How to run a fast kilometre with tips from Jake Wightman

Rick Pearson
Photo credit: Michael Steele

From Runner's World

An ever-increasing amount of UK runners are measuring their training in kilometres rather than miles. Whether it’s tracking pace or distance, more and more of us are using the metric system.

As a distance race in itself, the kilometre lacks the gravitas of the mile. But that’s not to say it’s in any way an inferior challenge. Earlier this year, Scotland’s Jake Wightman set the British record for the distance, covering the 1,000m in 2mins 17.51 secs.

That’s a pretty punchy kilometre on two wheels, never mind two feet, but the kilometre offers more modest goals for the non-elite. Whether it’s a sub-3-min kilometre or a sub-5-min kilometre, it’s a great distance at which to test yourself.

RW caught up with Wightman to talk about conquering the distance – and why adding speed will have benefits no matter what distance you’re training for.

How do you mentally approach running your best kilometre?

On the track, I just look at it as an 800m plus a 200m. So I go out as if I’m running an 800m and then try to hang on. It’s more of a long 800m than a short mile. The majority of runners I come across outside the UK all work in Ks rather than miles. So, I guess you could say it’s becoming the new one-mile race. It’s a nice distance for me as an 800m and 1500m runner – it’s bang in the middle.

If you run it right, when does it start to hurt?

It’s the same as a mile: the penultimate lap is the hardest. So, with 400m to go, I hit the front and that was my hardest lap. I ended up just getting overtaken in the last 20m by an American [Bryce Hoppel], so it was annoying not to win the race, but he judged it pretty well. I don’t think about the discomfort of a race until it is done – that’s when you feel like, “That’s taken a lot out of me, I feel a bit sick here.”

What sessions will help you to run a quick kilometre?

You need to be targeting quick running off short recoveries. Something like 60-second efforts with 60 seconds recovery. Just make sure you’re hitting close to top speed to get the lactate flowing. You could bring the recovery down even further, too: try 3 x 60 seconds with 60 seconds break, then three of them off 30 seconds, then three of them off 15 seconds. You should feel like the lactate is starting to build, and it’s all about being able to buffer that to be able to run a quicker K.

Do you think running a quick kilometre can have benefits to those training for longer distances?

I think it’s important that people stay in touch with speedwork. It’s good to test yourself over shorter distances because you need to know that you can run at that quicker pace, otherwise you become so one-paced and you’ll struggle to hit those top-end paces in sessions, which is where you get the most benefits, especially lactate-wise. You may find you get a bigger buzz from doing a K or mile than you would a marathon. It’s more adrenaline-based. It’s a different sensation, but one you can get a lot of pleasure from, particularly if you run it well.

What does your running week look like?

I probably get up to about 70-75 miles a week in the winter, but a lot of those runs are pretty quick. I run most days between 5:40-6:10min/mile, normally for about 8 miles. My long runs will go up to about 15-16 miles on a Sunday, but that’s at an easier pace. Then we do two sessions a week: usually hills and some kind of fartlek or longer reps session on grass.

What surfaces do you run on?

I live in Teddington, close to Bushy Park and Richmond Park, so I try to run mostly on hard trails. I only run on concrete if I have to run in the dark. I think it’s important that you train on a mixture of surfaces, though. So rather than staying away from concrete entirely, you want to subject yourself to it at times otherwise you’re more likely to get injured when you do race on it. It’s about rotating your surfaces. The only thing I do very little of is running on the treadmill. I just find that for my style it puts a lot of stress on the calves and Achilles. I also prefer being out in the elements.

How about strength and conditioning?

I’ve definitely increased the size of weights I’ve been lifting over the past four years. I need to maintain my speed, and a lot of that comes from strength, so I’m in the gym twice a week. For anyone that runs, strength work is important to build up some resilience to the impact that running puts through your body. It doesn’t necessarily have to be big weights, either – 15 minutes of bodyweight exercises every other day will make a difference.

You’re a New Balance athlete and the brand has a shoe designed for these distances. Tell us about it.

The New Balance 5280 is a great shoe. You could run with them up to 5K, I reckon, or use them as an alternative to spikes on the track. If you did a road-based parkrun or the Westminster Mile, you’ll feel like you’re flying in those shoes.

What are your hopes for the Olympics this summer?

I was fifth at the Worlds in 2019 [in the 1500m], so I want to build on that at the Olympics this summer. Hopefully, that means medals, but the first thing is just making the team to get to Tokyo, which is tough in its own right, so I can’t really think beyond that. I hope that my best run of the year will come in Tokyo, which will mean getting through the rounds and challenging for a medal in the final. But it’s just one step at a time before then.’

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