Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff


How to Improve Your Marathon PR by Training for the 5k

Want to run a faster marathon? Hit the plateau? We have 2:14 Marathoner Nate Jenkins share 3 weeks of his training, and we explain why & how 5k training can be helpful if you need to improve your top end speed to reach the next level in the marathon.You just ran a huge marathon PR. You ran a time faster than you could have dreamed running in the past. Now what? You want to make that next big leap right?

Or maybe it has been a while since your fastest time, and you have been trying to make that leap, but for some reason you are just stuck.

In both cases, this is when it is often time to go back to the shorter distances to rediscover your speed, so the next marathon you do, not only are you stronger, but you are now faster.

This article is not only going to show you how to do that, but we are going to share a full training block from 2:14 marathoner Nate Jenkins training as a professional runner, based around the 5k-specific workout series that we discussed in a previous article.

Then we show you how to apply what he learned to your training, to help you take that next step.

Ready to Run Your Fastest Marathon yet?

As you look through this cycle, try keep a few things in mind:

First, this was a winter season leading to an outdoor season. This meant the training cycle couldn’t just be an end in itself. I needed to be doing some work for the next season.

Second, like many of you, I was never a track star. I do not have anything near Coach Jeff’s credentials at the 3k to 10k distances or Coach Blake’s blazing sub 4-minute mile speed, so this training isn’t nearly as impressive as some of their previously posted training. However, it is very helpful for those of you like me who need to improve your top end speed to realize continued improvements in the marathon.


This is three weeks of heavy training during a 5k indoor season. The goal of this cycle was to be doing good work for general fitness while doing specific 5k work with a goal of running a 5k under 14 minutes and qualifying for the USA indoor national championships.

You will notice that most weeks I did a second aerobic workout.

If you are slow twitch dominated like I am, you will need to keep this the same even if this was a full-on 5k season.


If you were in a full on 5k season, this second session should be intervals. Especially if you are an athlete with more slow twitch b fibers that better handle lactic acid as fuel.

You might be wondering:

The thing that is missing from this training is muscular work. There should be some hard, fast, short alactic sprints, either on short hills or on the flat, with full recovery. Also, some drills would be good to help you become a more injury resistant and resilient runner.

During this cycle, I was coming back from a lower leg injury that was bothered by speed, and I kept it to just the specific workout each week until it was fully healthy.

The Training

January 11 to 17

AM Rattlesnake Rd. 9, solo, 59:41, tot. 9
PM Rattlesnake Rd. 9 solo, 1:07:06 tot.9 XT stretching, concentric calf raises, rubberband ankle stuff, butt routine

AM at Tufts indoor track, 3 mile warm up, 23:03, strides, 400m in 73.2, strides, light stretching, 8x600m at goal 5k pace- sub 1:42) with 200m jog rest, 1:39.7(57.8), 1:41.3(58.8), 1:41.2(57.2), 1:41.4(1:03.6), 1:41.1(1:03.4), 1:41.7(1:06.4), 1:41.6(1;11.8), 1:40.2- 20:46 for 6200m including rest- 5:23 mile pace.

I really struggled on this. I was only two days off the only speed work I’ve done in a month, and I was hurting. It showed in how the jog rests got slower. But I got through it. I had planned to do just 12x400m at 5k which is my normal kick off workout, but I decided to try 600s to expedite things, and it worked out ok.

I’ll go for 800′s this week. I was 13:28 for 4800m of work or just about 14:01 5k pace. 3 mile cool down- 24:26 tot. 10+
PM rattlesnake road 9, 1:12:14, very beat up from workout, hips and calves stiff and sore. tot.9 – XT concentric calf raises, stretching

AM Mika for massage and chiro – Noon Rattlesnake rd. 9, 1:06:33- hurting tot. 9
PM Rattlesnake rd. 9, 1:15:28- yup about 8:30 pace tot.9 – XT stretching, concentric calf raises, rubberband stuff

AM  rattlesnake road 10, 59:12, first 2 miles warm up 14:38, next 8 miles tempo- 44:33- 5:34 pace- very hilly tempo starting at 140 feet, down to 100 at the mile and climbing to 328 feet at 7 miles, 220 feet at 8 mile(finish), was going to do harder run but was hurting pretty bad after last workout so decided to just do this. – XT stretching, concentric calf raises, rubberband

AM Rattlesnake rd. 9, 1:01:44 tot.9
PM rattlesnake rd. 9, 1:10;12 tot.9 – XT stretching, concentric calf raises, butt routine, rubberband stuff

Noon – 3 warm up, strides- one that was 30 seconds long, Race mile at Tufts meet, 1st- 4:17.91. splits 33.04, 31.00(64.04), 32.63(1:36.67), 32.89(2:09.56), 33.19(2:42.75), 33.01(3:15.76), 31.95(3;47.71), 30.09(4:17.80 hand)- In some ways this isn’t bad; my last mile was 4:17.73- basically the same time- and it was on a banked track, tufts is flat.

