5 Tips for a Sub 20 Minute 5K

A Quick Story

I had a lot of ideas floating around for a post today. You know, something in the ‘norm’ for End of Three Fitness. However, I hate that there is a norm…Did you know I think of 90% of my posts while working out? There is a lot to be said about having a muse.

Anyway, tonight I was returning some vanilla that I had borrowed from a neighbor for a paleo pancake recipe (that I will be sharing tomorrow), and I had an epiphany. I haven’t been out of my comfort zone in a while. Yea, I have been flat on my back gasping for air and have even collapsed once this week from my legs giving out on me due to muscle fatigue, BUT that doesn’t mean I have been out of my comfort zone.

What caused this epiphany? Greg.

Greg hangs out in a place I like to call endurance eliteville. His lungs are a lot like the honey badger, they don’t give a s***!! I’ve seen this dude run a freaking 5 minute mile AFTER a two mile warm-up run, 4×400 sprints, 4×800 sprints, then he did a fast sprint mile. Crazy!

Back to they story, I was at his house and I said, “Greg give me 5 tips for a sub 20 minute 5K”. Without hesitation and a mere look to the sky he spit out some pretty impressive tips in about 22 seconds. You know how I know this means he knows what he is talking about? Albert Einstein.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

-Albert Einstein

It is only the people who can quickly and simply explain something to you that are the ones who know what they are talking about. If I asked that question to some mediocre endurance athlete I probably would have got an answer like “Well it depends…blah, blah, blah”.

5 Tips to Take Your Fun Run to the Next Level

1.) Hydrate

  • A lot of people think the 5K is such a short race that hydration is not as important. Wrong! Hydration for even the shortest races is still important. Especially is you want to get to that sub 20 minute level we are talking about. Make sure you are drinking enough water days before the race. Need some more info on hydration? Check out the article below.
  • How Much Water Should I Drink for CrossFit? For Life?

2.) Negative Splits

  • Another big issue with people wanting to run a fast 5K is going too fast too early. People feel like they can just kill the race and they try to keep a ridiculous and unachievable pace for the full 5K. This will only lead to burn out and it is not beneficial. Greg said learning how to effectively run negative splits in a 5K is key to getting that fast time.
  • Runner’s World: The Positive of Negative Splits 

3.) Run More Than the Race

  • If you are training for a 5K that doesn’t mean run a 5K everyday, or worse, run less than a 5K and plan on the “X-Factor” making an appearance on race day. You need to mix it up with different distances, intervals, hills etc..But most of all make sure you can maintain an uncomfortable pace past the race distance. This will not only help out your conditioning a ton, but it will also help you mentally. Because if you have already been there you won’t be scared.
  • Decent and Generic Tips for a 5K from Runner’s World 

4.) Speed Work

  • One of my favorites. Greg has dabbled in a lot of different training programs and he has found speed work, if done correctly, is one of the most beneficial. I have actually covered this one with Greg before. He gave me the ultimate speed workout so make sure you read the post below.
  • The Speed Workout for Any Distance: “Guts”

5.) Have Fun

  • Last but not least, have fun. If you can’t find any fun in what you do you will soon despise what you do. Make sure you have a good time when you are running a race. Get a free t-shirt, take some good pics, and have a great time!

Race tips? Questions for Greg? How do you have fun in a race? Add it to comments!


  • http://twitter.com/Its_Samakka Custard’Cream

    Highly interesting. I’m attempting to run a 5k under 20 minutes, and this has really helped me out. Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/jonahj Jonah Ellison

    #5 is worthless filler… It’s easy to have fun, but when I race I want to “see God” and cross the finish line using every last ounce of energy!

    • http://endofthreefitness.com/ Jerred

      For a true racer, that is fun…

    • http://twitter.com/the5krunner the5krunner

      The again having fun might produce endorphins which might help you relax and conserve just a little bit of energy for that last sprint to the line for a PB.

    • tenchu

      It isn’t pointless – genuinely enjoying working out can help get through pain barriers etc and motivate you to jog when your body tells you it doesn’t want to .

  • Cecil

    I do think a short answer probably shows lack of thought/consideration moreso than a strong knowledge. The true short answer is: it depends on the runner. I’ve ran many a sub-20 5k but the training was different for each race based on how my training foundation was at the time + body weight (fat) + time til race. Etc. It’s dangerous and shortsighted to assume there is a quick answer for this. Unfortunately, this is not even possible for many runners. I definitely don’t recommend giving it a shot unless you’ve run a 5k before and have some training under your belt. Otherwise you will get injured.

    • http://endofthreefitness.com/ Jerred


    • http://twitter.com/the5krunner the5krunner

      A sub20 5k is trivial for some and impossible for others. Most people could do it if they put their mind to it. The points made are valid enough but obviously not exhaustive.

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  • S Liu

    I have been digging around these posts for sometime now and I feel like I should add something. I have been a long-distance cross-country runner for around 4 years. But in the last few years, I have been working diligently on strength and saw that when the bench goes up, the miles come down. But in the last few months I have seen significant gains on both grounds, for example I ran a decent 19:38 5k while going up 80lbs on my deadlift. Honestly, I feel like there is one more point to be added here and that is the difference between intensity and length. Very few people can run like your friend Greg and that takes years of practice to gain that work capacity. One method I have found that works is working at high intensities for a short time. Essentially it is the 400m that determines your speed in a 5k. So for example, if I run my 400s in lets say 1:20. If my body adjusts itself to that speed then 1:30 actually seems substantially easier even though there is not much of a time difference. Therefore, if I use 1:30 as my speed for a 5k, my 5k will be a 18:00 which is quite fast. In summary, speed trumps endurance with the 5k. What are your thoughts?

  • Greg Donaldson

    Thanks for the tips- I love this post – I will achieve a sub 20 believe me! And guess what – my name is GREG!

    • http://endofthreefitness.com/ Jerred

      Haha awesome! Do it!

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