Five ways to improve your 5km run time

Vary your training

Charlotte Arter, the British 10,000-metre champion and Saucony ambassador, clocked the fastest female Parkrun time in the world in Cardiff earlier this year, at just 15min 50sec. She advises varying runs by length and pace. For three to four runs a week, Arter recommends one faster 5km, broken down into intervals (for example, 10 one-minute or six two-minute bursts, with a short recovery in between); a slower, longer session; and then a couple of 20- to 40-minute runs at a conversational pace.

Get to know your running style

“Everyone runs differently,” says Arter – but experience helps. “The more Parkruns or 5ks you do, the better understanding you have as to what you can tolerate. Experiment – one Parkrun, try going out a bit harder and see what happens.”

Don’t get too caught up with data

It is possible to be “a slave to the watch”, says Arter, but “understanding how you feel when you’re running is important. Some of the best races I’ve done, I’ve just run to feel.” The Team GB and England athletics coach Nick Anderson says he often sees people being too governed by data that may not always be relevant.

Arter suggests concentrating on another runner, say 10 metres ahead, as a way to stay focused – if you catch up with them, look for someone else. If she is really struggling, she will count her steps to 100, then start over. “It just helps take my mind off it.”

Try different routes

The Cardiff Parkrun where Arter set the world record is “dead flat”, she says. “There is no way I’d be able to run that in the Parkruns that are really hilly.” For a new challenge, try some Parkrun tourism. The statistician and runner Tim Grose has ranked the fastest and slowest Parkrun courses in the UK based on last year’s results. Victoria Dock and Hackney Marshes in London were quickest, followed by Worthing in Sussex; Woolacombe Dunes in Devon, Churchfields Farm in Worcestershire and Whinlatter Forest in Cumbria were deemed the toughest.


When you eat before a run is personal preference, but it is important to have something, says Arter, who typically has a bowl of porridge. Making sure you are hydrated long before the run is also key. About 20 minutes before a race, Arter likes to do a 15-minute jog, incorporating some bursts of speed, such as two 90-second hard sprints. “I like to get my heart rate and breathing up, so it’s not a shock to the system when I start.”

As for where to position yourself, being at the front can mean you avoid congestion, but you risk starting too quickly, says Arter. “I think it’s just making sure you’re not too far back. If you’re going to fight through people, you’re never going to run a really quick time.”