If your 5K time is still the same as it was a few years ago, and your runs are always done at the exact same pace, no matter how hard you try to go faster, you may need to tweak your training if you hope to speed up. Consider these seven scenarios, and re-assess your training (or life) accordingly.
GET OUT OF THE GRAY ZONE
Too many runners get caught in the gray area of running, where most miles are done just a little too hard to be easy, and a little too easy to be hard. When you’re in this gray zone, it’s hard to make gains because you’re often too tired to truly go hard during any speedwork or interval sessions, because you’re always slightly under-recovered. Easy days should feel extremely easy, hard days should feel hard. Avoid that middle ground!
You can’t expect to get faster if you never go fast. From fartleks to intervals to track workouts, adding speedwork to your runs versus trying to just ‘go at a faster pace’ for your whole run is the simplest way to get speedy in a hurry. The short bursts of speed during an otherwise easy-paced run do more for your overall fitness and run power than trying to drop that average pace by 10 seconds per mile throughout your whole run.
GET TO SLEEP
If you’re consistently training in a state of fatigue, you’re unlikely to see improvements. On the flip side, if you are getting enough sleep (which can vary from person to person), the benefits to exercise are impressive. One study found speed increased in student-athletes who extended their sleep time over several weeks. Forget adding training hours, add an extra hour of sleep by going to bed a bit earlier if you find yourself yawning before workouts.
CHANGE YOUR PACE
If you almost always run with one friend, you likely end up hitting their pace, constantly. That pace may be fun for conversation, but it may not be making you any faster. Conversely, if you only ever run alone, you may just be missing that competitive element that comes from a harder group run. Switch things up and do some solo runs if you only ever run with the beginner group, or find a new weeknight run crew to sync up with.
SIGN UP FOR A RACE
You may have clicked on this article because it intrigued you and you’re looking to get faster, but if you don’t have a real ‘why’ for why you want to speed up, it’s going to be pretty hard to get there. Most people settle into an ‘easy’ pace when there’s no goal on the horizon because it’s hard to work hard when you don’t have a reason. If you fall into this category, sign up for a race and mark it on your calendar — and write the race date somewhere you’ll see frequently, so you’re constantly reminded why you’re putting in the work.
SEE YOUR DOCTOR
If you’re already actively trying to improve speed and can’t seem to break through to the next level, it might be time to seek some expert help. Head to your doctor and get your yearly check-up, and consider asking for some bloodwork in the process, especially if you’re experiencing other symptoms like a constant high level of fatigue despite getting plenty of sleep. You may also want to talk to a sport-specific dietitian or a running coach if your doctor can’t spot any red flags.
FOLLOW A TRAINING PLAN
If all you do is run the same 3-mile loop four times per week, you’re probably going to get faster for a few months, but eventually, your time gains are going to taper off. You don’t need to hire a pricey coach to get a training plan that helps you push past this current block — MapMyRun has plenty of plans whether your goal is a 5K or a half-marathon. And even if you don’t have a race on the calendar but want to get faster, a training plan for a specific distance helps structure your training so you incorporate different workouts, proper recovery and the right amount of miles.