A sub 20 minute 5k is probably up there at the top of the tree as a goal for aspiring newcomers or seasoned runners alike, and it’s a severe barrier for many runners out there. Hopefully, that’s where I’m going to come in to help with some tips for your training and your racing to get under that elusive time.
How to Run a Sub 20 Minute 5k.
Why in recent years there has been an emergence of these readily available local running events? One of which is the parkrun, which seems to be popping up in every town and city across the globe. And as a result, this popularity in the 5k distance has just gone through the roof, and everyone’s trying to set personal best times over that distance, which for many, tends to be this elusive sub 20 minute 5k.
Indeed to do that, we need to be crossing the finish line with a time on our watch that says something, and regardless of your distance, these targets are all about our ability to pace and crucially knowing the pace that we need to hit.
It’s good to know what just a 20 minute 5k equates to. So doing a little bit of working out what the pace is, so that compares to a 4:00 per kilometer pace, or around 15 kilometers per hour, but this is actually our goal is to get under that 20 minute and nip underneath.
We want to be able to, well, not cut it too fine. So we should be aiming for a pace in the region of around 3:55 per kilometer
up to say 3:58 per kilometer, which will give us a finishing time of 19:35 up to 19:50, which, well, is perfect.
But I’m terrified to say it’s going to be quite severe because 5k distance tends to be pretty brutal. It’s short, but 20 minutes is a long time to be running at that top-end speed.
There are some simple steps to consider to get yourself as ready as possible for tackling your 5k on race day. And the first of those is to head out for a gentle jog. And you want to allow yourself plenty of time to do this, and you want to do around 10-15 minutes and maybe finish with a couple of accelerations to really wake those legs up.
Pacing is incredibly essential, particularly from the start. I have seen countless of people shoot off as if they’ve left a cannon. Only for them to parachute backward a few minutes later. Try not to be that person.
The key is not to burn all your matches in the first k. It’s effortless to get carried away, and you do want to use that adrenaline to some extent, but make sure you keep a cap on it.
Let’s say you were targeting the top end of that range we talked about before, and gunning for a finish time of around about 19:50.
Now that gives us a pace of 3:58 per kilometer. So from the start, you need to limit yourself to say a 3:50 for that first k, and that with some simple maths
tells us we’ve got an eight-second buffer, which believes me, is going to be useful towards the finish.
– And once you’ve established your rhythm and pace, make sure you settle down into that as quickly as possible. Otherwise, if you do this for too long, you’re going to start creating some damage. So ideally settle down within the first k.
Don’t worry about other runners around you, either. This is all about you and that sub 20. This early phase of the race is critical for hitting that goal.
So lock into your pace and don’t be pressurized by others around you.
Be confident in your strategy, and try to keep it consistent. Try not to make any spikes in pace or erratic surges that other athletes might influence.
Of course, the terrain and location of the event are worth considering when you’re making your plan of attack before the event.
Now, if it is your first time at this event, then you’ll want to check online, maybe, to see if there’s a course profile there.
Otherwise, you can wait until race day when you’ll be doing your warm-up before the event to do almost a little bit of a recce of the course.
Check out, see if there’s inclines, declines and if there is, you might want to adjust your pace accordingly.
If there is going to be some of these hills in the race, you need to make sure that you back off your pace accordingly as you approach one, cause you don’t want to go too hard. Instead, try to focus on good form and posture and try and push on over the top of that hill rather than going.
So you need to try and capitalize on that effort and momentum you’ve built on the upside so that on the downside you can, well, try and let yourself go and use that momentum and also try and catch up on a bit of the time that you might have lost before on that climb, but within reason.
Try not to fall into the trap of hammering the downhills. You want to try and relax, as you’ve mentioned, and get into that mindset of letting yourself go, and I guarantee you will be catching people. If you’re going to be running to heart rate in your race, try to maintain it.
It’s something that really can make a significant impact on your pacing. And a good tip is if you’ve got a watch that has an alarm function, set it to the upper limit that you know you can cope with. Do, of course, listen to it in the race, because burning all those extra matches early in the day isn’t going to help at all.
Now admittedly, although it may not feel it at the time, 20 minutes is a relatively short period. So we don’t need to be concerning yourselves with hydration during the race whatsoever. However, if you are in a hot climate, then you might want to take some sips of water, but that’s all we’re talking about.
Although, you could say that if you are racing in the summertime or a hot climate, then the event is probably going to be making provisions for this. Check the event information beforehand and find out where those eight stations are going to be and where you can take liquid on board? Of course, we do need to think about hydration and fuel in the immediate hours before the race.
So whatever it is you’re going to be taking on board, be it some food or some liquid, you must give yourself some time for that to digest and settle in your system. I personally always like to have that done two hours before the start time. So work yourself backward from there?
And if you really are gunning for that sub 20 time and you’ve executed that pacing plan perfectly, then I’m reasonably sure you’re going to be hanging in for dear life in those final stages of the race. So it is, I’m afraid, going to hurt at the end.
And of course, in that final, let’s say half of the kilometer, give it a little bit of a nudge and push on, and once you can see that finish line,
let’s assume the last 100 meters or so, get after it and sprint to the finish really.