How to Improve Your parkrun Time

Some people do parkrun every week, trying their hardest and expecting to get quicker. That approach might work for a while but eventually you’ll reach a plateau.

The best way to achieve a new personal best (PB) is with some structured training rather than trying to go faster every Saturday. Giving it your all week in week out is hard work! Even elite runners don’t race every week so why would it be a good idea for recreational runners?! Some interval type training that is specific to the demands of the 5k (3.1 mile) distance of parkrun would be better. Here’s an example of how you can use interval training to help you improve.

runner at parkrun

Improve your parkrun PB

Let’s imagine you are aiming to get under 20 minutes for your 5k with your PB something like 20.05 (this means very recent PB not one you set 6 months ago). To run 5k in 20 minutes you need to run every kilometre in 4 minutes* (5 x 4 = 20)
* obviously you can change this depending on your current results eg 1km in 5 minutes if training for a 25 minute PB

I’d be certain that you could run one kilometre in under 4 minutes, the problem you have is running five of them back to back at that pace. You don’t need to train to run faster but to maintain an achievable pace for longer.

Interval Training Sessions for parkrun

Ideally these will be done on a measured track but modern GPS watches will allow you to find a 1 kilometre loop, it might even be part of your parkrun course. Find a flat area without sharp turns or anything else that will force you to slow down. Always do ten minutes of easy running and some dynamic stretching to warm up first.

Week 1: 5 x 1km in 4 mins with 2 min recoveries
(That means run one kilometre in four minutes then have two minutes rest. Do exactly the same four more times. You will have run a total of five kilometres in twenty minutes but split up by 2 minute recovery breaks)

Week 2 – repeat week 1

Week 3: 2km in 8 mins then 3 x 1km in 4 mins with 2 minute recoveries

Week 4: 3 x 1km in 4 mins then 2km in 8 mins with 2 minute recoveries

 Week 5: 3km in 12 mins then 2 x 1km in 4 mins with 2 minute recoveries

 Week 6: 3km in 12 mins then 2km in 8 mins with 2 minute recovery

 Week 7: 4km in 16 mins then 1km in 4 mins with 2 minute recovery

 Week 8: Park Run, aiming for 5km in 19.59 – you’ll find that extra second!

Many runners get their pacing wrong, setting off at a pace that they can’t maintain and then slowing down as they fatigue, this applies both whilst doing the interval training and on the actual parkrun. The first rep shouldn’t feel too hard and you might be tempted to go faster – don’t! It takes practice to learn to run at the desired pace so don’t expect to get it spot on first time. You could use a GPS enabled watch to help with your pacing but it is also really good if you can learn to “run by feel” which means judging your pace based on the effort you are putting in. When you come to do parkrun aiming for your PB then you might want to set your watch to give you your km splits if you don’t trust running by feel. It is better to go slightly slower for the first half and then speed up than to set off too fast and try not to fade!

interval training graph

it can take a while to get pacing right!

This isn’t the only running you should do! You also need to be doing around three other easy runs a week, ideally including a long run and maybe a little bit of faster paced running. Just training at faster paces such as sprints or 400 metre intervals isn’t particularly effective as they aren’t specific to the demands of the 5k – they will teach you how to run fast but won’t help you maintain a moderately fast pace for 20 minutes! You also need to be patient, fitness improvements occur as a result of long term, consistent training not one off hard sessions.

It doesn’t mean you can’t do parkrun every week, you can but you need to swallow your ego and treat it as an easy run and not worry about your time or who finishes ahead of you!

Note that this is not the only approach to getting faster, it is is just one example, there are lots of other ways to manipulate the session for example by reducing the recovery times. Some people might need longer than eight weeks, others less, much depends on your experience, level of fitness and training background. Regardless, it is a much better approach than trying to smash your PB every week.

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