How to Use an Elite 5k Training Plan to Run Your Best 5k Ever
Whether you are looking for a 5k training schedule for your first 5k ever or you are looking for 5k training as an advanced runner, elite runner training logs are always insightful into what you need to follow in your running training plan to get ready for your next race.
Elite runners are the best our sport has to offer after all.
In todays edition of a look into elite runners training, I’m doing something a little different.
Rather then look at a couple of weeks of an elite runner training schedule, I have pulled out a progressive set of specific 5k training workouts that take place over 8 weeks of training.
If you want to race your best, you need to do workouts that work together in a sensible progression to build your goal race.
Why you should NOT try to get faster every run (or even every week)
I understand this temptation—and it has its place—BUT it is not how you build a race.
Here’s what you do instead:
The idea is to run your goal race pace and steadily increase the length of time that you are running at race pace while reducing the rest.
The idea is to reduce the difference between what you can already do.
Each person is different, but experience has shown me that I need only to be able to complete a session of 6×800 with a quick 200 jog rest, and I’m ready to run that pace in a competitive track 5k.
For most people I have found 5x1k with the same 200 rest is a better predictor of 5k performance.
I have worked with some athletes who are able to get near race-like efforts out of themselves in workouts who need to do 3×1600/mile at race pace with a 200 quick jog rest to be sure they will hit the time on race day, but these individuals are very rare.
What Does an Elite 5k Training Plan Look Like?
First, some background:
These workouts were done as the main, or most important session each week, but they were not the only workouts I was doing at the time.
Most weeks there would be a lighter tempo session and an under distance race (i.e., shorter then 5k).
On the weeks where the Tuesday session wasn’t 5k–specific, I would do a session of faster than race pace intervals.
This specific phase was the last cycle of a full training that started with a long base and fundamental phase during which I focused on my aerobic and muscular fitness and did only a small bit of training at 3k to 5k pace and almost no anaerobic work.
Normally I caution you not to copy these sessions directly, but this week is an exception to that rule.
Here’s the deal:
This can be a 5k training plan for an intermediate runner as well as advanced runners as long as you adjust the paces to fit your current fitness.
Knowing what pace is achievable yet aggressive enough is a bit of an art and a science—and that can often be a big part of where a coach comes in—but the workouts themselves are very solid and doable for most runners.
Elite Runner Training Schedule
Tuesday December 29, 2010
3.5 miles warm up (23:58) + Strides
11 x 400m, 1 x 600m (100m jog rest)
67, 67, 68, 67, 67, 66, 67, 67, 66, 67, 68, 1:40
6100m total (5000m of hard workout)
3.5 miles cool down
11 miles total
Tuesday January 12, 2011
At Tufts indoor track
3 mile warm up + strides,
8 x 600m at goal 5k pace (sub 1:42) with 200m jog rest
1:39, 1:41, 1:41, 1:41, 1:41, 1:41, 1:41, 1:40
6200m including rest (5:23 mile pace)
3 mile cool down
10.5 miles total
Tuesday January 19, 2011
At Tufts indoor track
3 miles warm up + strides
6 x 800m at 5k pace with 200m jog rest
2:15, 2:14, 2:14, 2:13, 2:15, 2:15
5800m total (5000m hard)
200m hard in 29.5
3 mile cool down
10 miles total
Tuesday January 26, 2011 PM
At Reggie Lewis Center
23:57 warm up + strides,
12 x 400m and 1 x 200m with 100m jog rest
1:07, 1:07, 1:06, 1:07, 1:06, 1:07, 1:06, 1:07, 1:06, 1:07, 1:08, 1:06, 32.4
6200m total (5000m of work)
3 miles cool down
11 miles total
Saturday January 30, 2011
3 miles warm up
Race BU terrier 5000m, 4th place 13:56.74- PB
6 mile cool down
12 miles total
How Can I Use Elite Runner Training Plans to Help Me Run a Faster 5k?
Learn your 5k race pace
I don’t care what your goal race is.
One thing I think is key to properly preparing yourself for your best performance at that distance is to do so much running at your goal pace that it becomes ingrained in your head.
Early on in the base phase it should be done in small doses, with lots of rest, and with a focus on feeling relaxed at the pace and being as smooth and efficient as possible at that speed and rhythm.
As you get closer to the specific phase, you should mix in some sessions where you run the pace when you are very tired, such as a fast last 400m or a tempo run, or a couple of reps at the end of a long run.
This will teach your body that it can run that pace even when it feels like crap.
As you enter into the specific phase, you want to get your body used to the muscular demands of running the full volume of the race at your goal pace.
You can’t go out and run a 5k at goal pace right away by yourself.
If you could, then it wouldn’t be goal pace. So you need to put some rest in.
Whatever rest you need is fine; this is your starting point.
Workouts to get you ready to race a fast 5k
If you want to get ready for a race, you need to get ready for the demands that race is going to put on you.
When I was in high school I really wanted to break nine minutes in the two mile.
Keep in mind:
I was a long way from the type of runner capable of accomplishing such a feat, but that didn’t change the fact that my goal was to break nine minutes.
Over the course of the spring of my Senior year, I repeatedly did a workout of 8 x 400m with either a 400 jog rest or a two minute standing rest.
