3 Workouts for 5k

If you’ve been to our Summer Running Vacations you’re probably aware of our aversion to lots of hard interval training. We spend a lot of time preaching the importance of consistent aerobic volume and the value of tempo based workouts. This type of work is the cornerstone of successful distance running performance and long-term development regardless of age or ability. This focus on aerobic training, popularized by legendary coach Arthur Lydiard, focuses on periodization. However, Lydiard was also a proponent of hard interval training late in the training plan. And in this post I’m going to dive into 3 workouts for 5k specific training.

Arthur Lydiard’s Influence on Workouts for 5k

The idea being that you start with a base building phase comprised primarily of easy running. Then the training emphasis shifts to hill training, then to tempo work, and ultimately fast running at or quicker than race pace. Lydiard pioneered this type of training in the 1950s in his native New Zealand. His influence turned a small island nation into a global distance running powerhouse, winning Olympic medals and setting world records along the way.

Before Lydiard revolutionized training theory, high intensity interval training was the predominant training method. Even as Lydiard trained athletes were coming into prominence, setting records and winning medals, there were still athletes winning using the high intensity model. Among them is the only American to ever win the 5,000m Olympic gold medal, Bob Schul, who won the gold in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympics.

Mihaly Igloi, famous for his regular twice a day interval sessions that could go on for hours, coached Schul and others with great success. Igloi’s methods serve notice that high intensity interval training has an important place in training theory. However, Lydiard remains the most influential coach in modern distance running and his principles form the lens through which most coaches view training.

Specific Phase of 5k Training

While aerobic running and tempo-based training are the most important components to training, training the anaerobic system is a crucial piece of the puzzle for peak 5k performance. You should continue to include tempo running and fartlek in the final 8-10 weeks of your training cycle. However, this is also the time where should mix in specific workouts that will prepare your body for the searing discomfort that is 5k racing. It’s that leg burning, stomach churning type of pain you don’t experience in longer races such as the marathon (relax, I know marathon running is very hard, its just a different pain.) And that discomfort takes some practice to handle it well.

The mistake most people make in this specific phase of training is not changing the way in which they recover between hard workouts. You might, and probably should, find yourself running slower on your easy days during higher intensity phases of training than during your initial base phase, despite your fitness being markedly improved. The reason for this is that interval training is much harder on the body than easy distance running. The increase in stress makes recovery critically important. Some people will need to lower their training volume by 10-20% during this higher intensity training cycle. A slight reduction in mileage can help balance the overall training load and enhance recovery.

These are hard sessions; there is no way around it. The idea is to reach high effort levels multiple times in a training session. Remember to warm-up properly before the workout.

Workout 1: Hill Repeats

Hill repeats are the best way to introduce hard intervals into your training. This is partly because of a reduction in impact forces and part because hill training is a great primer for the body. This makes a hard hill repeat session a perfect first specific workout. Additionally, there are a number of other benefits to hill training which I won’t get into here (but you can read up on them in my hill training post.)

To execute this session find a hill where you can run uphill for 3 minutes or more. You will do two sets of repeats. Each set is comprised of three repeats: 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute. Run the 3 minute repeat at an effort you could hold for a 15 minute race. Run the 2 minute repeat a little faster than the 3 minute repeat. And run the 1 minute repeat a little faster than the 2 minute repeat. Jog easily downhill between each repeat and take 3-4 minutes recovery after the 1 minute repeat. Then repeat for set 2.

Workout 2: Cut Down Intervals

Joe preparing to execute one of the workouts for 5k racing.

This workout is easily done a track, but can be done anywhere you know the distances. This session should get progressively faster so the end of the workout is faster than the beginning. Progressive workouts are great training mentally and physically for finishing fast in races.

The workout consists of repeats of 1 mile, ¾ mile, 2 x ½ mile, and 2-4 x ¼ mile. Each interval should be followed by a very, very easy ¼ mile jog. The mile should be at 5k goal pace. The ¾ mile repeat should be 1-2 seconds per ¼ mile (or lap) quicker than the 1 mile. The ½ repeats should be another 1-2 seconds per ¼ mile quicker than the 3/4 mile. Then run the ¼ mile repeats 1-2 seconds quicker than the pace of the ½ mile repeats.

Workout 3: 3 Minute Repeats

These can be a distance if you’d like, but time works a little better to make sure you can get the right effort. The number of repeats will vary depending on your experience or fitness level from 4-6. Take a very easy 3 minute jog between each repeat. Aim to run the intervals at a pace you could hold if you were racing for 15 minutes.

Again, the use of these types of workouts should be rare. They should be accompanied by adequate recovery. And they should take place only after you have established a solid aerobic base of training. However, when executed properly, specific workouts for 5k can give you the fitness to take your racing to the next level.