While the 5k is a nice fun run to enjoy, it can also be the perfect chance to work on your running performance before you jump into a longer race like the 10k, half marathon, or marathon.
Getting to break the 18 minute 5k time is an attainable goal for a lot of beginner and advanced runners alike.
Let’s see how you can boost your pace safely before the upcoming 5k!
How Fast Do You Need to Be to Break the 18 Minute 5K Time?
The 5k is around 3.1 miles. That means that to get the whole track done in 18 minutes, you have to go at an average mile time of 5 minutes 46 seconds.
If you want to finish under the 18-minute mark, you’ll have to go even faster than that. Keep in mind that this net time should include any rest intervals you take in between the laps.
It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s not a far-fetched goal if you have experience with endurance and aerobic exercise. In fact, elite runners usually aim to finish the 5k in under 15 minutes!
How to Prepare to Run a Sub 18 Minute 5K Race
Here’s how you can get closer to breaking the 18-minute mark:
1. Pick an Approach
If you want to break the 18-minute mark for the next 5k race, you can either go for quality or quantity in your running sessions.
Going for quantity means pumping up your mileage to 50 miles or more every week. This obviously means that you’ll need to free up a good chunk of your time for the 5k training plan.
If that’s not possible for you, you can opt for running a shorter mileage at a higher quality. This means making each session more intense.
It all comes down to how hectic your schedule is. So, take a long hard look at your time before you commit to a plan.
2. Give Yourself Enough Time
Whether you’re aiming for mileage or quality workouts, you still need to give yourself enough time to gradually build a faster pace.
Compare your current performance and your goal pace. To safely build up your mile pace, it’s recommended to go for 10% increases per week. Rushing this improvement will only backfire with hitting the wall midway through the 5k track.
Do the math and see how long you’ll need your 5k training plan to be. Don’t forget to factor in the taper period, but we’ll get to that in a hot minute.
It’s even better to add a flatline week every month where you maintain your current pace to let the performance boost set in.
3. Don’t Ditch the Interval Training
Interval running means breaking up your sessions into intense laps with rest periods in between and occasional strides. It’s a highly effective method that many runners swear by.
Yet, some people fall into the mistake of thinking that ditching the rest intervals is the way to become a faster runner.
The issue here is that these low-intensity periods, even if under a minute, are crucial to maintaining the same efficiency throughout the sessions and keeping muscle fatigue away.
Cutting those laps might show you a temporary increase in running pace, but as you progress, you’ll have to slow down eventually.
When you consider the time you’ll need to waste just to overcome a cramped and overworked muscle, those short rest intervals won’t seem so bad after all!
That’s why it’s important to hold on to a structured interval run when you’re planning for a competitive 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon. In the end, it’ll boost your net running time and not hold you back.
4. Aim for Two Speed Workouts per Week
If you want to run the 5k sub 18 minutes, you’ll need to go above and beyond with no less than two days focused on speedwork.
One of those speed workouts should mainly include short intervals, while the other should be all about long intervals.
If your schedule forces you to pick quality over quantity, you’ll have to push yourself further during those short interval training sessions.
All in all, the hard effort laps should average around 5% of your mileage per week, and it needs to include a healthy variety of exercises.
A mix of hill repeats, sprints, roller coasters, and running fartleks is a good place to start, even if the 5k is a flat race.
5. Ace Your Tempo Runs
Tempo runs are a bit harder than interval runs and easy jogs, but they are the true test of your endurance.
The typical tempo run starts with a 5-minute warm-up that progresses to an uninterrupted run on the race pace and ends with a short cool-down session.
A good method to follow is doing three-mile repeats slightly faster than your goal pace. Since doing an 18 minute 5k is equivalent to a mile time of 5 minutes and 46 seconds or 5.8 minutes, you might want to go for 5:25.
Pumping up the pace above the goal is particularly useful for those on a tight schedule and who choose quality over quantity. Either way, you’ll want no less than one tempo run per week.
In the case of your typical 5k training plan, the whole thing shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. It’s a very short but focused workout session.
6. Easy Runs Are Your Best Friends
Besides your tempo run, you’ll need to schedule two or three easy run sessions every week. Use them to run for 30-minutes in a comfortable place and cover a little over the 5k distance.
Don’t forget to implement the interval running strategy here, too. To do that, you can cut up the distance over four or five repeats with a few minutes of rest in between.
It could sound counterproductive to go for an easy run when you’re trying to boost your race pace.
However, they are an essential part of any training, from the marathon to the 5k runner. Without low-intensity runs, you’ll burn out very quickly and ditch the training program.
Since it keeps your heart rate just high enough, a long but easy run one day after an intense workout gives you room for recovery. It might also help with lymphatic drainage!
7. Don’t Over Stretch Your Long Runs
Some people think that if they can run 18 miles or more in a single day, then it’ll be easy to break the 18 minute 5k time. That’s not always true.
Don’t get us wrong, though. It might work if you’re following a high school cross country training style.
However, as a general rule, you want to keep your longest session around 20-25% of your total mileage in any given week. For instance, if you’re doing 60 miles, then you can settle for a long run of 12-15 miles.
Remember that the 5k is a fun run compared to the marathon. Exaggerating your long run won’t help your pace significantly, and it might wear you out faster.
Instead, you’ll want to give more attention to the other running sessions to boost your pace. So, cut up this effort along the week.
8. Evaluate Your Performance (Over and Over Again)
While it’s crucial to have a diverse mix of workouts in your 5k training plan, you can customize things a bit depending on your own performance.
Look back at your trials in previous races. Try to also evaluate yourself week by week along with your training program.
What is it that’s holding you back from finishing the 5k track in under 18 minutes? Do you lack the endurance to avoid hitting the wall early on, or is your pace itself not good enough?
This will help you focus on your weakest points.
For one, you might need to increase your rest laps if you struggle to keep the target race pace long enough. You could also use more speed workouts in your training.
On the other hand, if you hit the wall early, your glycogen stores could be depleting fast as a result of an inadequate pre-run meal. It might also be caused by an overworked body.
In this case, you can pay attention to fueling up carbohydrates before running the race and extend your taper to give your muscles a chance to heal.
9. Adjust Your Goals as You Go
If you’re close to the taper and still struggle with your interval and tempo runs, it might be time to re-evaluate your goals. You can take things back a notch and add 10-20 secs to your current goal mile time.
Don’t let it discourage you, though. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be able to complete a sub-18 minute 5k run. It only means that it’ll take you a tad bit more training.
We get that it’s tough to back down from your goal. However, there’s no shame in adjusting your goals for now. The next time you try, it’ll be much easier since you’ve already gone far in your endurance training.
10. Finish Up With a Taper
The last portion of any training plan should be dedicated to tapering, even if you feel like the extra time could give you time to boost your pace.
For a marathon, you need a long taper of around four weeks long, and a half marathon comes with at least two weeks of tapering. Meanwhile, a single week might be enough for the 5k race.
Tapering doesn’t mean putting aside your running shoes and laying on the couch, though.
You can still run but at a lower intensity, depending on how much recovery your muscles need. Generally, you might need to cut your average mileage by 25-50%.
Taking enough rest and doing only a short run the day before the race day can help you perform better. Think of it as a recuperation period before you jump back on track!
Final Thoughts On How to Break the 18 Minute 5K Time
Breaking the 18 minute 5k time isn’t all that difficult as long as you have some experience running competitive races.
It’s all about knowing how far you can push your limits and when to flatline for a bit.
In the long run, working on your mile time is crucial for a runner before advancing to longer races like the 10k race or a half marathon. Just take things slowly and try to have a blast!