A 5km run is a benchmark and a challenge that many people set themselves when beginning their fitness journey. Whilst many people who partake in a standard fitness regime will be able to comfortably run the distance, others may struggle. A large part of running a faster 5k is down to your aerobic capacity and pacing.
Whether you’re looking to improve your 5km run time, or are wanting to run your first 5km and don’t think you can quite manage it yet, this is the article for you. It will break down the principles for improving your fitness and pacing for a 5k, and suggest a training schedule for building your aerobic endurance, to help you run a 5k faster and more efficiently.
Improving aerobic capacity
Aerobic capacity is basically the efficiency of your body’s ability to use oxygen when you exercise. As it is generally understood that over 90% of a 5km run is aerobic (providing energy through the means of using oxygen), as opposed to anaerobically (providing energy oxygen-independently), increasing your aerobic capacity is a must for getting to run your first 5k, or improving your 5k time.
Despite what you may think, the best way to improve your aerobic capacity for running is not just to run as far as you can. This is not as efficient as you are pushing your body to a point of exhaustion which is not easy to recover from. This means that you are likely to find the training less enjoyable and are also less likely to run more frequently. This doesn’t translate as me saying you shouldn’t go on longer runs, they definitely have their place. We’ll get to that later though.
You should think of your body as an adaptive machine; if you run to the point of not being able to go any further, you are realistically only in the heart rate zone which requires adaptation for a shorter period of time, at the end of the run. Instead you should consider intervals, which are more intense, shorter ‘intervals’ with periods of rest in between. The idea is that you are taking your body closer to your VO2 Max more often and for longer. In layman’s terms, you’re increasing your heart rate to a higher point, towards the top end of your aerobic capacity, more frequently, forcing your body to adapt to that aerobic requirement. Working with shorter, faster distances will also increase the pace at which you are comfortable running.
Many sites out there will suggest specific distances, or heart rate zones to run your intervals. As many people out there (including myself) don’t have heart rate trackers or do running on a track, I’m going to suggest some aerobic intervals which just require a stopwatch on your phone or a standard wristwatch. Here are some example running workouts you may want to try to improve your aerobic capacity, helping you on your way to a faster 5k. These sessions should take up the majority of your training.
Session 1 - Short Effort Intervals
- 10 x 30 seconds (90% effort) with 30 second walk recovery between sets.
- 7 x 45 seconds (85% effort) with 45 seconds walk recovery between sets.
- 5 x 1 minute (80% effort) with 1 minute walk recovery between sets.
Session 2 - Mid Effort Intervals
- 7 x 1 minute (75% effort) with 1 minute walk between sets.
- 5 x 1.5 minutes (70% effort) with 1 minute walk between sets.
- 3 x 2 minutes (65% effort) with 1 minute walk between sets.
Session 3 - Long Effort Intervals
- 5 x 3 minutes (70% effort) with 1 minute walk between sets.
- 3 x 5 minutes (60% effort) with 2 minutes walk between sets.
- 1 x 7 minutes (55% effort)
Tempo Running (Stamina training)
The goal of a tempo run is to increase your endurance by running at a slightly slower pace than your standard 5k pace, with short bursts of speed incorporated. The idea is predominantly that you train your body to run at a consistent pace throughout the run, whilst intentionally being able to speed up in bursts, and intentionally return to your comfortable running pace.
Generally you should figure out how long it takes you to run a 5km, for this example we’ll say 20 minutes; 4 minutes for every kilometre. For a tempo run, I’d want to run at a pace of 4 minutes 30 seconds/km, so a slightly slower pace than my usual 5k speed, for a total time of 20-30 minutes. Every 1km you should incorporate 40-60 of running at the faster speed of your regular 5k pace.
This type of running trains your body to get used to longer runs and ultimately being uncomfortable, without gassing out. It also improves your ability to control pacing to become more consistent for when you next run 5k hoping for a faster time.
How often you train is completely up to you; however I’d suggest a session every other day to get in the highest frequency whilst allowing time for recovery. Ideally you want to prioritise intervals over tempo running, so completing a low, mid, and high effort interval session for every tempo session would be the best.
This article has presented an explanation of the principles for improving your 5k running time. It has presented examples of different running sessions you can complete in your training routine to help increase your aerobic capacity, and improve your pacing and stamina. Be sure to check out our 247 Run range for the best running gear on the market. Explore our selection of lightweight shirts too!
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Disclaimer: This blog should not be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. We are not professional athletes, coaches or nutritionists.