Is Sub-25 Minutes a Realistic Goal?
Last week I wrote about achieving my first major running goal: running a 5k in 30 minutes or less. As soon as I had achieved that first goal, I immediately started work on the next: to continue bringing that time down all the way to 25 minutes.
If you’re a new runner, you might wonder whether a 25-minute 5k is even a realistic goal for you. Of course, it’s all relative. On one hand, for a high school student on their cross country team, this time might seem slow. On the other hand, when I started running, even 30 minutes seemed blazingly fast.
I can reassure you though that I did manage to reach a sub-25 minute time, and I was certainly no perfect specimen of human health. In fact, when I first achieved this goal, I was in my thirties, slightly overweight, and smoking a pack of cigarettes every day (an awful habit that I’ve since dropped).
So, a 25-minute 5k just might be more realistic for you than it sounds.
When I was aiming for a 30-minute 5k, I identified three major changes I made to my running habits in order to start improving my time:
- Consistency: I kept running regularly for months instead of constantly taking breaks.
- Long runs: I started running slightly longer than 5k on most runs, and occasionally would double the distance.
- Fewer time trials: I stopped trying to break my record every week and limited myself to record attempts every few weeks.
In order to hit a sub-25 minute 5k, I built on these same principles.
I remained consistent, making sure to run about the same number of days per week, every week. During this period, I built from running three or four days a week to five or six days a week.
I continued to do long runs, but improved on this practice by starting to run them exactly once a week. I also gradually increased the distance, finally reaching about 10 miles. (I also ran exactly one run of 13.1 miles — a half-marathon distance — during this period, just for fun and to see if I could do it.)
I limited my time trials to once a month. This helped me feel well rested for each one, which in turn allowed me to run it as fast as I possibly could. Between my first sub-30 5k and my first sub-25 5k, I was able to shave off a minute every single month.
In addition to continuing these practices, I added in one incredibly important new technique: strides.
Strides are short, fast bursts of speed that can be done on their own or at the end of a run. To do a stride, you start at a jog and over about 10 to 15 seconds increase your speed until you’re going about as fast as your 5k race-pace. You hold that pace for 30 seconds, then gradually slow back down. In between strides, you can walk until your heart rate returns to normal.
I started adding on two or three strides at the end of nearly every run I did. They helped me get a ton of practice running fast without putting any serious strain on my body.
Strides were my first introduction to any kind of speed work, and they really helped change the way I ran. My running form improved, I got more comfortable with moving quickly, and the strides themselves are incredibly fun to do.
Strides and my monthly time trials were the only speed work I did on my way to a sub-25 minute 5k.
The Sub-25 5k
Improved training alone was enough for me to break the 30-minute 5k barrier, but to run a sub-25-minute 5k, I also had to improve how I ran the 5k itself.
Pacing was my biggest issue. I had a bad habit of starting much faster than I should have, so that I’d need to slow down by the halfway mark. This is an inefficient racing strategy, and was costing me serious time.
A 25-minute 5k averages to a pace of 5:00 min/km or 8:02 min/mile. I think best in terms of miles, so that’s the pace I focused on. (As a side note — I know that any non-Americans reading this probably think it’s crazy how American runners flip back-and-forth between metric and imperial distances. We think it’s a little crazy too.)
To break the 25-minute barrier, I made absolutely sure that I was running my first mile in no less than 8:00 minutes. This ensured that I had enough gas left to finish the 5k without slowing down.
This lesson has stuck with me even as my time has continued to improve: Before any PR attempt, have a goal in mind and know what pace you need to get there. Don’t run faster than that pace in the first mile, no matter how good you feel.
The other thing that I needed to improve was my mental endurance. I realized that I was often finishing my 5k attempts with enough energy left to easily run another half mile. This meant that I wasn’t really giving them my all.
The issue was that I hadn’t learned to push my body to its limit. After years of a sedentary lifestyle, I was drastically underestimating how much my body could take.
My mental endurance was holding me back more than my physical endurance. I needed to learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and then staying there for longer than it feels like I can.
This is something that many of us struggle with, and I’m still working hard to improve my mental endurance during runs.
I ended up breaking the 25-minute barrier just a few months after breaking the 30-minute barrier, with a 24:40 minute time.
If you can run a sub-30 minute 5k, a sub-25 minute time might be closer than you realize. Although a structured training plan could help you get there, even unstructured (but focused) training could be enough. Good luck and happy running!