How to Run a Sub 20 Minute 5k

So, you want to break 20 minutes in your 5K?

I'm guessing that you're getting pretty serious about running. And you want to know, what are all the tips or all the tricks, what are all the things that the people that have been running forever know?


So, you want to break 20 minutes in your 5K?

I'm guessing that you're getting pretty serious about running. And you want to know, what are all the tips or all the tricks, what are all the things that the people that have been running forever know?

Well, I'm Jesse Funk and today on this episode of Runner’s High, I'm actually going to share with you five of my tips I've learned over my nearly 20 years of competitive running to help you break 20 minutes in your 5K.

20 minutes is an admirable goal. Not everybody is going to be able to make that. But if you're looking at that time, and you think, “Hey, I can do this”, chances are, you probably have the physical capability to actually make it. So, if you listen carefully, follow my tips, you are going to make it.

Number one, and this comes with a little controversy, lose some weight.

Now, there's a lot of back and forth in the running community with how much should you weigh. And generally, people think lighter is better. Not necessarily the case. When I'm telling you to lose some weight, it basically comes from a place of thinking that you are relatively new to the sport, and you're probably carrying some excess body fat.

When you get rid of the excess body fat become leaner, you become more efficient. The whole thing about becoming a lighter has to do with the amount of power you produce for how much you weigh. It's not always the case of being lighter.

Take me for example, when I was in high school and started running my freshman year, I weighed 135 pounds, very skinny, very light, but not necessarily super quick. As my high school career progressed, I got a little bit heavier. I actually raced up to 145 in high school. So, I gained 10 pounds and I got a little faster.

Then in college, I went up to 155 and got even faster when I finally got down to running into the 15’s.

Now, post college, I've been doing triathlon and I weigh about 165 now and and maintained some of that similar speed from college. So, a lot of it has to do with how powerful you are PR the amount of body weight.

So lose weight is my number one suggestion for getting under 20 minutes for 5K, if you got excess body weight.

Now, how do you figure that out?

I'm a big fan of Matt Fitzgerald's, Racing Weight. So you can Google this, Racing Weight has a website, a calculator. You can put in your stats, your body fat percentage, your height, your weight, all the kind of things you need to know. And Matt helps you figure out what kind of weight is your optimal racing weight. And that will tell you whether you should gain/lose weight, and kind of how optimize your body for performance.

Number two, increase mileage. This is the dreaded part of anybody looking for a quick, easy fix. Because increasing mileage takes time. It's not simply a matter of, “Okay, I'm going to jump into 50 mile weeks and then I'm going to be busting down that 20 minute number really fast.”

When you increase mileage, you've probably seen this recommendation before, don't increase more than 10% per week. You also have to keep in mind that you need a period as a schedule.

So, when my coach writes my schedule, we're on a two, one. So, two weeks of heavy work, one week of recovery.

For the longest time, I was on a schedule of three, one where we did three weeks of work one week of recovery. You're going to have to figure out what works for you, and it's it takes a little bit of experimentation.

As you're increasing mileage, that 10% maybe more or less than you can actually handle. And this is where RPE or Rate Perceived Exertion comes into play.

It's important to keep track of how you actually feel on each run, whether you feel fatigue, whether you feel fresh, and track what you're doing. If you're increasing that mileage, you still feel good, stick with that 10%. It's a good judge to figure out how to continue forward.

Now, if you are not feeling good, you're feeling fatigued, you're feeling tired, lethargic, you got a little twinge is a pain, all those kind of things, then slow it down. Try 5% tried 8% and back off a little bit on that mileage increase.

The whole goal with increasing mileage is that you're going to be more efficient over time, and be able to more effectively use your body, aerobically so that you can get under that 20 minute barrier.

My third tip, improve your form. This has been harped on endlessly. You've probably read Born to Run, if you haven't, or you missed out on the whole barefoot craze, then pick up a copy of Born to Run. It's a great book.

But it kind of belies the fact that we are unsure of exactly how we're supposed to be running. And we think that shoes are the enemy. In fact, shoes don't have to be the enemy. There is a, what I would call a proper or natural running form, which I'm going to show you in a future video. So, stay tuned for that.

Don't forget to hit the subscribe button so that in the future, as you are continuing forward trying to break that 20 minute mark, I'm going to be able to help you and share all the knowledge I've accumulated over the last almost 20 years of competitive running.

