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Lacing up before a 5k race

How to run a sub-20 minute 5k with 6-weeks training

Running a sub 20 minute 5k is no mean feat and it’s something that many keen runners aspire to do. To break the 20 minute barrier, you need to have a solid base level of fitness, but you also need to ensure you’ve done sufficient training beforehand.

So, whether your training for a competitive 5k race, a Saturday morning park run, or you’re just looking for some Strava kudos, our 5k training plan will help you towards hitting your next goal and ensure that you’re in the best place possible to smash the 20 minute mark.

How fast do I need to run 5k to go sub-20?

Well, if you run exactly 4:00 minutes / km, then you’ll be dead on that 20 minute mark. Of course, there are many ways to actually run a sub 20 minute 5k, but we’d recommend keeping it consistent and aiming to hit 3:58 or 3:59 minutes / km.

Running your first 1k in 3:30 minutes is all well and good, but come that 3k mark (when the pain tends to kick in), you’re going to regret it. So, to ensure you’re really hitting that consistency with your running, we’ve included a number of different types of exercises in our plan, including tempo running, hill sprints, and strength workouts.

Before we get started, here’s a quick glossary of the terms included in the training plan:

  • Endurance: Simply put, this is any run over the 5k mark. This will help to build up your heart strength, get miles in your legs, and improve base-level fitness.
  • Easy: Your easy pace should be about 65% of your 5k time. So, in this case, around 5:00 minute / km. You should be able to chat throughout this pace.
  • Moderate: Given the goal, your moderate runs should be around 4:30 / km. You likely can’t hold a regular conversation at this pace.
  • Hill Sprints: Try to find a hill that allows for 2 mins worth of uphill running, then an easy jog down for recovery.
  • Workout: Your workouts are crucial for building up speed. Check out our strength training exercises for runners, to get started.
  • Rest: This is perhaps the most important part of your training. Check out some of our yoga routines for good things to do on days off.


Right, we’re ready to go. Lace up and strap in, in only 6 weeks you’ll be running a sub-20 minute 5k.

6 week sub-20 5k training plan

MonTuesWedsThursFriSatSun
1RestRun
4 x 1k @ 4:00/
km with 90s
recovery
RestRun
6 x 800m @
3:15/km, 200m
recover
RestWorkoutRun
8k endurance
2RestRun
10 x 400m @
93s/400m
Run
30 min easy
Run
Hill sprints 30
min (everyone’s
favorite)
Run
20 min
moderate
WorkoutRun
11k endurance
3RestRun
Hill sprints 30
min
Run
35 min easy
WorkoutRun
6 x 800m @
3:15/km, 200m
recover
WorkoutRun
15k endurance
4RestRun
4 x 1k @ 3:55/
km with 60s
recovery
Run
20 min easy
RestRun
10 x 400m @
93s/400m
WorkoutRun
11k endurance
5RestRun
25 min easy
Run
5k in 4:10/km
RestRun
30 min easy
WorkoutRun
7k endurance
63 x 1k @ 3:45/
km with 60s
recovery
Run
30 min easy

Run
5 x 600m fast +
300m sprint, 30
sec recovery
Run
20 min easy
with 5 min hard
in the middle
Rest15 min easyRace Day!

Prefer a printed version or downloadable PDF? Check out our full – and entirely free – 5k training plan below.

Nutrition

Doing the correct training for a sub-20 minute 5k is only one part of the equation. It’s also important that you give your body the correct fuel to power you through. To help, we’ve put together a brief list of some great nutritional tips ahead of the big day.

Find Your Routine

In the lead up to a big race, it’s important to start as you mean to finish. The worst thing you can do is change your diet suddenly on race day. Given the distance, you shouldn’t required energy gels or substitutes. However, the same principles still apply – don’t decide to try something new the day, or even the week before your big day.

Complex Carbs

Complex carbs are your greatest friend. Wholewheat pasta, brown bread, potatoes, fruit, porridge and healthy grains with lots of slow release energy will keep you going through the ‘wall’. They’re packed full of nutrients such as fibre, vitamin C and calcium.

Pre Race

Carb loading is definitely one of the best parts of racing, but it’s important not to overdo it – especially when you’re going to the quick sub 20 minute 5k. Go bananas on the pasta the night before and you might end up
feeling sluggish on race day.

Race Day

If you’re used to having a cup of coffee before a race, do it. Keep your routine. We recommend a good hearty
breakfast, avoid high fat foods like dairy and meats, keep it relatively plain with porridge/toast/fruit.


Ready to smash that 5k time? What better place to do so than at an event. Check out what 5k races are coming up near you.

Share the excitement!

Born and raised in Scotland, Aidan is an avid trail-runner and wannabe cyclist. Having only got into endurance sports a couple of years ago, he loves the sense of adventure and freedom they provide.

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