How to run 5k in 30 minutes

It seems the aim of C25K is more about running for 30 mins than doing 5k but I guess C230M would have been less catchy. Personally if I am going to run then I want to run at a good time (for my age) rather than for a set length of time. From the number of posts on this forum bemoaning their apparent lack of speed I am not alone. Lots of people seem to want to know how to increase their speed in order to run 5k in 30 minutes.

Aided by my somewhat nerdy interest in numbers (this is new, I blame the C25K programme) I can now share with you the following blinding glimpse of the obvious. Your speed (or pace) is simply the product of 2 factors - your stride length and your cadence. Cadence is the number of times you swing each leg forward in a minute. To increase your pace you can either increase your stride while maintaining your cadence or increase your cadence while maintaining your stride. If you increase both you will see a big increase in pace.

If the target is 5k in 30m your pace needs to be 6 mins per km or less. There are many combinations of stride & cadence that will achieve this. You just need to find the one most comfortable for you given your physique (leg-length, mobility etc). Taller runners with longer legs tend to have a longer stride and lower cadence. I am only 5'8" so my shorter legs need to move back & forth more quickly to keep up with someone who is taller.

Many running apps for smartphones will tell you what your stride length and cadence figures are (I particularly like iSmoothRun for iPhone). Alternatively you could just count your strides over a timed minute to find your cadence and measure your stride by counting strides over a known distance and doing the maths.

You can then experiment with adjusting your stride length & cadence to meet your goal. It is generally believed that a faster cadence is preferable, even if that means your stride length is slightly shortened. Be careful not to 'over-stride' as this causes additional stresses to the legs. Personally I find it easier to concentrate on keeping my cadence up and let my stride length sort itself out.

It is often said that a cadence of around 90 is 'optimal' (this is for one leg - it is sometimes expressed as 180 for both legs) however if my experience is anything to go by this may feel really quite fast for new / inexperience / unfit runners.

The following combinations of stride length & cadence will all produce a sub-30 minute 5k time if maintained for the full 30 mins;

Stride / Cadence

1.4m / 60

1.3m / 65

1.2m / 70

1.15m / 75

1.05m / 80

1.0m - 85

0.95m / 90

0.9m / 95

Hope this helps...

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40 Replies

  • I noticed a little while ago that I seem to be comfortably warmed up after about 2 miles running (except on days like today, when it's hard from start to finish). I noticed quite recently that my stride is longer when I'm 'comfortable', which means my cadence is lower (yes?). However, I simply can't do longer strides when I first start off, when I often feel like I'm stumbling/shuffling along.

  • Your cadence does not necessarily have to become lower when you lengthen your stride. It may be that your stride lengthens as you warm up whilst maintaining the same comfortable cadence - making you faster at that time. Alternatively it may be that you are setting out too fast - ie at a cadence that is uncomfortably fast for you. That would tend to shorten your stride in those first minutes / miles until you fell back to a more comfortable cadence and your stride naturally lengthened.

  • I should have said that my stride is longer but my speed is the same, or often slower as I tire. I know that we are discouraged from striding out too much, but I wonder if I should try lengthening my stride earlier, if I can? Maybe I would find the warm up easier.

  • I love your maths posts, now I feel the need to go out and work out where I am so I can reach the holy 5k in 30min grail! :)

  • Go for it LoveFood1984. Do you have an iPhone? if so that app can give you all the info you need.

  • Just found it and downloaded it, will give it a go tomorrow and let you know what I find :)

  • Hi LoveFood1984. How did you get on with the iSmoothRun app? And what have you discovered about your stride & cadence?

  • Unfortunately my run yesterday was worse than a bad run, everything went to pot and I ended up walking half of it so didn't get an accurate read, I'm determined to try again tomorrow though! (I've not had to walk on a run since I started week 7 in November :()

  • Forget about yesterday's run. It will be better tomorrow.

  • You were totally right, today's was better, managed just over 5k and didn't stop :) now for the stats my average cadence was 83 and ave. stride length 0.89m. What was interesting is even on faster splits my cadence didn't change much, so I think that implies my stride got longer. This will be interesting to track as I hopefully get faster to see what changes. Oh and today was my fastest ever ave. pace according to runkeeper at 10:47 a mile :D

  • I think that is fairly normal. if you are running slightly downhill you don't increase the cadence you just take longer strides. Uphill your strides get shorter at the same cadence (ideally).

    At 83 your cadence is very similar to mine. They say 90 is a good target but that feels very quick & exhausting to me currently. My stride is over 1.30m which makes me quite a bit faster. My inside leg is only 31" so if yours is anywhere near that maybe you would find it easier to lengthen your stride rather than increase your cadence?

  • Addendum:

    Most experts suggest you should not attempt to lengthen your stride to the point of over-striding or you will injure yourself due to the increased shocks associated with landing hard on your heel.

    If you are already running (as opposed to jogging) then working on your cadence maybe the the way to go.

    However I do see a lot of ladies (mostly) out jogging who seem to use a huge amount of effort bouncing up and down with a very short, high stride rather than propelling themselves forward more efficiently with a longer, lower stride.

