How to Run a sub-20 Minute 5 km

I have a theory that any man (for women the equivalent is probably 23 minutes) between 20 and 40 with no underlying health conditions can be trained to run a sub-20 minute 5 km, obviously if you have a lot of weight to lose or have never run before it will take a while, but for a regular runner it should definitely be achievable with some focus.

A little while ago a friend came to me and asked me how to do it, I said I could either write him a proper training plan and coach him to do it, or if not I’d send him some quick tips… Well, here are the quick tips!

1) Fix any issues with form – get someone experienced to watch you when running reasonably quick; they need to look for your torso, head and neck all staying in a nice straight line with a slight forward lean, your feet need to be landing under you and not in front of you and your hips need to stay nice and ‘stable’ not moving up and down too much and definitely not rocking side to side (when viewed from behind).

2) Get used to being very uncomfortable – make sure you’re doing 2 sessions a week where you start out unsure as to whether you can finish what is planned, where you really want to stop by half way through and where you’re feeling ready to vomit by the end of the work.

3) Pick a target date; and make one of your 2 ‘horrible’ sessions each week 5 x 1km @ 3:55 (3:50 if you can manage it) start with 3 minutes rest between each then reduce that rest (reduce in time and increase the pace you are resting at) until you’re doing a workout where the ‘rest’ is 1 minute at 4:30 min/km between each of the 1km efforts a week before ‘race day’.

4) Taper for a week, make each of your runs half the length of the equivalent run the week before – then race day is the end of that week.

5) Do proper warm-ups before each of the hard workouts; minimum 5 mins easy, 5 mins properly aerobic, then dynamic ‘stretches’ e.g. high knees, straight leg running, side stepping, then some ‘strides’ (accelerate to max pace then slow down again over the course of 100m) then another 5 easy – should be 20-25 minutes. On race day do this warm up about an hour before the race start so you are still warm by the start but properly recovered.

6) Have a very, small drink (a mouthful) of something with carbs in in the 10-20 mins before race start.

7) During the race only the first 400-800m should feel easy, 800-2000m will have you wondering if you can do it, 2000-3000m your chest will be burning and you will be desperate to stop, 3000-4000m will be very horrible, then the final km will be just about holding on as long as you can.


Alex looking like he has just run 5km very hard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: