As soon as you cross the finish line of a 5K race, you probably have one new goal in mind: To beat the time you just set.
Here are some key training strategies running coaches Niki Harrington and Erin Carr, owners of Union Running in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, use to help their own clients get across the finish line in record time.
Adding hill work into your running routine builds up your glutes (your running powerhouses), develop greater power and boost foot turnover — all of which helps you become a faster, more efficient runner.
The drill: Perform a hill-focused workout once every 3–4 weeks. Carr and Harrington recommend finding a hill in your neighborhood that has a significant incline, and — after starting with an easy 1-mile warmup jog — doing 3–4 jaunts up the hill at 5K pace. Walk or jog back down to the bottom of the hill between repeats. Then, jog 1 mile to cooldown.
You can also do hill repeats on a treadmill if you live in a flat area or can’t get outside. Here are a few great treadmill routines to try.
To run faster, you need to … practice running faster.
Carr and Harrington, for example, have their clients practice speedwork to improve their coordination and turnover time. As they explain, the majority of clients’ training is done at a slower pace; injecting some speedwork into their program helps remind them what it’s like to run a little faster.
The drill: Roughly six weeks before the big day, start throwing one speed session into your training mix every week. Then, ease-off the speedwork a couple of weeks before your race. According to Carr and Harrington, this workout helps clients learn how to pace themselves so they don’t go out too fast at the start of a race. It also helps them get used to the discomfort that comes with pushing the pace during a race: “It teaches them how to cope with that discomfort,” Carr says.
On a track or treadmill:
- Jog 1 mile to warm up.
- Run 800 meters (two laps around the track or a half-mile) at your goal 5K pace.
- Walk or jog 400 meters (one lap, or a quarter-mile) to recover.
- Run another 800 meters at a pace that’s slightly faster than your goal 5K pace.
- Walk or jog 400 meters to recover.
- Repeat for a total of 4–6 rounds, aiming to run each round a little faster than the previous.
- Jog 1 mile to cool down.
If you want to be a better, faster runner, you need to do more than just run. Strength training is an especially important activity to incorporate into your 5K prep.
In particular, incorporating heavy and/or explosive strength training into your routine can improve your running economy (how well your body uses oxygen to run at a given pace) and delay fatigue, according to a review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.
Authors note these effects could be thanks to improved neuromuscular efficiency (how quickly your nervous system can call your running muscles into action), delayed activation of the less-efficient fast-twitch (type II) muscle fibers, improved stiffness of the junctions between muscles and tendons or the conversion of type IIx muscle fibers into more enduring type IIa fibers.
The drill: Harrington and Carr recommend strength training at least once per week. Prioritize movements like squats, lunges, single-leg deadlifts, planks, side planks and plyometric (Read: explosive) exercises like jump squats, plyo lunges and skater hops.
You’ll especially want to focus on unilateral or one-sided exercises (e.g., lunges, single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts, lateral lunges). “Anything that challenges your body on a single side is going to give you strength when running,” Harrington says, “because if you’re running, you’re basically doing a series of one-legged squats, so you want to be really strong and powerful in that position.”
Not sure where to start? Try this bodyweight routine that was designed with runners in mind.