At the end of the winter season in which I had run a two mile best of 9:57, I could average just about 68 seconds for this workout.
By the end of the spring I ran this 8 x 400 session at an average of 60.0.
A massive session considering my middling 400m pb of 58 seconds.
But, get this:
I only ran 9:47 for two miles.
I improved for sure, but only by a bit over one second a lap while I improved 8 seconds a lap in my workout.
I trained myself to run a great 8 x 400 workout instead of running a great two mile race.
I’m not saying if I had started reducing the rest on my 8 x 400 at 68 instead that I would have run 9:00 to 9:10 by the end of the season.
Again, there was a big gap there, but I think 9:20s was possible.
See how you can apply this same theory to your training?
In this cycle of workouts, I started with 400s at goal 5k pace with 100 jog. I did a 600 for the last rep on this one, but sometimes I will do all 400s and another 100 jog followed by a 200 hard, kicking in to simulate finishing my race, but I was feeling strong on this day and finished with a 600.
Some runners like to do a bit more then the full race distance, to make your workout volume 6k instead of 5k.
I’m totally okay with that, but my body has trouble handling track work so I stick to the minimum for myself.
If you start with this session and you can’t do it with 100 rests and have to mix in a few 200 or a 400 or whatever, that is fine.
The point is to cover the volume of work at the set pace.
The rest is what it is; this is your starting point.
How to progress the Workout
You have done your first session.
You know where you are, and now you need to start getting to where you want to be.
This is important:
You should not go back to another specific session for at least a week.
Ideally I like 12 to 14 days so you can fully absorb the last session.
Even on one week if you try a similar workout, you often do poorly because you are still tired in the specific systems that you need for that session from the last session; you haven’t absorbed enough of the training effect from the first session yet to overcome that fatigue and produce an improved workout.
A poorer workout doesn’t do much for your training and is very disheartening.
A week out is a great place for a 3k or 10k workout, something close to specific but not quite there.
While I follow a marathon training schedule, I often do a specific workout each week, but I change the type so that direct comparisons aren’t as easy and the exact fatigue is a bit different.
How much rest do I need between intervals?
If you learn nothing else from this article:
The single most important variable of any interval workout is the rest.
This is what defines the workout more then any other thing.
On a specific workout for 3k to 10k racing, the rest MUST be jogging or running.
Yes, it is tempting sometimes, but:
We tend to adapt to standing rest way too well and become able to make great gains in our interval performance while seeing little gain in our race performance.
This is the complete opposite of what we want to see.
I worked with a runner who could do 12 x 400m including 30-45 second standing rests in 75 seconds total.
That is a 15:30 5k pace but her best 5k was right around 18 minutes.
The disconnect was huge.
How to complete the “rests” correctly
For these workouts specifically, the jog was at what I would call a slow training pace.
Not a shuffle jog but a slow training pace.
This should be your recovery day pace but not as fast as your steady day training pace.
At times, I like to do longer rests but run them at a light tempo pace or even as fast as marathon pace, but that is mostly a compromise for younger runners who I want to keep aerobically focused year round for the best long term development for athletes trying to run a series of faster 5ks leading up to a goal half marathon.
You’ll notice I did jump up to 200m rests after the 400s, then kept the rests at 200 after that.
Here’s the deal:
There is a huge difference at 5k pace between 400s and 600s so that is a very big jump.
In a 400 rep only the last 100m or so is really tough; in the 600 the last 300 is pretty tough—that is three times as long.
Compare this to jumping up from 600 to 800, where you go from 300 being tough to 500 being tough.
You can also do a cycle where you do, say, 1ks all the way from the start and simply reduce the rest.
Start with 5-6 x 1k at goal pace with 3 minutess standing rest in the late base and the go to 3 minute jog rest, 2:30 jog rest, working down to a one-minute jog rest or a bit less, and you should be ready to rock and roll.
This is a great option for someone who has a decent amount of speed and finds they are pretty comfortable at their 5k goal pace but they just can’t seem to hold it to the finish.
Your final workout before the race
You’ll notice a few days before the goal race I went back to the 12 x 400 with the 100 jog.
I didn’t run the reps any faster.
My rests were still 100m, but I was able, without really trying, to run them at a noticeably quicker pace.
Now the couple of seconds quicker per 100 didn’t feel all that much different in terms of the rhythm of the workout, but it makes a huge difference in terms of the aerobic requirements of the session.
In my first 12 x 400 session I averaged 5:30 mile pace with the recovery jogs included; during this session, I averaged 5:07 pace!
The focus of this workout is a little pace rehearsal and to focus on staying comfortable at pace.
It isn’t nearly as hard as the other sessions, which often are all out by the last couple of reps.
This session you tend to feel at the end like you’re just getting to the point where it is becoming a workout, as though you are 3/4 of the way through a hard session or something like that.
It isn’t easy, but it isn’t a killer either
One more thing:
If you push the rest pace so much that it becomes very hard that is okay.
The volume is low enough, and at four days out, it is far enough from your race that it shouldn’t leave you flat for race day.
What it does do is put a nice little polish on your comfort at speed and prime your body and mind for the rhythm you need to find on race day.