How to Run a Faster 5K
Hopefully over the past few weeks, you have worked on building a base by making running a consistent part of your weekly routine, adding mileage, and working on general skills to support your training through strides, hill work, and fartleks.
Now it’s time to get specific and share how to run a faster 5k!
While general running is great for health and fitness, running the same distance at the same pace is not only boring, but only helps you to become really good at that pace because you are only stressing your body in one specific manner. Recall the Rule of Specificity:
The system which is stressed is the one which stands to benefit from the stress.
In order to hit our time goals at the 5k distance, we need to train at our goal pace and at volumes similar to that of a 5k.
5K Specific Workouts
As we move into this next phase of training, following our base phase, we introduce speed work with short, intense repeats and continue developing our lactate threshold, long runs, and total weekly mileage.
Since we cannot start running 3.1 miles at a goal pace all at once, we need to break down our training into smaller segments. This allows our bodies to absorb and adapt to stress similar to that of our goal. Here is an example of a few key workouts to utilize and smash your 5k goal:
Race: 3.1 miles
- 3 x 1 mile, x recoveries + 1 x 200m (to simulate a closing sprint)
- 4 x 1200m, x recoveries
- 5 x 1000m, x recoveries
- 6 x 800m, x recoveries
- 8 x 600m, x recoveries
- 12 x 400m, x recoveries
First, let me explain this notation:
“12 x 400m, x recoveries”
This is read as 12 by 400 meters with [x] recoveries, where x will be some time or distance.
This means you run 400m at about 5k pace, run easy for the prescribed amount of recovery time, then repeat. The recovery pace should be close to, but slightly easier than, your easy run pace. You want to bring your heart rate down so you can hit the next rep hard.
A very general rule of thumb is that the recovery is equal to about half of the repeat; however, it will vary depending on your goal and the goal of the workout. For instance, a 400m sprinter may utilize a full recovery between sprints so she can hit each sprint all out. However, a 5k specialist will not want a full recovery, nor will they be pushing as hard as the sprinter in each repeat because that is not specific to the demands of their race.
Getting back to the workouts - notice how each workout builds on the previous one. This allows us to gradually learn what our goal pace feels like starting with 400m repeats, then increasing our workload at our goal pace while keeping the volume of work at that pace the same.
These workouts can be progressed in multiple ways: increase the distance per repeat, such as from 400m to 600m as shown above, or decrease the amount of recovery time.
Personally, I like to do two weeks at the same distance per repeat, dropping the recovery time on the second week, then bumping up the distance and the recovery time on the third week. There are many ways to progress your workouts. Below are a few options for you to consider. Simply add one of these workouts into your existing routine, allowing at least two days of easy running for recovery before your long run.
A quick note about the “resharpening” progression: this could be for someone who has experience doing speed work, and a good feel for their 5k pace, but is unable to hold on to a finishing kick or maybe had a bad race day.
|1||12 x 400m repeats, 1 minute recovery||12 x 400m repeats, 1 minute recovery||Race|
|2||8 x 600m repeats, 1 minute recovery||12 x 400m repeats, 30 - 45 seconds recovery||Recovery|
|3||6 x 800m repeats, 1 minute recovery||6 x 800m repeats, 1 minute recovery||Easy Week|
|4||5 x 1000m repeats, 1 minute recovery||6 x 800m repeats, 45 seconds recovery||5 x 1000m repeats, 1 minute recovery|
|5||4 x 1200m repeats, 1 minute recovery||4 x 1200m repeats, 1 minute recovery||3 x 1 mile repeats + 1 x 200m, 1.5 minutes recovery|
|6||3 x 1 mile repeats + 1 x 200m, 1 minute recovery||4 x1200m repeats, 45 seconds recovery||3 x 1 mile repeats + 1 x 200m, 1 minute recovery|
|7||3 x 1 mile repeats + 1 x 200m, 1 minute recovery||3 x 1 mile repeats + 1 x 200m, 1 minute recovery||3 x 1 mile repeats + 1 x 200m, 30 seconds recovery|
Early training will be run at 5k pace to slightly faster than 5k pace. As your training progresses, you will run your repeats at 5k pace to mimic the demands of the race and ensure that you are able to consistently hit the goal of each repeat. You will not benefit as much from a workout of 5 x 1k if you overdo the first two repeats and cannot sustain your goal pace for the last two repeats. This is a lesson that I (and many runners) have learned the hard way - more than once!
Pro-tip: I have been told by many coaches that you should never try and save a “little extra” for your final repeat. Instead, hammer the second to last repeat. The psychological boost of your last repeat will carry you through the end of the workout, plus you’re likely to find a reserve of strength you didn’t even know you had!
How It Works Together
The important thing is that we are progressing the workout from week to week by running workouts that build upon the previous week, while getting more specific as we approach our goal race.
Speed work should be done no more than once a week, depending on other training and how well you recover from workout to workout. Look to do these sessions every 10 to 12 days to allow adequate recovery. Runners who have more experience with these types of workouts can perform these every 7 to 10 days.
If you are new to speed work, your last session should be about 10 days out from your goal 5k and it should be very specific to the race, such as 3 x 1 mile with 1 minute recoveries with a 200m sprint before your cool down to simulate a closing kick. In the days leading up to your goal 5k, you should still utilize strides and fartleks, but be sure to stick to easy paces during the last couple of days.
If you are more experienced with speed work, you might do something like what coach Jeff Gaudette recommends, which is a final speed session after your most race specific workout and about four days out from your goal race. This speed session would be the same as the one with which you started (or most enjoyed) and should feel easier this time around, despite being at the same level of intensity. As coach Guadette says,
[A final speed session] put[s] a nice little polish on your comfort at speed and prime[s] your body and mind for the rhythm you need to find on race day.
Of course, speed work is only one aspect of your training. At the 5k distance, it will be more of an emphasis than other distances, but you should still perform lactate threshold work, and easy and long runs for recovery and aerobic development.
There You Have It!
Over the course of a six to eight week period, after building a proper base, you will want to perform 6 to 8 sessions of speed work which build off of each other toward increasing specificity of the demands of your goal 5k race. Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to run a faster 5k, and crush your next race!
We would love to hear about your 5k training and race success stories, let us know in the comments below!