Time for a fast 5K

Summer is 5K season! A favourite with new runners and experienced racers alike, a 3.1-mile race is a great way to focus your training and target a time goal. Use the following workouts and tips to nail your new PB.



Breaking the 25-minute barrier marks you out as a committed runner. It requires a dedication to more mileage and focused workouts. ‘Your target is to engage the different types of muscle fibres every time you work out, which teaches your body to race,’ says running coach Pete Rea. That education includes workouts that prepare you to run negative splits (running the second half of a race faster than the first), expose you to different terrain and fortify your body for the rigours of running fast

Exceed race pace

Running faster than goal speed ‘prepares you to run the first half of your 5K at a solid clip and pick it up in the second half ’, says Frank Gagliano, running coach at the New Jersey-New York Track Club. Twice a week after easy or steady-pace runs do 10x200m cut-downs: start at 5K pace and get slightly faster each time. The last effort will be fast. Jog 200m between each. Three weeks before race day, run a mile at goal pace, jog for five minutes, then do 5x300m at 10-15 seconds faster than goal pace. Walk 100m between each effort.

Vary the terrain

Boost the benefits of speedwork by occasionally going offroad. ‘When you run on the track, you’re always moving in the same direction, which puts your body off-balance,’ says running coach Andrew Kastor. ‘If you do half of your speed sessions on trails or grass instead, you’ll reduce the impact on your joints, stimulate more muscles, and improve your running efficiency.’

Lose the junk

With a sub-25-minute goal, there’s no room or time in your training plan for mindless running. Even steady-state, weekday runs should serve the ultimate purpose – preparing your energy systems to deal with the rigours of race day. ‘For example, every fifth minute, you should throw in a 30-second surge that’s about five to 10 seconds per mile faster,’ says Rea.

Build a strong engine

‘To run fast, you have to be a pusher – and to push, you need a strong posterior chain,’ says performance specialist Darcy Norman. A weak link in your glutes, hamstrings, calves or back forces other muscles to overcompensate and increases injury risk. Build strength by doing a weekly hill run. ‘Hills are the runner’s weight machine,’ says Rea. ‘They strengthen the glutes, hamstrings and hips.’ Supplement incline runs with twice-weekly bodyweight exercises – for example, do threesets of four to six reps of single-leg squats, side lunges and box steps.


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Discuss this article

Runners World is very good at producing precise training plans for certain distances which usually start several weeks or months before the expected race date.  Like many other runners I race regularly, once or twice a month, at distances ranging from 5k to half marathon.  

What sort of training plan would you suggest to cover these options?  I usually run 30 - 35 miles a week and regularly do hills, although I do not have a fixed training plan.


Posted: 23/04/2014 at 18:20

If you read the articles in that link, you get the key principles for the 5K. - and other articles give the key elements of half marathon training.

It seems pretty obvious that you need to take elements from each... but in my opinion, if you focus 80-90% on the HM training plan... with a smattering of the fast interval training recommended for 5K... then that is probably optimum for a typical runner like you.

The specialised 5K speed training sessions are good at refining your 5K and perhaps 10K times - - but are only really effective once you've got your aerobic base sorted - something that can take many minutes off your 5-10K times.

On the other hand, those sessions have a comparatively small effect on HM - where sorting the aerobic base contributes a huge amount.

That's why you, as a regular racer across a range of distances, should have a training week that looks more like a HM training programme than anything else. IMO.


Posted: 24/04/2014 at 08:29

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