6 Reasons Why Your 5K Time Isn’t Improving (And How to Change That)

Download the Transcript

Find this podcast on:

(Or search 'Trees Dlake' in your favourite player)

Want to run a faster 5k? Whether you’ve just done your first or you’re a serious athlete looking to shave a few seconds off your 5k PR, we’ll tell you what you need to do to run that 5k distance faster.

And to all you distance runners, we’re just gonna say it. Love me some distance, but you’d be best gettin’ your 5k time down. It’ll pay off in the longer runs – trust us.

Why a 5k?

Even experienced runners like the 5k because of the speed and challenge. It’s 75%, aerobic, 25% anaerobic, meaning you’ve got to do speed work and think intelligently to get a good time. 

If you just run it and don’t prepare for it, you’re not going to do great. Because let’s be real – a 5k is going to hurt. It’s a distance where you have to push yourself the entire time and that’s lactate building up in your system.

We’ll show you how to prepare so you can do your best.

Faster 5k tip 1: Hit the gym for strength and conditioning

We’re big advocates of getting into the gym for some strength and conditioning work.

If you’re new to the gym, then get a coach because you can hurt yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. And you’ve got to train all parts of your body:

  • Your core holds you together, and if it’s weak, you’re going to collapse in the middle. 
  • Your upper body has to be strong, because your arms drive your legs. Make sure you’re doing pushups and tricep dips, maybe add in bench press and shoulder press.
  • Obviously, your lower legs are crucial. Even though you work them out running, give them a little love in the weight room, too.

Aim for getting to the gym 2 days a week minimum, 20 to 40 minutes. You want to feel a decent burn, but not like you can’t walk the next day. Because running is still more important!

And keep in mind that something’s better than nothing. So just get started.

Faster 5k tip 2: eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet for a runner is about eating the nutrition that will power your body through your exercise routine. It doesn’t mean losing weight (unless you actually need to, keep reading) or being super-skinny.

Don’t you need to be super-skinny to be a fast runner? No. The Kenyans are amazing runners and super light. But you don’t have to look like them to be a great runner. Look at Christian Blumenfeld, who’s just won the Olympics in triathlon, he’s something like 88 kilos – he’s a total powerhouse. He’s got more muscles, but he’s got better oxygen carrying capacity and more power to stay the course. 

If you’re too thin, you’re setting yourself up for problems later. Weak, brittle bones, lack of iron, women stop menstruating. That’s not healthy. A few extra pounds can be an asset.

How do I know if I’m carrying too much weight? Look down. If you’ve got a beer belly, that’s too much. There’s a healthy amount of fat to carry, about 12% for an amateur man and 24% for a woman. For elites, that percentage goes down a little.

Keep in mind that BMI includes muscle mass too, and muscle is useful weight. 

And if you’re really not sure, go ahead and spring for a bone density scan, it’ll give you insight into how your bones are faring.

So, what do I eat? That’s a whole other blog post! Check out 8 science-backed foods for run recovery for our faves.

Remember, it’s all about having a lower stress level, and living a longer, healthier life!

Faster 5k tip 3: don’t run every day

Listen, if you love running every day, we’re not going to stop you. But running daily stresses the body, because you’re not allowing yourself enough time to recover (and recovery is tip 6!).

Let’s say an optimal schedule would be running Monday, Tuesday, Thursday morning and then Friday evening and then one on the weekend.

For your fastest 5k, do 3 aerobic runs. You need to develop your aerobic system to capacity, so that’s runs that are 60-90 minutes. Then, you need a short recovery run – something around 30 minutes is good. A lot of runners skip out here, they push it longer. Don’t. Then it isn’t a recovery run any more. Make your 5th run a 45-minute long VO2 run

Faster 5k tip 4: Get in some speed work

Running a 5k is about pushing hard, the entire run. In that way, it’s different from running a marathon – which sounds hard but ends up being a cruisy pace for most runners.

In a 5k, you have to cope with a large buildup of lactate in your bloodstream and still keep running. And you’ve gotta train to manage that with speed work. 

Use your V02 max run to get in some speed work. Doing intervals gets you there. Listen to watch our episode on vo2 max and improving your vo2max here.

But don’t overdo it. A lot of runners training for a 5k PR want to get out and give it a whirl to see how they’re doing. Depending on a bunch of factors you can race often but I like to do one time trial (anywhere from 1 mile to 5k) about once a month. Mike likes to do a 5k every week. To each is their own.

Faster 5k tip 5: Cross-train

We said you should be only doing 5 runs a week, but lots of people want to exercise more. Great! Get on the bike and cycle. Go swimming. Do some yoga, it’s good for you. Use the rowing machine at the gym.

All of these things are great for building up your aerobic system (except the yoga) and that’ll help with your running. 

The only way to run quicker, is to run fast. But you can actually make yourself stronger and develop the aerobic system cross-training. Swimming and cycling are great because they’re less stressful on the body.

Faster 5k tip 6: Get enough sleep

Let’s just be blunt. Your body needs to recover from exercise.

And a big part of that is sleep. When you get eight hours of sleep a night, you’re giving your body the time to recover so that you can perform your best the next day.

8 hours is a simplification – what you actually need is 7 hours plus one hour for every hour that you train. So if you train for 2 hours, you need 9 hours of sleep. If you haven’t got the time to get more sleep, then don’t do the training because you’re setting yourself up for long-term problems.

Think of sleep like debt. You can dip into your sleep allocation to celebrate a special occasion, but you need to pay it back. Keep it up, and you’re heading for disaster. Eventually, you’ll be like, “Why is this hurting? Why did I tear this? And why am I sick for three months straight? And why do I have this random illness that no one else has in this part of the world?” Well, your body’s just burned down.

Is the health and fitness internet too much sometimes? Yup, we hear you. That’s why we break down the important stuff so you can get real information that you can use to be a better runner. No crap.If you like it, follow us. And if you want to hear our tales from deep in the pain cave, hilarious sleep debt stories, get into a deep dive into acute vs. chronic training load and hear why in the heck Mike and I run.

What You’ll Learn In This Episode

In this episode, Mike gives all of the tips and tricks on running a fast 5k race.

  • From – Strength and Conditioning Training
  • to Dieting
  • to How many and what types of runs you should do each week
  • to Time trialing
  • to Cross training
  • and even touching on the all-important sleep

Notable Quotables

  • “A poorly prepared runner isn’t ready for a 5k if they don’t feel the burn”
  • “Look at sleep as a positive instead of negative – It’s part training. When I get my 8 hours of sleep every night I know I’ll do well”
  • “If you can’t do the sleep and the recovery, you can’t do the training”
  • “The only way to run quicker at short distances is to run fast”

2 Lessons Learned


One Percent Better – SPONSOR

Sign up for the “One Percent Better” newsletter to receive regular motivation and tips for being a better human in endurance sport and wellness.

Click here to sign up now for free.


This episode is brought to you by NRG – Coaching which is Mike Trees’ coaching service. Mike coaches beginners to pros and all levels in between.

No one is too fast and no one too slow. They just want a desire to learn and improve.

They focus on 1,500m to marathon running and triathlon training.

NRG Coaching is constantly overbooked, so Instagram and this new podcast venture, gives Mike and the rest of his NRG coaching team a way to reach out to more people.

Contact mike and his team NRG-COACHING.com for more info