Whether you are fairly new to running or have been running your entire life, getting a personal best in the 5K is a challenging task. It is a distance that requires the speed of a miler but also the endurance of a marathoner. To successfully PR at the 5K, one must incorporate many different types of workouts into their training plan. Below I will explain the different types of training runs as they relate to improving one's 5K.
These are the bread and butter of every training plan. They build the aerobic base while not overly-taxing the muscles. Easy runs will be the majority of your mileage when training to run a fast 5k; they should be completed at a pace of 90 seconds to 3 minutes per mile slower than 5K race pace, though a focus on feeling comfortable is more important than the exact pace.
Once every 7-10 days it is important for 5k runners to complete a long run. This run will vary from 5-6 miles for beginner runners to 20+ miles for elite distance runners. One long run per week will build the endurance of the 5K runner, allowing him to maintain effort for a longer period of time. It is advisable that these runs be completed at easy run pace so that this run does not drain the runner of energy, thus negatively affecting the week's other hard efforts.
To build the aerobic base necessary to improve in the 5K, runners must complete workouts at speeds approaching 5K pace that they sustain for significant periods of time. These runs are to be done at 30-45 seconds per mile slower than 5k race pace and are typically 3-7 miles in length. They are meant to be hard efforts, but you should never go into oxygen debt when running at tempo pace. These are NOT all-out efforts.
Intervals build speed and improve the maximum aerobic capacity of the athlete. These workouts are composed of multiple repeats of distances ranging from 200m through 1600m and are completed at around race pace or even faster. When intervals are completed at faster than race pace, it is advisable to give yourself plenty of rest in between repeats, to allow for full recovery; typically these faster repeats are 200m-400m long. Intervals completed at race pace or slower can have shorter recovery times so as to work the aerobic system; these slower intervals tend to be 400m-1600m. Each interval workout should have a 1-2 mile warm-up before-hand as well as a 1-2 mile cool down afterwards. The warm up and cool down should be completed at a very easy pace. Some examples of interval workouts include:
- 10x200m repeats at faster than 5k race pace with 2 minutes rest in between
- 6x800m repeats at 5 seconds slower than 5k race pace with 90 seconds rest in between
Regardless of your ability level, if you are looking to improve your 5K time, it is important to incorporate each of these runs into a training plan. For beginners looking to develop their training plan, I recommend keeping most runs very easy. Each week complete 2-3 easy runs of no more than 4 miles, one long run of 5-7 miles at an easy pace and one tempo run OR interval workout to build speed. More advanced runners looking to run each day should run 4 days easy, one long run and one or two hard efforts each week (I recommend one longer tempo and one shorter interval workout per week).
There is no one perfect training plan, but if you incorporate each of these types of runs into your weekly schedule, you will watch your 5K time improve.