So, improving form is something that swimmers focus on all the time. Because in the water, the water actually forces your body to work harder than air. It's somewhat simplistic of a view to say that, but that's why swimmers focus so much on form; they have to be more efficient to move faster.

And there's a limiter there physically because the water is so much denser than air. And we don't think about that, as runners because, you know, this is our natural environment. The world water, not the natural environment for human.

But on land, this is what we do. We are born to run. I mean, that's how the book is titled, you know, and I would agree that.

Now, why improve your form?

Well, you want to use your body's capacity to its maximum effectiveness. If you don't improve your form, you don't become more efficient, then you're hitting your head against a brick wall, trying to break it without actually doing the best work that you can.

It's like trying to break down this brick wall using a hammer, it said a sledgehammer or a jackhammer, or something that's more effective at doing the actual work.

My fourth tip is going to be to improve your efficiency. Now you're saying, “Jesse, didn't you freakin just say improve your form?”

Yes. Okay. I did just say, improve your form. When I say improve your efficiency is helping your muscles fire in the correct pattern with that good form, so that you're maximizing power to the ground, and propulsion forward.

Well, how do you increase your efficiency if it's not just a matter of improving your form?

Plyometrics are really the answers to that. Plyometrics break down many of the motions that we do in running into bite sized bits, and help us make those muscles fire in that particular pattern that mimics what we want to do and running.

Again, subscribe to the channel, stay tuned, I'm going to be covering ply metrics in several different videos. Because there are several different sets that I've done over the years; high school, college, post college working with Olympic level athlete and coach and her suggestions on that.

So, I'm going to cover all those ply metrics as we go through the Runner's High series here. But efficiency and form work together to make you go faster. They're the biggest component to making you as fast as you possibly can be physically.

Number five, here we are. We're at the end of the list. So, you've lost some weight, you've increased your mileage, you've improved your form and your efficiency, what is there left to do?

Well, at this point, this is when you need to start adding in speed work. That means if you want to run a 20 minute mile or 19:59, in this case, you need to break that down and figure out what your pace is.

Start doing intervals at or slightly faster than that pace. Intervals can be broken up to a variety of workout. So, depends on your particular fitness level.

If I was starting with somebody absolutely new, and you wanted to know, “Jesse, what would you recommend is my very first workout?”

Start with something super, super simple, say 200 meters, and do reps of 200 meters. A very short rest interval, say 30 seconds.

Take your race pace, 200 meters 30 seconds rest and do that for a 5K. And then over time, you'll increase that, you'll go 400 meters at the same pace, 800 meters, 1000 meters, mile reps.

Now, there's a lot of suggestions on how you want to increase that. And it's more than I can get into today because various coaches do in various ways. I've worked with athletes doing in various ways. But know that you want to break it into bite sized chunks.

Don't bite off more than you can chew as they say, you want to start small, build your way up. And as you're increasing those mileage is it your intervals, you want to be able to go the same speed or even faster than before.

It's all about consistency, and incremental improvement. So maybe today, you know, your 400 is a 92nd interval. And then next week, you can hit 89’s.

It may not seem like a whole lot. But in the 10 years of your career, if you're adding up incremental improvements, you will make leaps and bounds over a period of time that you'll actually look back on and say, “Wow, that was a very, very short period of time for me to increase that much speed.”

I actually want to give you a sixth tip today. And this is important to me something that took me a long time to really figure out and get right. And I think a lot of athletes miss out on so you're probably missing out on it. And that's get your head in the right space.

What do I mean by that?

Everybody has a different kind of look, outlook on racing and what their motivation is.

Now, it took me a long time, I would say six, seven years to really figure out how I had my best race. What was it that, you know, triggered me to relax and go the fastest I possibly could?

I tried various things. There were times in high school where I'd be getting ready to run, my parents would be in the stands and after the race, they would tell me, “Man, you looked really pissed off.”

No, I wasn't pissed at all. I was just trying to focus and focus on my game.

But what I found out over time for me, was it when I set a goal, I said, coach, these are the splits, I'm going to run. This is what I'm going to do. I had my game plan and I said, but ultimately, what I want to do today is have fun, and I set that goal and then let it go.

That allowed me the freedom to be the fastest and I always had my best races when I didn't care anymore. I let myself fail if I was going to which opened up the possibility that I could succeed at or faster than the pace I'd ever looked for.

So, hit subscribe, stay tuned to this channel for more episodes of Runner's High, and I'm going to help you be the best runner you can be. I'll see you next time.

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