Do-It-Yourself 5K Schedule

The 5K is a perfect running distance. As any physiologist will tell you, there is no better event for improving your running economy, raising your maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max) and establishing a base of speed and fitness that will reap benefits in longer races throughout the year.

More practically, it offers something for everyone. It is long enough and testing enough to tempt an elite competitor, and yet within the endurance range of the novice athlete looking for their first racing experience.

More importantly, you could complete the distance comfortably after only six weeks of committed training or integrate races easily into a longer programme without interfering with your primary goal, since you need little time to recover.

If you’ve centred the first quarter of the year around a spring marathon, now is the perfect time to use that endurance base, combine it with specific speed sessions and set yourself a new 5K goal in the late spring. Just as for the novice runner, you could comfortably achieve that target with about six weeks of concerted preparation.

Your first step should be to establish a benchmark average pace per mile on which to base the speed sessions. On a day when you feel rested, test yourself by running one and a half miles (2400 metres) on a 400m track as fast as you can. Run strongly but don’t kill yourself. This is intended merely as a test of your fitness. After the six laps, calculate your average pace per mile (APPM) by dividing your total time in seconds by three, then multiplying the result by two.

During the first two weeks of your 5K build-up, do each of the following sessions (preceded by a warm-up) once a week:

Session One 3 miles at a pace 45 seconds per mile slower than your APPM.

Session Two 3 x 1 mile at 30 seconds slower than APPM, with 4 minute recoveries.

Your other training sessions should be easy. And take at least one day off each week.

During weeks three and four, try each of the following sessions once a week, reserving the other days for easy running and rest:

Session One 4 x 1200m at a pace 4 seconds per 400m (16 seconds per mile) slower than APPM, with 4-minute recoveries.

Session Two 3 miles at 30 seconds per mile slower than your APPM

During weeks five and six, do these weekly sessions:

Session One 6 x 800m at APPM, with 2 to 3-minute recoveries.

Session Two 3 x 1 mile at 15 seconds per mile slower than APPM, with 3-minute recoveries.

If you are starting from a low base of endurance, you should also consider increasing the length of your long run by 15 minutes per week every two weeks. You will finish with a run 45 minutes longer than your winter long run in weeks five and six. If you don’t increase your long run you may find it a problem when it comes to maintaining your new-found speed over the full distance.

Obviously, this is not such a problem for those of you turning to a 5K after a spring marathon. In fact, you are likely to have quite the opposite problem. Most marathon runners have to cut back on overall quantity and concentrate on quality to improve speed over the 5K; that primarily means reducing the length of the long run and cutting back the overall weekly mileage. In general, the more miles you run the slower you are likely to run them. Aim to do a maximum of 15 miles or two hours on your long run.

If you’re not planning to follow the above programme, you shouldn’t rush into the intensive speed sessions. You’ll need to ease your body gently from marathon training to 5K training. Sudden shifts in pace are usually a short route to injury.

Nevertheless, after six weeks, even if you are starting from a low base, you can still find yourself well-toned, surprisingly fit and ready to run a high-quality 5K. In fact, there is no reason at all why you shouldn’t be able to run the entire distance at a pace on, or close to, your earlier APPM.

Try to run a 5K at least once a month during the summer, if you can find one, and use the your increasingly fast 5Ks to set the paces for your quality training sessions. These should include 600- to 800-metre repetitions at slightly faster than current 5K pace; 1200- to 1600-metre intervals at 5K pace; three-minute hill climbs at 5K intensity and 3 to 4 mile runs 30 seconds per mile slower than 5K pace.