5K Workouts for Long Distance Runners

5K Workouts for Long Distance Runners

Last week I offered some 5K racing tips for long distance runners, but we all know that racing is about more than the race itself – the training is important as well!

Of course, you don’t need to do speed work to do well in the 5K, but it will certainly help you run a strong and fast race. (And don’t forget that speed work helps you run better overall, even for the marathon!)

The goal of 5K training is to increase your ability to maintain a very fast speed for 20-30 minutes. While the 5K is predominantly an aerobic race, your anaerobic capacity impacts your finish time. In that sense, long distance runners can fare well in the 5K, since you already have a large aerobic base; you just need to build your anaerobic capacity.

These three 5K workouts will prepare you for all aspects of the 5K: speed, fatigue resistance, and  endurance.

5K Workouts for Long Distance Runners

5K Workouts for Long Distance Runners

Short Fartlek Workout

The Why:

Fartleks are one of my preferred coaching methods for speed work – especially if you’re transitioning a slow and steady marathoner to the world of fast and short racing. Fartleks are based on time and effort, rather than distance and pace.

Why do I love these workouts so much?

  • You don’t have to run them on a track. Running on the roads is more accessible and you are likely racing on the roads, so you are training specifically for the course of your race.
  • There’s no worry about hitting a certain pace, especially if seasons of marathon training have put a damper on your top-end speed.
  • They’re fun!

My favorite 5K fartlek is short and simple – nothing too complicated or challenging. For most runners, it’s similar to running somewhere around 400s. You may cover more or less distance, but this workout isn’t about precise distance – it’s about running repeats at a very hard effort.

The Workout:

Warm up with 1-2 miles of easy running, dynamic stretches, and 4-6 20-second strides.
Run 8-10 repeats of 2 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy. (Number of intervals depends on level of fitness.)
Cool down with 1-2 miles of easy running.

Tempo Cutdown

The Why:

Tempo runs benefit all runners – from the 5K to the marathon. Why? As I explained in-depth in this post, tempo runs raise your lactate/anaerobic threshold and help you run faster for a sustained period of time.

Tempo intervals serve the same physiological purpose as tempo runs, but the recovery period allows you to pick up the pace a little bit. The 5K twist on this workout has you finishing at 5K pace for the last interval – which is harder than tempo pace and will simulate how your legs and breathing will feel at the end of a 5K race.

The Workout:

Warm up with 1-2 miles of easy running with 4-6 20-second accelerations over the last mile and dynamic stretches.
Run 15 minutes at half marathon pace, 10 minutes at 10K pace, and 5 minutes at 5K pace, with 3 minutes of very easy running between each interval.
Cool down with 1-2 miles of easy running.

90 Minute Long Run

The Why:

Yes, you still do need to (get to!) run long – even in 5K training! Running for 90 minutes or longer improves your aerobic capacity, efficiency, and resistance to fatigue. 5K runners don’t need to run as far as marathoners or half marathoners, so a 90 minute long run each week will make you a stronger runner without tiring you out too much (so you can crush your speed workouts!).

The Workout:

Run for 90-120 minutes, starting slow and finishing at a moderate effort. For extra benefit, do this run over rolling hills. 

5K Workouts for Long Distance Runners

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Of course, every training program will vary based on your current fitness, level of experience, schedule, and goals. These workouts are examples of 5K training for a long distance runner, not a full training plan with specific peaking workouts.

Linking up with Coaches’ Corner and Wild Workout Wednesday

What are your favorite 5k workouts?
What’s your workout today?

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28 Responses

  1. This has come just at the right time! I’m transitioning from marathon training to shorter distances…though the distance is still to be decided! Thanks for this 🙂

  2. This is why I have a coach – so I’m given workouts like these to improve my fitness over ALL distances. I love the tempo cutdown and do a longer version of it (I think you know the one!) and although these can be daunting (cue nervous stomach) they have an exceptional impact on reaching your racing goals!

    1. Yes!! I have a few versions of tempo cutdown also that I use for different distances – I ran one last week that was similar to yours. They definitely are a confidence building workout – once they are done!

  3. You have no idea how many people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that even when they are racing shorter distances that they still need a long run. Um, it makes sense, guys!

  4. Ooooooh these look tough! They work, though! My son’s friend Kelsey is a track star (100m) and I’ve finally convinced her to go for longer runs and she feels the impact of the fitness gains in her sprinting. For me, I’d way rather run a super long run than a short one!

  5. I just noted that tempo cutdown workout for my next training cycle (which will be for a half, but it looks fun and challenging). I’m trying to get more time at those faster paces — a summer of 50k training on trails has really slowed me down!

    1. Nope! I’m probably doing a spring half and then enjoying a summer off-season before figuring out what next. More so, November through January is the season of turkey trots and holiday races – lots of 5Ks coming up, even if I’m not running any soon, lots of my readers and coaching clients are! 🙂

  6. I’m training-ish for a Thanksgiving 5k – but all my runs recently have been with the dog (my husband had shoulder surgery so all the dog exercise is my job for a while). Fartleks are the only workouts I can successfully run with the dog – hoping to get one or 2 runs by myself this week so I can get a tempo in!

  7. I`ve found your blog recently. It`s amazing! Congratulations, you`re doing an incredible work.

    I`ve just finished my season last Sunday with a PR on 10k, this year I`ve also got a PR on Half-Marathon (1:30:25). So, I`ve been looking for new goals.

    I decided that in 2017 I have to do a “decent” marathon, I already did once in 2014 but it wasn`t a good experience.

    I`m gonna stay in touch with your tips. They will help me a lot.

    Cheers from Brazil!


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