surges of three-minutes with a two-minute jog between each surge. Cool down with a slow jog for five minutes. 

Sunday: Rest.

Week 5

Week 5 

Monday: Run 30-40 minutes on a hilly course, surging up each hill. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Run 20 minutes at a slow pace. 

Thursday: Rest. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Warm up for 10 minutes, then run four times two-minute surges, with a two -minute jog between each surge. Cool down with a slow jog for five minutes. 

Sunday: Rest. 

Week 6

Monday: Run for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Run for 20 minutes at a slow pace. 

Thursday: Rest. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Run your fastest 5k yet (hopefully).

Sunday: Celebrate!

Top tip

Make sure you have your shoes and clothing all in order for the big day. With that in mind, complete one or two of your longer runs in all the kit you intend to wear for your fast 5k and don’t forget the fine detail like socks in all of this. You don’t want them rubbing.

Faster 5k for experienced runners

Pro tips to improve your 5k time

If you’re an experienced runner, you’ll already have an idea of what a good 5k time looks like for you – and how you’d like to better it. Here are a couple of key points to think about:

Prioritise recovery

If you’ve been running for years, you’re going to have to understand you now own a different body. It’s a bit older, has a few miles on the clock and therefore needs a little more rest and recovery. Training is all about working hard, then allowing recovery for that work to take effect. Maybe that would have meant a couple of days in the past, but as you move beyond 50 (and older), it might mean three or even five days, and the addition of some post-running stretches.

Pay attention to your form

It’s always worth giving this some thought; think of it as free time. If you improve your running form, you’ll move more easily, be less prone to injury and you’ll recover more effectively. To run a little smoother, look directly ahead, lean slightly forward, and make sure your arms are swinging. As you run, lift your knees up slightly and for a short period (no more than 20 seconds in a run) also pick up your heels. This exaggerated motion adds up and slowly over a period of months, your form will improve.   

Experienced runner’s training plan for a faster 5k

For the more advanced runner, this six-week schedule mixes recovery with intense work to help you achieve your goal of running a faster 5k. 

Week 1

Monday: Run for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Rest or gym workout. 

Thursday: Five three-minute runs with a one-minute rest between each. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Rest.  

Sunday: Long run of around 10 miles. Aim to run the final three miles faster than the first three. 

Week 2

Monday: Run for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Rest or gym workout. 

Thursday: Two two-mile runs where the second two miles is faster than the first. Six minutes’ rest between each two-mile effort. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Jog for about 20 minutes.  

Sunday: Long run of around 10 miles. Go slow. 

Week 3  

Monday: Run for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Rest or gym workout. 

Thursday: Ten one-minute runs with a one-minute rest between each. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Jog for about 20 minutes.  

Sunday: Long run of around 10 miles. Go slow. 

A great rule of thumb to work to for your efforts is to think of two speeds below your race pace for shorter work and two speeds above for longer efforts. So, that means half mile or mile pace for short work and half-marathon or longer pace for the efforts more than a few minutes in length.

Week 4  

Monday: Run for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Rest or gym workout. 

Thursday: Five runs of three minutes each with a one-minute rest between each.  

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Jog for about 20 minutes.  

Sunday: Long run of around 10 miles. Aim to run the final three miles faster than the first three.   

Week 5  

Monday: Run for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Rest or gym workout. 

Thursday: Two one mile runs with four minutes’ rest between. Run at your planned-for race pace. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Jog for about 20 minutes.  

Sunday: Long run of no more than seven miles. 

Week 6  

Monday: Run for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. 

Tuesday: Rest. 

Wednesday: Run for 20 minutes at a slow pace. 

Thursday: Rest. 

Friday: Rest. 

Saturday: Run your fastest 5k yet (hopefully).

Sunday: Celebrate! 

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Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins

Updated:

Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors. But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide.