How to run a 5k in under 20 minutes

So if you find yourself reading this article, then you are already a very competent runner as breaking 20 minutes for your 5k is a time barrier reserved for those runners who really do have a bit of natural talent or just want to take their running that little bit more seriously! While no two runners are the same and training schedules will vary widely due to time commitments and routines, here a few simple tips to perhaps squeeze an extra few seconds of improvement into your 5k.

Picture: Scottish Athletics

Try and get a very specific handle on what the purpose of each training run is. Try and get a handle on whether your run is for the purposes of stamina, recovery or improvement. If you run the same route in the same time every day, your body will get a little complacent and switch off to the potential changes to your cardiovascular system. Mix things up and don’t be afraid to follow a particularly hard day with a day in which you run to how your body feels rather than what your watch says! Mentally switching off will keep you fresh for the next hard effort and break up the same run over the same route! It’s OK to go slow!

Our middle tip regards the appliance of science! If you want to run 20 minutes for 5k, that means each 1k should be covered in four minutes. (With me so far?!)..So by honing in on this pace zone on a regular basis you can start to become a lot more comfortable operating at a pace that you will ultimately be aiming to complete your entire 5k come race day. Why not look at planning a 6k training route and after a nice easy opening 1k of six minutes, try and look at running k’s 2, 4 and 6 in four minutes. Remember the k’s in between these harder efforts can be as easy as you like, but when completed you will have run 3k at your race pace with some lovely extra mileage to boot! With this example, you can then start playing around with other variations on the same theme. Why not look at running 10 x 500m in two minutes with again jogging the same distance very easily in between? There are lots of different combinations of breaking down your race time and pace into regular running and by doing so, the 4min/km pace needed to break 20 minutes may just feel that little bit easier!

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Finally, given your progression and motivation towards trying to go sub 20 minutes, let’s start being a little cuter with whereabouts your attempt to run 19.59 and below will take place! You are now thinking about every second you can possibly shave off your time and with that in mind a flat and fast course will give you a much better chance of doing so! Shop around online for 5k races that will offer a flat gradient and a quick time at the front of the race too! Alternatively though, a big event with a big event atmosphere will also help you along the way. Running with 1000’s of people in a well-paced, organised event. Essentially though the key message here is to plan and plot your race with a degree of precision and accuracy. This is a great challenge to take on, so make it a priority where possible in your daily life. Book the day before off perhaps or look to let friends and family know when and where you are running as this will help you on race day itself! Either way, you are going to run really well by planning through your training journey and working a little smarter not harder with your daily training routine!

Good Luck!

The Scotsman is taking part in the Simplyhealth Great Edinburgh Winter Run. If you’d like to get more active and enjoy better everyday health visit where you’ll find advice and inspiration.

Running expert Gareth Turnbull, a former athlete, speaking on behalf of title partners Simplyhealth