The average Parkrun finish time is 28 minutes, but the fastest male and female have recorded 13.48 and 15.50 respectively1. Your base fitness will dictate how you get to your goal time, but for most of us we can be race fit in around six to nine weeks.
The NHS provides a nine-week Couch to 5k programme: an easy-to-follow routine of three runs a week, building up using walk/run to cover the distance. The plan gets you from nothing to running 20 minutes after five weeks and completing a 5K event in nine weeks.
5k Speed sessions for all levels: one to two a week (speed relative to you)!
1. Endurance and race pace: 5 x 1k at goal race pace with one-minute recovery.
2. Speed Endurance: 8x 400m with 90 second to two-minute recovery.
3. Sprint Finisher: 10 to 20 x 200m with 100m walk recovery.
Threshold run: once a week
Once a week you can practice running comfortably hard, at ‘tempo’ or ‘threshold’ pace which builds up to race pace. For 5k-specific tempo training, start week one running 3 miles 45 seconds slower than 5K pace, then try to reduce it down by 10 seconds a week (warm up and cool down either side).
Long run: once a week
A weekly long run (or for beginners walk/run) of 60 minutes plus will boost your V02 Max which means you can provide your working muscles with the oxygen it needs to perform well. You will also build a base of aerobic fitness which will provide a better platform from which you can perform your faster training and racing.
Do I need special training kit?
Normal running kit will do, but don’t make the mistake of over-dressing. For really fast runners, a 5k race is a good opportunity to try out racing flat shoes. You won’t get cushioning, but with featherweight shoes, you will run faster.
Fuel for 5k runners
For optimum performance, a general healthy diet with good carbs and lean protein, not too much fibre, plenty of hydration will make a difference on race day.
On the day itself eat easy to digest complex carbs for breakfast. ‘The go-to pre-race food is porridge, but you can also try something lighter such as oat-based smoothie, or fruit salad,’ suggests Rob Hobson, Healthspan’s Head of Nutrition. ‘Allow time for the food to be digested, ideally around two hours. And don’t worry if you can’t face eating, you’ll still be able to run,’ he adds.
Before doing any exercise, it’s important to hydrate. For a 5k run, plenty of water before and after should be enough. Being hydrated will help you perform at your best. A small-scale study on male runners, back in 1985, found that being dehydrated led to them running 80 seconds slower over 5k.2
‘Ergogenic aids3 that will help include caffeine,’ says Hobson. ‘A shot of caffeine has been shown to enhance performance and endurance,’ he adds. A 2008 study found that 60 per cent of athletes questioned said they use caffeine to boost their performance.4 A good way to get what you need quickly absorbed is to try Healthspan’s Elite Kick-start Gum, which has added B-vitamins, an important nutrient for athletes as they help to are used during the production and repair of cells, including red blood cells, explains Hobson.
One study found that runners who consumed a beetroot juice shot before racing cut 1.5 percent off their 5k race times.5 Beetroot juice is packed with nitrates and your body converts these nitrates to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide affects blood vessels in a way that increases blood flow capacity leading to more oxygen being transported to your muscles, and through a complex process, it works with the muscles to make them more efficient.
See also: How to prepare for a 10k race.
1Parkrun (no date)
2Armstrong, L., Costill, D., Fink, W. (1985). Influence of diuretic-induced dehydration on competitive running performance, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
3Thein, LA., Thein, JM., Landry, GL. (1995). Ergogenic aids, Physical Therapy
4Chester, N., Wojek, N. (2007). Caffeine consumption amongst British athletes following changes to the 2004 WADA prohibited list, International Journal of Sports Medicine
5Lee, J. et al (2013). Beetroot juice and exercise: pharmacodynamic and dose-response relationships, Journal of Applied Physiology