5k Sharpening Workouts: Spotlight on Speed Development

by Jason Fitzgerald

The 5k might be one of those perfect events – it’s long enough to be considered a “distance” race but short enough to push yourself really hard. As one of my running friends would say, “grip and rip!!

With a ton of fall 5k races every weekend, now is a good time to highlight workouts that you can run to simulate a hard 5k effort. Whether you’re a beginner or an age-grouper, these workouts are going to model what you experience on race day.

5k Finish

Before you jump into one of these workouts, you should have established a solid base of endurance and introductory workouts. At least 4-6 weeks of solid training is needed before you attempt one of the specific workouts below. I’m not joking when I say these are about as difficult as the race itself!

Once you have enough training under your belt, you should determine what your experience and fitness level are based on your history and how much you’ve been running. There are three 5k-specific workouts below that will challenge your body in a very similar way to a 5k race.

Choose which one is appropriate for you.

Beginner 5k Workout

This introductory 5k workout is a fartlek workout run at your perceived 5k goal pace. You can do it on the road or a well groomed trail, but you should avoid any trails that have a lot of roots or rocks. Solid footing is best. Since this workout is run based on feel then you should avoid the track.

Start with a dynamic warm-up routine to help you get ready to work hard. Then run easy for 10-20 minutes (based on how many total miles you want to run for the day).

After your easy run warm-up, your workout begins.The workout is 4 or 5 reps of 5 minutes at your 5k goal pace. You don’t have to stop after your first 10-20 minute warm-up – you can go right into your first 5 minute interval. Take the first few minutes to get used to the pace and then try to remember what it feels like. Since you’re running by effort, it’s important to let your mind remember exactly how 5k pace feels, from your breathing to your cadence and exertion levels.

Don’t be afraid to run fast – that’s the point of the workout! You should be running faster than you normally do for your tempo workouts. Take 2-3 minutes of very easy running in between each 5 minute rep and then start again.

When you’re finished with 4-5 x 5 minutes hard, run another 10-20 minutes easy. Depending on your overall pace and how much you do, this workout can be anywhere from 5-10 miles total. Fully customizable for any runner!

5k Workout

Intermediate 5k Workout

So you’re ready for an extra challenge eh? Well, this workout is on the track so there’s no escaping the clock. You’ll be running 5,000 meters at your 5k goal pace – no small feat.

Just like with any workout, spend 5-10 minutes doing a set of dynamic stretches before you start running. Then you can go into a 15-20 minute warm-up. Finish up your running warm-up at the track and run 4-6 100m strides, which are gradual accelerations to about 95% of your max speed. Hold that high effort for a few seconds and then coast to a stop.

These brief, high-intensity strides help prepare your body for the faster running you’re about to do. Ready!? Okay…

The workout is 5 x 1,000m at 5k goal pace with 400m slow jog recovery in between each interval. You’re completing exactly 5k worth of hard work at the pace you want to race at. If you can complete this workout (it won’t be easy) then you’re ready to accomplish your race goals.

Run another 15-20 minutes easy to warm-down when you’re finished. This workout is anywhere from 6-12 miles depending on how much you run before and after the workout (and how fast you do it). For most runners, it should be in the 7-10 mile range.

Advanced 5k Workout

This workout isn’t for the faint of heart. You should be a fairly experienced runner who has done enough preparatory work to feel comfortable running fast in longer workouts.

Similar to the intermediate workout above, this 5k session closely simulates the demands of the race itself. The workout is 3 x mile at 5k goal pace with 400m slow jog recovery. Once you can run this workout at your goal 5k pace then you’ll definitely be ready to run it in a race situation. It’s nearly as difficult.

Why is this workout harder than the 1,000m intervals? You’re completing 3 miles of 5k goal pace running in less time, with less recovery. Instead of 4 rest periods, there’s only two. The longer intervals will be much more challenging. Excited?

If you’re planning on racing in flats (or spikes if the 5k race is on the track), then consider doing the workout in the racing flats you’ll be wearing on race day. Since this is a lot of time spent in very minimalist shoes, make sure you’ve gradually transitioned into wearing them for both the volume of running and the intensity of running. Jumping into 5,000 meters of running at 5k race effort in flats will leave you mighty sore if you’re not ready!

And of course, warm-up with dynamic stretches, easy running, and strides. If you’re running this advanced workout, you know the drill. A few easy miles and a strength workout are highly recommended for when you finish.

Easy –> Hard

Like most of your training, the progression of your 5k workouts should start at a relatively easy effort level and gradually become harder as you get close to your race. The three workouts above closely mimic what the race itself will feel like. Because of that, you shouldn’t be doing them during the early weeks of your training plan.

Instead, you’ll be doing workouts that are much shorter and faster (neuromuscular) and longer and slower (aerobic). The workouts will move from opposite ends of the running spectrum to the middle of that spectrum (5k specific) by the end of your training program.

Check out more about 5k training here – and good luck with your 5k races!

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Greg Strosaker

Good workouts, though I have to wonder if the beginning workout isn’t harder than the intermediate one, depending on your pace. For me, 5 minutes is around 1400-1500m at 5K pace, compared to the 1000m intervals you call for in your intermediate program. Yes, the recovery is longer, but that’s still a tough workout. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, and I think 5 minutes is the perfect VO2max workout time (OK, that’s not an original thought, I’m stealing from Jack Daniels), but I’d be hard-pressed to call that an “easy” workout for most runners.

Fitz

Hey Greg, I think it depends on your pace. It’s certainly not easy (none of them are supposed to be) but the fartlek aspect of it makes it a bit easier than the track workouts. Also, newer/slower runners are liking running in the 25+ minute range for 5k so this workout is meant to approximate the time spent racing. You’re definitely not a beginner runner so you’d be covering close to a mile, whereas new runners aren’t coming close.

If you were doing this workout I’d say cut it to 3 five minute reps – or else you’d be running more than 5,000 meters at 5k effort.

Matthias

Hi Fitz, I like these workouts and I will try them out by training some students for a 5k race next spring. It’s enough time to gradually gain the effort. Thanks for your advice!

Fitz

No problem Matthias. Good luck!

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