Ultra-runner Flo Neuschwander on the move.
© Phil Pham/Red Bull Content Pool

Pro tips on how to improve your 5km running time

Planning on running a 5k or even setting a new personal best? This advise from a pro ultrarunner will get you right up to speed.
Written by Victoria Knowles
5 min readUpdated on
Florian Neuschwander’s Run with the Flow crew has won the team category at the Wings for Life World Run multiple times. With more than 800 team-mates on his side, he knows how to encourage others. One tip the team captain likes to give out to rookie runners is that 5k is the best distance to target.
Neuschwander says the next challenge is knocking your time down, minute by minute, second by second. To help, he's got some tips to get your 5k under control – and maybe even under 30 minutes!
Armed with tips, are you ready to take on a running challenge where you can move for good? Run for those who can't at the Wings for Life World Run on May 5 2024 and outrun the Catcher Car for as long as you can! Find out how you can take part and sign up here.

Start doing 2k and 10k runs

Slaying the 5k isn't just about running 5k all the time. The name of the game is increasing your aerobic ability while building an internal battery that never dies. "Mixing up your 5ks with longer 7.5k to 10k runs and shorter 2k to 3k ones can improve your stamina and your speed," says Neuschwander .
Neuschwander runs in Germany during the Wings for Life World Run 2021

Short or long runs can help improve stamina

© Flo Hagena for Wings for Life World Run


HIIT it up

If you want to boss your 5k time without necessarily hitting the pavement several times per week, you might try high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It's basically combining vigorous exercise e.g. sprinting on the spot or cycling as fast as you can with brief rests.
Studies suggest it could even have better gains for your cardiovascular ability than continuous endurance training. "Cycling is something I do myself for cross-training," says Neuschwander. "High-intensity bursts can be one way to squeeze in training on those days when you're pressed for time."
While you're training, try weaving five-minute intervals of threshold running into your longer run
Florian Neuschwander rides his bike in Inzell, Germany on July 20, 2020

Florian Neuschwander also cycles for some high-intensity bursts

© Phil Pham / Red Bull Content Pool


Don't aim for a PB on every single run

"Nobody likes to run full-throttle more than me, but sometimes, to run faster you actually need to run slower – as long as you do it regularly," Neuschwander advises.
Easy runs are a surprisingly effective way to build your fitness and although it's tempting to drop these from your schedule, they're important for healing and for being able to run more often, as well as for balancing out the more intense stuff.

Think about your heart rate

To run harder for longer, you might consider threshold running. Rather than concentrating on pace, you're looking at effort – what fitness folks say is comfortably hard and below your optimum 5k time. "Pace is still important and when you want to plan for the Wings for Life World Run on May 5, there's a Goal Calculator to help you figure that out," Neuschwander notes. "But while you're training, try weaving five-minute intervals of threshold running into your longer run." Over time you might increase the intervals to 10 minutes or longer.
Florian Neuschwander runs in Inzell, Germany on July 20, 2020

Interval training keeps the heart rate up

© Phil Pham/Red Bull Content Pool


Turn mountains into molehills

Running up hills is a skill set in itself. Rather than thinking about it as a measurement of how much energy you have, compare it to squatting or lifting weights – that's kind of what’s happening to your leg muscles. If you make your regular 5k a hilly route, Neuschwander says: "The flats will become easy by comparison."
Florian Neuschwander running in Kleinarl, Austria

Florian Neuschwander tackling mountains in Austria's Kleinarl

© Ydwer van der Heide/Red Bull Content Pool


Strong legs = fast pace

Speaking of muscles, since your legs are going to be your primary instrument for your 5k, you're going to want to whip them into shape. "But it's not just about having shapely calves," laughs the moustachioed athlete. "Your hamstrings and glutes are important, too." Work your whole legs in the gym to get the best out of them.
Ultrarunner Florian Neuschwander seen in Thalgau, Austria, during world record attempt, on February 27, 2020.

Neuschwander powered through 50km in 2h 57m 25s to set a record

© Henner Thies/Red Bull Content Pool


Seek variety in your routes

Neuschwander has laced up his shoes all over the world and says, "For me, the terrain doesn't matter. The important thing is to get out and run." Concrete, mud, gravel, hilly, flat – getting accustomed to different routes will make you more prepared for anything thrown at you. Try your anticipated App Run route more than once for a better time – you'll know what to expect, where to preserve your energy and when to floor it.

Find motivation outside yourself

If you want to give better than your best or go for longer, the goal of the Wings for Life World Run on May 5 will fire up your inspiration. The whole point is to support research to find a cure for spinal cord injury. "The fact that this virtual car is chasing you and that it's for a good cause – that's my thing," Neuschwander shares.
Florian Neuschwander at the Wings for Life World Run 2021, Germany.

Ultrarunner Florian Neuschwander is an icon of the Wings for Life World Run

© Flo Hagena for Wings for Life World Run


Weather it out

If you felt those race times dropping during winter weather, take heart: the workout you've been giving your lungs means that as milder weather steps in, you should get a boost of confidence in your race time. Neuschwander adds with a smile: "And if it’s been summer in your part of the world, no worries. You never know what the weather will be like on race day, but we all get through it together."
Florian Neuschwander running in Kleinarl, Austria

There's nothing quite like the sun on your back to give you a running boost

© Ydwer van der Heide/Red Bull Content Pool

Join Flo Neuschwander and runners of the Wings for Life World Run everywhere: wingsforlifeworldrun.com

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