Whether you're a new runner or a veteran, the 5k is an exciting race that blends speed and endurance. For novice athletes, running 3.1 miles without walking is a productive early running goal.
For more experienced runners, running 3.1 miles as fast as possible and setting a new personal best is a worthy goal. But, how do you train for the 5k? What workouts are helpful? How do you structure those workouts?
Here are the smartest way to train for 5,000 meters, so you can finish it faster than ever before:
First, a foundation of endurance will help any runner improve their speed in the 5k. After all, most runners can run fairly fast. But, the problem is maintaining that speed over a longer distance. That's a problem of endurance.
Thankfully, it can be improved fairly rapidly over just a few months with consistent and strategic workouts designed to improve the aerobic metabolism. (That simply means your endurance.)
Endurance is best improved by a combination of higher weekly mileage and a longer run. The more you run, the more endurance you'll gain. Even a relatively modest increase of about 20 percent more weekly mileage will produce significant gains in fitness.
Focus on adding one to two miles per week to your typical running schedule every one to two weeks. After six to eight weeks, you'll be running a lot more, and you'll be in a lot better shape. Modest increases in mileage (compounded over a long period of time) add up quickly and will help your 5k race goals.
Long runs can be lengthened by about one mile every other week. For the 5k, most runners should build to about seven to 10 miles, though less experienced runners can run slightly less and more advanced runners can run more. Over time, extra mileage and longer runs will dramatically improve your endurance so you can maintain a much faster pace during your next 5k.
As you're building your mileage and long run, it's also helpful to build speed. Start with strides, which are 100-meter accelerations that have you build to about 95 percent maximum speed, and then gradually coast to a stop. Start with four repetitions after an easy run, and work on doing them twice per week.
Strides are fundamental. Every runner, no matter the distance you're training for, should be running strides several times per week. They help reinforce proper running form, build efficiency and increase overall athleticism and turnover.
For new runners, they're especially helpful as a stepping stone to more difficult, advanced workouts that come later in the training season. More advanced runners who might already be running strides can incorporate fartlek workouts into their training. Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning “speed play,” and they are simply short pick-ups that are faster than your easy running pace.
Start with four to six repetitions of one-minute at what feels like your goal 5k pace. Take one to two minutes of easy running after each repetitions as recovery, and make sure you run easy for at least 10 minutes before and after the faster pick-ups.
You can build to eight to 10 repetitions, or lengthen the rep to two minutes. These early season speed sessions prepare you for the next training ingredient: specificity.
3. Race-Specific Workouts
During the last three to four weeks of your season before your race, you can incorporate more race-specific workouts into your training. But what exactly is a “race-specific workout?” Simple. It's a workout that looks very similar to the race itself.
A great example is running three, one-mile repetitions at goal 5k pace, with a minute of easy running in between as recovery. This workout is very similar to the 5k itself. It's run at the same pace, and is the same total mileage. If you can run this workout at your goal pace, you can be confident of achieving your goal on race day.
Depending on your ability and fitness level, you can modify the number of repetitions and recovery to make this workout easier or more difficult. When you combine a solid foundation of endurance with speed development and race-specific workouts, accomplishing your pacing goal in the 5k becomes a lot more realistic.
It doesn't matter if you can run a 5k in 15 minutes or 35 minutes; these universal principles are true for all runners. Good luck at your race.