3 Plans for a Faster 5K

Lose the junk: With a sub-25-minute goal, there's no room or time in your training plan for mindless running. Even steady-state, weekday runs should serve the ultimate purpose — prepping your energy systems to deal with the rigors of race day. "For example," says Rea, "every fifth minute, you should throw in a 30-second surge that's about five to 10 seconds per mile faster."

Build a strong engine: "To run fast, you have to be a pusher, and to push, you need a strong posterior chain," says Norman. A weak link in your glutes, hams, calves, or back forces other muscles to overcompensate and increases injury risk. Build strength by doing a weekly hill run. "Hills are a poor man's weight machine," says Rea. "They strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and hips." Supplement incline runs with twice-weekly body-weight exercises — do three sets of four to six reps of single-leg squats, side lunges, and box steps.

More: How to Tackle Hill Training

Break 20 Minutes

The Pace 6:26 per mile

Who's up for it? Runners who regularly complete long runs of nine to 10 miles and can comfortably run a mile in about 5:56 to 6:06

If you've zeroed in on the sub-20 time goal, you are indeed an uber-competitor. It takes drive to achieve such speed, as well as a capacity for discomfort. Sometimes, however, desire clouds reality, so take this test to ensure the target is within reach: Run for seven minutes at five to 10 seconds faster than 6:26 per mile. Jog for five minutes. Repeat, but aim to run farther. If you can maintain pace for both efforts, you're ready for this superfast goal. For those prepared to dig deep, we turned to the pros for their best advice.

Train with a group: "When you get in a race with your teammates, and you've all done the same training, you know that you should be able to stay with them for the majority of the race," says Galen Rupp, who set his 13:06 5K PR at the 2011 Birmingham Grand Prix in Alabama." If they pick it up, you know you can, too. It can be a great source of confidence."

Practice, practice: "Do a few races to work out the kinks," says Molly Huddle, the 2011 USA Outdoor 5000-meter champion who set her 14:44 PR (an American record) at the 2010 Diamond League meet in Brussels. "When I PR'ed, it was after completing three 5Ks in a row and learning something about myself in each one."

Take the long view: Aaron Braun nailed his 13:27 5K PR at the 2011 Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, California. "Over the course of a season, you'll have amazing days when you feel like you can beat anybody, and days where you think your PRs are over. Don't overanalyze one day of practice," he says. "It's all about long-term consistency."

Remember your ABCs: "When discouraging thoughts creep in during a race, I think, attitude, breathing, cadence — change your attitude, calm your breathing, and increase your cadence," says Julie Culley, who scored her 15:21 PR with a fifth-place finish in the 5000 meters at the 2011 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene.

More: 5 Ways to Push Past Your Mental Blocks

Mind the Little Things

All that hard running can take a toll, making it critical to indulge in some TLC. Use this checklist to stay healthy through race day

Get a massage: Use a foam roller for 10 minutes every day to break up knots and adhesions.

Take a (really) cold bath: Following speedwork, soak for 10 minutes in 50°F water to reduce inflammation.

More: 7 Recovery Tips

Stretch it out: After every run stretch quads, glutes, hams, and calves to eliminate tightness.

More: 5 Key Stretches for Runners

Put your feet up: Elevate legs after intense runs for 10 minutes to drain lactic acid.

Mix it up: On rest days spend 30 minutes doing low-impact cardio to flush waste products.

Rest: If your resting heart rate changes by 10 percent or more, take one day off.?

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