The 5K is not “just” 3.1 miles, at least if you want to optimize your peak performance. Even if three miles is the duration of a recovery run, specific training is essential for running a PR or placing on the podium in a 5K race. The purposeful workout and progressive loading are vital to smart, effective training for any distance. The 5K is no exception – and intentional 5K training can be challenging and rewarding, even for long-distance runners.
This 5K training week comes from my own June 2018 training log, for my 5K PR of 20:59 (6:45/mile pace) on a hilly course. I recently came off of a half marathon training cycle and a PR leading up to this training block. My fitness was high, so I spent about four weeks “sharpening” for the 5K race. I averaged 30-35 miles per week in the four weeks of sharpening. This particular week was three weeks out from the race.
Monday: 3 mile tempo run (7:14, 7:09, 7:04/mile) (7 miles total) & Pilates
Tuesday: 7 mile easy run (8:35/mile avg pace)
Wednesday: 1-2-3-2-1-2-3 min fartlek (6:10-6:30/mile for most intervals, with equal time recovery jog (6 miles total) & strength training
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: 8 mile run (8:21/mile avg pace) & strength training
Saturday: 4 mile recovery run (8:58/mile avg pace)
Sunday: Cross-training (hiking)
Let’s examine the specifics of this week closely:
Marathoners and half marathons have plenty of endurance for the 5K, but often lack leg speed. Short intervals provide the opportunity to focus on a quick turnover and fast pace without too much fatigue. The shorter the interval, the more you can focus on developing leg speed.
The fartlek workout from this week does tax VO2max as well, which is your maximum aerobic capacity. For an event such as the 5K, VO2max is an important factor in race performance. It’s not the only factor – lactate threshold and endurance matter as well – but it is beneficial.
I ran most intervals faster than 5K race pace – roughly mile pace to 3K effort for most of the intervals, depending on the duration of the interval. Goal pace workouts certainly are important (I did a couple in the following weeks). However, as I explain in more detail in this post on training for 5K peak performance, you need to train faster than 5K pace in order to fully develop your fast-twitch muscles and improve your VO2max.
Since speed work is highly stressful to the musculoskeletal system, the total time of the hard intervals is relatively low. This workout featured 14 minutes total of fast running – enough to elicit a physiological response.
While slower than goal race pace, tempo runs are a key component of 5K training. Tempo runs improve lactate threshold. The faster you can run while your body can clear lactate, the faster you can race at almost any distance. This post delves into the full benefits of tempo runs and how to include them in your training.
When training for a shorter race such as a 5K, short continuous tempo runs prepare you for the demands of the race. While you are running slower than 5K pace, a 20-30 minute tempo run requires you to hold a comfortably hard pace for roughly the same duration as your upcoming race. This trains the ability to pace over that amount of time and builds mental comfort with prolonged physical discomfort.
I always strength train at least once per week. During this phase, I increased my strength training to twice per week and adjusted my workouts for the demands of the race. I included plyometrics (such as box jumps) and exercises such as kettlebell swings and med ball slams to improve my force output. I also strength trained with heavier weights in movements such as squats and deadlifts to handle the hills (a ~150 foot climb over the first half) in the race.
5K training is not all speedwork – it’s still a predominantly aerobic event. Easy runs are still a bulk of your training, even when training for a short race. If you look at the total time spent running, only ~13% of the training time/17% of the total weekly mileage was at a hard effort. The remaining ~85% was done at an easy, conversational effort, approximately two minutes per mile slower than 5K race pace.
The structure of a 5K training week will vary significantly, based on the course profile, goals, runner’s background and fitness, and other factors. However, many of the principles will remain the same.
Have you ever trained specifically for a 5K?
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