March 2017 - Breaking 19 Minutes for 5k

The Question

March's question was from Darren in London. Darren asked:

Simple question really: I want to break 19 minutes for 5k. But it doesn't seem that simple to do. I've been stuck around 19:30 for about a year now. I do a club session on Tuesday (usually hill reps or intervals), a parkrun on a Saturday, and a longer run on a Sunday. On Thursday I either do a road run with the club lasting about an hour or do a hard 30 minutes on my own.

- Darren

Simon Loughran
Simon - Middle-distance runner and athletics coach

“These plateaus are quite common when people go and do the same thing week in and week out.

It's a common mistake to think that you need to train hard all the time to get gains. In fact, while hard sessions do have their place, it's the easy running that will bring about long term gains, and you're doing very little of this at the moment.

Going hard at every session will bring you benefits for a while, but as you've discovered for yourself it doesn't work forever.

I would focus on laying off the hard sessions for a little while and work on building your mileage instead.

Here's what an example week could look like:

  • Tuesday: 1 hour easy
  • Thursday: Club Run
  • Saturday: parkrun "sandwich". 5k easy, then a moderate parkrun effort (about 21 minutes), 5k easy
  • Sunday: Long Run

You've still got a club run in there (social runs are important) and you still get to do your parkrun, but there's more volume, you're not exhausting yourself all the time and have more opportunity to recover and adapt.

Try that for 5-6 weeks and then you could experiment with adding another short run once a week or gradually increasing the length of the long run.

It may seem a counter-intuitive approach at first but stick with it and you'll end up fitter, stronger and faster as a result.”

Phil P - UKA Coach in Running Fitness and parkrun fan

“Not much to add to what Simon has said, except that when you do your next race it might be worth entering a proper race instead of a parkrun.

The atmosphere at a race event is slightly different and that may give you the extra push you need.”

Our Member's Answer

This month's member's answer is from Ben in Surrey.

Ben - 5k and 10k runner

“if you've been stuck at 19:30 for a year then something probably needs to change. How long is your long run? That might be your key to improving. I was doing 75 minutes on most Sundays but found that when I was training for a half and built up to a two-hour long run my 10k and 5k times came down as well. Maybe entering a half and training for that would work well for you as well?”

Thanks, Ben. There's no doubting the importance of those longer runs.