Improve my 5k time

by Evaristo Terrones
(Hockley, TX)

Do you think if I stop drinking coke and eating burgers and train 6 days a week, I can drop my time from 19 to 17 minutes in a 5k?

I can't answer with a definitive yes or no. There are simply too many variables. I'll give you a yes and a no and explain each possible situation.

Yes you can. That is if your personal best is around 19:00 and your goal time is around 17:59.

Some other variables that come into play include your current training. How many days a week do you run now? If it is three or four, and you are bumping up to six, that would really help.

The running workouts would have to include probably two harder workouts per week with the rest of the runs just being distance runs but with some sprints that aren't all out, but still quick after most distance runs.

I suggest trying speed play or "fartleks", tempo runs, and of course interval workouts.

As for food, what would you substitute in for your burgers and coke? Are you going to eat whole wheats, and more fruits and veggies? If you just switch from burgers to tacos, that won't help at all. A proper diet for running can make a world of difference.

No you can't. That is if your personal best is around 19:59 and your goal time is around 17:00.

Also, you probably can't if you are already running five days a week with a lot of hard workouts too.

What is your time frame? If you want to improve this much in a month, that's probably a no as well. You would need at least two months if you are young, or even up to a year of consistent quality training if you are older.

I hope all this information helps. Happy trails!

- Coach Tief.

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Dropping my 5k time to sub 20 minutes

Hi, I'm a high school girl who just finished her first season of cross country and winter track (a freshman). I ended the season of cross country with a 23 minute PR but I had a couple of injuries and never had a very good race at the end of the season. However, during winter track I got a 5:14 in the 1500m and we did a 3 mile tempo run on the track in 20:35. I'm doing lacrosse during the spring, but is there any way that I'll be able to train over the summer to get a 20 minute 5k in cross country? I'll do whatever it takes.


There is no reason why you shouldn't be able to run sub 20 in the 5k next year, if you train in the summer. That is a big if though. You have to run this summer. Don't overdo it, but you should be out there running at least five days a week. Another thing you need to be aware of is when you do your summer training, don't just train for mileage. Make sure you run some quicker shorter runs. Sometimes distance runners get stuck on how many miles they ran. It's nice to get in miles, but running a lot of miles at a slow pace only makes for someone who can run slow for a long time. For more tips on what you can do during the summer, visit the Preseason Running Tips Page.

Happy Trails - Coach Tief

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Competitive 5K

by Austin
(Richmond, VA)

On Saturday, I will be running a Regional Championship meet. I am aiming to run a sub-19. The course is flat for mile 1. During mile 2 there is a huge downhill about 2200 meters in, followed by a slight up hill. The course flattens out again until about the 2800M mark. There is GIANT downhill followed by 200 meters of flat running until the 2 mile mark. The start of the 3 mile has a huge hill. Very painful to get up. The remainder of the race is completely flat. Any tips?

Hello Austin,

If you are shooting for sub 19, that means you need to be around six minute pace per mile. For a typical cross country runner, the first mile is their fastest, the second is the slowest, and the last mile tends to pick up a bit.

The way you describe this course makes me believe that the last mile will be your slowest, just because of the course. You need to plan on getting out relaxed but fast for the first mile. I suggest somewhere between 5:45 to 5:55. You had better fly down that down hill in the second mile. Run as fast as you can, so long as you are in control of your body. If you ever feel like you are losing control, lean back a little. I used to destroy runners on downhills. You have to use what the course gives you and downhills are a gift from the cross country gods.

For a realistic shot at sub 19, you need to be at the 2 mile around 12:00. That means if you went out in say, 5:50, your second mile has to be about 6:10. I always say that the second mile makes or breaks your race. You need to find a rhythm, ignore any pain or fatigue and get to the two mile in good time.

The third mile sounds awfully tough, however you need to run in control on this gargantuan uphill. There is no need to blast up an uphill. You get little in return as far as time improvement for the amount of energy you need to put in to power up the hill. The difference lies in how you run at the top of this hill. I always say, go up the hill with the same amount of energy as you run on a flat part of the course, but try to push yourself at the top when it flattens out so you can get back to a good pace. The excitement and adrenaline you get from running a good race will give you a huge boost when you commit to running a fast pace again after the big hill.

This strategy takes a lot of will power. You are going to have to push yourself when everyone else is not willing to do so. The faster you can return to your regular race pace will determine if you are going to run a great race, or if you won't run your goal time. I suggest checking out the Hill Running Article here at tips4running.

Good luck Austin. Start smart in mile one. Stay strong in mile two, and find out what you are made of in the last 1.1 miles!

You can do it!

- Coach Tief

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This article was written by David Tiefenthaler, the founder and main contributor for In addition to running, he's also an author, and a full time teacher.

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