For a while I’ve had in the back of my mind, a loose goal of running a sub-20 minute 5K. Recently I noticed many of my runs up to half marathon distance averaging out at around 4:30 per KM (7:14 per mile). The realisation that my pace was getting close to the number required to beat a sub-20 minute 5K kicked me into gear recently to make this loose goal of mine a reality.
Sub-20 Minute 5K Requirements And Plan
To achieve my goal I would need to run a 5K (3.1 mile) distance just a little bit quicker than 4:00 minutes per KM (6:26 per mile).
I was not too concerned with specific training, but rather on maintaining my usual schedule of 3-5 runs a week. I get at least 2 runs in each week that have tempo and a bit of threshold pace training. Occassionally I add some VO2 max pace too (difficult to maintain pace).
For a couple of months whenever I remembered, I would run 1K at about 85-100% effort. This is your VO2 max or Anaerobic pace as Strava calls it. After each 1K interval, I would ease off back down to threshold pace. I would rinse and repeat this for the duration of the run.
In terms of the numbers, I noticed the following for my pace “zones”:
- Anaerobic was around 3:45 to 3:55 per KM.
- VO2 max was around 4:00 to 4:10 per KM.
- Threshold was ‘easing’ off to around 4:30 per KM.
I didn’t always remember to alternate pace and push my thresholds like this, but whenever I was out running and recalled this interval training technique I would pursue it.
Breaking 5K in Under 20 Minutes
I made two real attempts at the record, breaking my sub-20 minute 5K goal on my second attempt.
The first real effort was in December last year, and I managed a frustratingly close 20:02 for a 5K distance. It wasn’t a pure focus down on the 5K goal, but rather a fast 10K run with 5 of that being an attempt at beating the goal.
- Distance: 10.51 km
- Average pace: 4:15 /km
- 5 km pace: 20:02
Damn! I was almost sure I had cracked it, so after I stopped and looked at the results in Strava I was a little disappointed.
However I soon forgot about the failure and continued on with my usual training and trail running routine.
The other day I recalled my ‘loose goal’ once more and decided I would make another attempt.
I did it! I managed my sub-20 minute 5K goal at a time of 19:42. The last 1K was a bit of an uphill too, so on top of the slight elevation, I really needed to push hard to keep my pace on target.
- Distance: 6.16 km
- Average pace: 4:01 /km
- 5 km pace: 19:42
I had another 1K or so to go to get home, so I pushed for the remaining 1K back home. Of course I slowed down for the last km, slowing my average pace to 4:01 /km over the 6.1K distance.
My running route consisted of:
- Some paved sidewalk
- Some gravel path past some local meadows
- A little bit of asphalt road
- A bit more loose gravel road
For running gear, I simply chose the shoes I seem to be quickest in at the moment. These are my Saucony Peregrine 10 ST trail running shoes. I like them as they don’t have too much cushioning and have a relatively low drop.
Looking back at the things I did to get to this point, it comes down to one thing – training consistency.
I’ve maintained a regular running routine and complete on average 45-50km of distance each week. Importantly, many of my runs are at least 1 hour. I tried to focus on running intervals where I alternate 1 km at maximum effort and 1 km at threshold.
The key takeaways I can think of in terms of training for a sub-20 minute 5k are a combination of:
- Interval training over 5-10km of distance whenever possible.
- Regular 1hr+ long tempo runs in-between.