20 Minute 5K Pace: Sub 20 Minute 5K Training Plan & Tips
Runners come in all shapes and sizes and run at very different paces. Although to some of us (I’m speaking for myself here, folks), the idea of breaking 20 minutes for a 5K race seems completely unobtainable, many, many people are knocking on the door of hitting that goal.
If you are hoping to run a 20 minute 5K, we have some great advice for you.
What is a Respectable 5K Time?
To consider a respectable 5K time, you need to consider different factors. Things that should be factored in are:
- overall fitness
- running experience
- former injuries
Beginners run a 5K in somewhere from 30 – 45 minutes. While some people might scoff at that, remember that everyone has to start somewhere.
If you search for a good 5K, you will find the 25:00 minute mark as one many runners aim for.
Men’s average 5k run time by age and ability
Women’s average 5k run time by age and ability
What is a Good 5K Time by Age?
In our quest to give you an adequate illustration of a “good” 5K time for runners, it became evident that it needed to be broken down further.
As you can see in the tables above, a good time varies greatly not just by gender but also by experience.
Take me, for example. As a 51-year-old female who has been running fairly steady since 2009, I would expect to run somewhere between advanced and intermediate. My sweet spot is almost dead in the middle of these two times.
My time inches is just faster than the advanced numbers when I am in deep training. When I am just running for fun, I slow down by a couple of minutes.
What’s the Fastest 5K Time?
The 5K record is astonishingly fast. Joshua Cheptegei holds world record-holders in the 5000-meter run with 12:35.36 for the men and Letesenbet Gidey with a 14:06.62 for women.
Let’s discuss the men first. When you run a 5K in 12 minutes 35 seconds, that averages a pace of 4:04 per mile. If that sounds blazing, it is because it is.
Wondering about the women? The 14:06 for women averages out to a pace of 4:33 per mile. Hard to wrap your head around.
Is 20 Minutes Good for a 5K?
Running a 5K in 20 minutes is quite a feat. A 20 minute 5K average pace is 6:27 per mile pace.
Sure, that is a far cry from a world record, but that is also wicked fast for us mere mortals! So forget “good for a 5K.”
I would go so far as to say it is great for a 5K.
How Hard is it to Run a 20 Minute 5K?
Breaking the 20-minute barrier requires a lot of hard work. Honestly, the task’s difficulty does depend on what you are starting with. If you are currently at a 30 minute 5K, a sub 20 5K would feel very difficult to reach.
You need to ask yourself where you are starting and set yourself reasonable and obtainable goals that you can work toward in chunks.
How to Run a Faster 5K: 7 Key Tips
No matter your current ability level, there are 7 basic tips that can help you run a faster 5K.
Things to implement include:
- Build Endurance: One of the best ways to build endurance is to run more miles, both at a clip and your weekly/monthly total.
- Increase Speed: There are different ways to work on increasing your speed. Incorporating speed workouts into your regiment, as well as tempo runs and pace work, will help you lower your times.
- Strength Train: Spending time building strength, including some dedicated core work, is very important to becoming a stronger runner and reaching your goal pace.
- Drills: Running drills help you get better, more efficient form and can also help you improve your running pace.
- Respect the Rest: Giving proper respect to your rest, both rest days from working out and getting enough sleep will also help you improve.
- Fuel Your Body: Good nutrition is another step on the rung of a ladder to success. Fuel your body properly to stay strong and see gains.
- Mental Prep: To see your times go down, you need to lean into the pain. The mental side of this is a real thing, folks.
20 Minute 5K Training Plan
Wondering how to run a 5K distance in 20 minutes? There are some great plans out there for advanced runners.
