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How to Increase My 5K Running Speed

by Allen
(Modesto, CA)

I'm a 52 year old male who has only recently begun running. About 6 months ago I was about 50 lbs heavier (current ht and wt is 6 ft, 172 lbs) and was very sedentary.

I changed my diet and starting walking. Once I lost the weight I decided to run in a 5K race. I ran it in 29:47. That was about 3 months ago. I loved the competition and have run in several since then.

My time last week was 23:17. My goal is to place in my age group. To do that I need to drop my time to sub 22:00.

I've been running 5 days a week with a training schedule that consists of one long run of about 6 miles (takes about 55 minutes), a 4 mile run with intervals (3 for 3 minutes at the fastest pace that I can keep for the 3 minutes), and 3 runs of 3 miles that take about 24 to 25 minutes.

I don't do any strength training at this point -- not sure if would help my speed anyway.

I'm not sure if I'm getting any faster at this point. I use a heart rate monitor and my heart rate stays above 150 bpm for most of my runs except the long run when I average about 135 bpm. My heart rate stayed above 170 for the entire duration of my last 5K.

What is the most effective way to increase my speed and how long should it take to get below 22:00?


running tips
Answer by Dominique:
Hi there,
Thanks for your question about increasing your 5k running speed.

And thank you for providing the additional detail.

It is very helpful to really understand someone's background, how much they are currently running, etc.

First of all, congratulations on saying goodbye to your sedentary life.

You must be feeling so much better now that you are 50 lbs lighter!

Your times have been improving quite well and I'll make a few suggestions about how to improve further.

But what we need to keep in mind is that you have improved almost seven minutes in the space of three months, after a lifetime of being sedentary.

So, let's not forget you have made incredible progress!

The thing that you need to work on, in my opinion, is increasing your mileage and improving your base. I would take the focus away from the faster workouts and replace them by slower workouts.

Your current heart rate during workouts is high, indicating you are putting a lot of stress on your body.

If you can afford yourself the time, I would suggest running slowly a lot more. In the beginning, this may be slightly detrimental to your times. But 6-12 months down the track is when you'll start reaping the benefits.

A good trainer on base running is Maffetone. He says that your heart rate during your base building phase shouldn't be getting higher than:

  • 180 - age for trained runners

  • 180 - age - 5 for people who have been running for less than 3-4 years or so.

  • He would require from you to do your runs at a heart rate of maximum 123. Now, this can be very frustrating in the beginning, you'll be stopping and starting all the time, and doing a lot of walking.

    But if you stick with it, then, over the course of a few months, you'll find that you can go faster and faster whilst sticking to that max heart rate of 123.

    Now, what this means is that subsequently you will be able to run a lot faster at all heart rates.

    For further reading I would suggest:

  • Base Running Drills - my page about the importance of base running and what types of base running you can do.

  • Increasing mileage safely - my page about how to increase your mileage without getting injured.

  • Best Running Tips Newsletter - when you subscribe to the newsletter you get a bonus eBooklet that contains a forum thread with thoughts from a trainer called Hadd, who focuses on base building. It's quite an enjoyable read and really makes you realize the importance of base building.

  • The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing - By Coach Maffetone. I think the approach he describes is very important. He takes a holistic view. In addition to the "low heart rate training" he focuses on eating, sleeping, stress factors, etc. It is, at times, a bit tough to read through. Not the best writer, but a very useful book nonetheless.

  • Once you have gone through a phase of base building, then you can go back to incorporating your faster training into your program. Give it some time and you should be able to improve more.

    Kind regards,

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