  • Reckon my inside leg is near 29" 'regular' length female trousers at 31" are too long on my stubby legs, now my upper body is quite long in comparison given I'm 5"6 :) I think a combo of stride length and cadence increase might be the way forward but I definitely won't be pushing anything!

  • I'm 5ft 2 and my pace is slow I have run 5k 3 times this week and have managed to go from 42mins to 39mins. Not tiring and ran more than the 5k which probably means I could more effort into my speed. I get comfortable around the 20 minute so perhaps thats when I should try to speed up. Gosh I wish I was taller! Thank you and really informative! :)

  • Don't despair Carole01. In 2010 the London marathon was won by Tsegaye Kebede Wordofa who was 5'2". In fact most of the long distance & top marathon runners are not particularly tall. Taller = heavier = more energy required to run a distance. Mo Farrar is 5'5" but has a stride of 2.2 metres ! Unreal.

  • Drat. I was hoping there's a long-distance runner in here somewhere, but I'm 5'10"! I'm definitely not built for speed!!

  • At 5'8" Paula Radcliffe is taller than most of the field. Olympic rower James Cracknell is 6'4" and ran the London marathon in 3 hours. He was also the highest placed Briton ever in the 25-year history of the gruelling Marathon des Sables, finishing 12th. So no excuses...

  • Ok, I'll keep plodding on. :-)

  • Wow!! Theres hope for me then at 7.10 stone!! Should be flying soon! Look out 10k 'cause I'm a comin'!!! Albeit at a snail's pace!! Good luck with all your ventures! :)

  • Thankyou...thats really interesting...and also very technical!! I am also 5 foot 8 but nowhere near as fast as you, so there is also the question of drive, mental focus and hair colour ;)

  • You could try dying yours grey...

  • I've achieved several PBs since I changed my colour to a plum red a few weeks ago, so there is definitely something in hair colour. ;-)

  • Food colourings (particularly red as I recall) have been linked to hyperactivity in children so maybe you are onto something..

  • Excellent, i just had my hair done today, speed tomorrow!

  • I hope your hair holds dye better than mine. I keep coming home after running dripping with pink sweat! :-/

  • The secret (don't tell anyone) is to be relaxed about your running and to enjoy it.

    If you are up tight, it's likely that you will shorten your stride and/or find breathing, pacing yourself and mind management more difficult. That's partly why some runners do well with a hangover or when not completely awake as there is less opportunity to think too much about the run and just run.

    This isn't the only reason and it's also about strength training, running style, nourishment, posture and the preparation you complete before but it certainly helps.

  • So not just maths then...

  • Couch = pie, running has it scared...

  • Hmm -- the legs, cadence, stride length theory sounds good -- now, if only I can get my lungs to understand the theory ! :)

  • The lungs will get there eventually. A couple of months ago my lungs had me wondering if I could ever go beyond 5K. Now, I realise I barely think about my breathing. :-)

  • Good post - I like the nerd-analysis! ;)

    I've got just two things to add...

    First, there was a comment above about stride length shortening when tense - I've noticed that if I'm taking my gloves off, or fiddling to change MP3 track, or something like that, then my breathing rate increases markedly - I think this is because I'm getting tense, my stride length is shortening, cadence increasing, and my breathing is typically locked into my stride. Funny, though.

    The other is a visualisation/running technique thing. I'm by no means an expert, and I'm not even comfortable what I'm saying is true, but it's a thought related to this thread, so here goes... I've read that efficient leg movement has the ankle and lower leg rising to horizontal, to effect an efficient forwards swing of the leg, using less effort than driving it back underneath you with a pendulum swing - it uses more hamstring and I'm not sure I do it much myself, but the visualisation here is to imagine you thrusting your *knee* forwards on each stride, which seems to have the effect of causing the ankle/lower leg to raise up higher. When I've done this, admittedly not for extended periods, I've picked up pace immediately. Obviously don't overstride out in front of yourself too much, but the point I'm making is "just thinking *knee*" can change your stride/cadence/pace.

  • Yes -- I have read about this knee forward "thing" too and briefly attempted it at times. However I am coming to the conclusion that a lot of this stuff only works ( and you can only practice it) after you have got some decent cardio and muscular strength ( which I am slowly getting but still a long way off) .

  • Interesting Weighty80. I will have to try that. Thanks

  • This website may be of interest

    Solving the 5K puzzle ---

  • Yes, I have seen that Bazza. Undoubtedly comprehensive but all a bit serious & complicated. I will borrow elements of it but I doubt I will ever be out running every day. And no matter what I do I will never actually be truly competitive as neither the raw talent, the youth nor the determination is there...

  • Are there free apps to measure stride and cadence as I can't find any? How do the apps actually measure both? I would be very interested to see what mine is. I only take pigeon steps due to shortnessness, :-D but the stats could give me something to work on.

  • I don't know about free apps. I use iSmoothRun which is nearly free at £2.99. It works on iPhone only I believe by using the accelerometer in the phone to detect each stride. From that it can calculate the pace and from that it can calculate the stride length given that it knows the distance travelled over time by GPS.

  • ChrisL you could make a free app...

  • Only if iPhone runs IBM360 Mainframe Assembler Language, which I doubt somehow Tinyrun...

  • Eek! No.

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