Hal Higdon has a fantastic advanced 5K training plan:
|1||3 mi run||5 x 400||Rest or easy run||30 min tempo||Rest||4 mi fast||60 min run|
|2||3 mi run||8 x 200||Rest or easy run||30 min tempo||Rest||4 mi fast||65 min run|
|3||3 mi run||6 x 400||Rest or easy run||35 min tempo||Rest||5 mi fast||70 min run|
|4||3 mi run||9 x 200||Rest or easy run||35 min tempo||Rest or easy run||Rest||5K Test|
|5||3 mi run||7 x 400||Rest or easy run||40 min tempo||Rest||5 mi fast||75 min run|
|6||3 mi run||10 x 200||Rest or easy run||40 min tempo||Rest||6 mi fast||85 min run|
|7||3 mi run||8 x 400||Rest or easy run||45 min tempo||Rest||6 mi fast||90 min run|
|8||2 mi run||6 x 200||30 min tempo||Rest or easy run||Rest||Rest||5K Race|
Advice From The Average Runner
The first thing that warrants mention here is that these men and women are not elite runners… they are people like you and me. They are working moms and dads. They drive, carpool, and take their kids to soccer practice.
They are fast, but these men and women quoted here are not paid runners.
Here is what they have to say:
Matt Hall has this to say, “When I was young, I ran a 5k in the 17:00 range right after a simple warm-up. Since I got old and started running again, my PR has been 20:10. There are both mechanical and psychological aspects of running fast. First and foremost, be patient and get faster in increments.
If your last 5k was 30:00, shoot for 28:00 in your next one and 26:30 after that. Work your way down over a year. You have to be strong – run hills (uphill AND downhill), do stair repeats, do your squats and lunges, and running form drills. Work on increasing your cadence and stride length.
And you HAVE to do speed work – interval training where you are running faster than your target 5k race pace (6:25/mile for sub-20:00). Going out and putting in Zone 2 miles every run won’t get you there – you have to make it suck.
But you also have to WANT to be fast, because there is a lot of work to put in, and you’ll find that the faster you are, the more work you need to put in for the same gains; it’s much easier to go from 10:00/mile to 9:00 than it is to go from 7:00/mile to 6:20.
When you finally think you are in a place to take a legitimate shot at 20:00, do it at a small race, where you have a legit chance of putting yourself on the outright podium with a good finish time; giving yourself the chance to finish right up front on race day is a huge rush.
And last, remember that a 20:00 5k is a goal you will fail at least a few times. We do this by choice, and chasing a better running self is a process. Enjoy the work and keep that goal out there for yourself.”
Mark Ginocchio, “In 2018, I broke 20 in the 5K for the first time at age 37 after having run cross country in high school for 4 years (and coming close but never doing it). So this topic is very near and dear to me.
I found the increased mileage and speed work that came with the marathon and half marathon training I did as an adult made a huge difference, as did a routine strength training program that incorporated lifting heavy weights, cross-training, and plyometrics.
I’ve since taken on a virtual coach and have improved that time (and even subbed 18 once) by improving running economy through very short high-intensity speedwork, aka 1-2 minute interval running faster than a 5K pace, 30-second mile/3K-paced surges in longer runs (7-9 miles), and yes, more weekly mileage overall.”
David Fusfeld speaks on the mental aspect, “One thing that maybe doesn’t get mentioned enough.. you have to want it, on the day. My friends used to talk about something called “taking the deal”: When you’re out there in a race, pushing yourself and suffering it’s very easy to make a deal with yourself such as “maybe I’m ok with just slowing down a little bit, this hurts a lot and maybe today just isn’t the day to run that 19:59”.
Don’t take the deal that your brain is offering – you need to push through it and remember your true target race pace goal is/was and go for it. If you take the deal maybe, you’ll feel a little better in the moment, and maybe you’ll even tell yourself after the race that you’ll be satisfied and happy with the result. Don’t take the deal. Push yourself through all to way to the finish line.”
Maybe a sub 20 minute 5K feels within your grasp, and maybe it does not. The thing is, whatever your current running time and ability, you can likely improve.
If you desire to improve, the will to put forth the effort, and the time to invest, all you need is a good training plan, and you are ready to roll.
Whatever your goals: dream big, friends.
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