Also in that race I was passed in the last 100m, in this race a kid came up on me with 80m to go, and I was able to push again. But I did a poor job of holding form, a poor job of holding pace—look at that middle 800m; it wouldn’t be good in a 3k! A poor job of being tough—a kid came up on me in the last 100m, and I had another gear…not good.

I knew I wasn’t in a position to run real well but I had hoped for a bit more. Still, it certainly could have been worse. 5 mile cool down after tot. 9 – XT concentric calf raises, stretching, light skipping

AM great pond 20 mile easy, 2:13:23- I have had runs during which I felt like a bigger pile of shit though I can’t really remember when.

I think I felt so crummy because I had gone hard 5 times in the previous 10 days after going about 30 days without going hard.

Also, I didn’t have a chocolate milk or recovery shake after the workout. I have been working hard the last 10 days on my form to help the hip/hammy, and I’m paying a price for that as well. tot. 20
XT stretching, concentric calf raises rubberband exercises.

Summary 112 miles for week, two workouts, one race.

January 18 to 24


AM Rattlesnake Road 9, 1:01:14, loop a bit sloppy from snow tot.9
PM Rattlesnake Road 9, 1:05:29, again snowy in stretches tot.9 XT – concentric calf raises, rubberband ankle stuff, butt routine

At Tufts indoor track, 3 warm up- 23:48, strides, 400m in 73-didn’t feel good- few more strides, 6x800m at 5k pace with 200m jog rest, 2:15.2(1:10), 2:14.8(1:07), 2:14.8(58), 2:13.5(1:03.2), 2:15.2(1:01), 2:15.0 -5800m in 18:47.5(5:12.7 mile pace/3:14.3 kilo pace)- 33 second standing and walking rest, 200m hard- 29.5- 5000m of total work in 13:58.0, 3 mile cool down- 24:54, workout felt MUCH better then last week. tot. 10
Rattlesnake Road 9- more snow so it was sloppy, 1:13:54 tot. 9XT concentric calf raises, rubberband stuff, butt routine- but no calf raises, no pedestal

Rattlesnake rd.9- 1:09:33, very stiff!!, tot. 9 –  Mika for chiro and treatment
PM Rattlesnake road 9, 1:16:04- VERY ICY!!, tot. 9

Rattlesnake road 9, 1:01:04 tot.9
PM nada- didn’t want to jump from the low 100s I’ve been at the last 5 or 6 weeks up to 130s this week so I planned to skip one run when I was having a long day, today was the winner.XT stretching, concentric calf raises, rubberband stuff, additional butt exercise, butt routine

3 warm up, 22:47, strides, 10k tempo- 31:12, around lightly rolling Holt road 5k loop. Splits- 15:30/15:42- longest tempo my hammy has let me do at this effort since getting ready for the Olympic Trials in ’07, and it may have let me go another mile but not more than that I’m sure. So I’m better then I was but not fixed yet. 3 mile cool down- 20:40 tot. 12+
PM rd. 7++, 1:00:58, first 3.5 with Melissa, tot. 7++  – stretching, concentric calf raises, rubberband stuff, butt routine

rattlesnake road 9, 1:04:05 tot. 9
PM road 8, 1:04:41, first 3.5 with Melissa, tot. 8  – concentric calf raises, stretching, rubberband stuff, butt routine

Sunday Noon 4 warm up, 28:53, strides- one of almost 200m, Race GBTC mile at Harvard- 6th place 4:14.17 (31.94, 31.50(63.44), 32.16(1:35.60), 32.28(2:07.88), 32.00(2:39.88), 31.49(3:11.37), 62.59(4:13.96 hand).

To be honest, I have only on a few rare occasions felt like a bigger pile of shit before a race, but I got to start in the outside stagger which helped, and as I got to about 1k I realized I wasn’t hurting that bad and my pace was ok.

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and get going. I ended up running well, not great, from there in and coming close to really ripping it, but 1:34.08 for the last 3 laps on the 220y track, so for 660y. It’s funny. I feel like I don’t run well at Harvard, but I now have my two fastest miles ever both on this track. Did a bit under 10 miles for a cool down with a group-1:10:37 tot. 15

PM 4 miles shakeout with Melissa, 33:35 tot.4 – XT stretching

Summary 120 miles for week, 2 workouts- 1 interval, 1 tempo, 1 race.

January 25 to 31

Rattlesnake Road 9, 1:04:00, rain tot. 9
PM Rattlesnake Road 9, 1:15:31, rain, tired tot. 9 – XT stretching, concentric calves, rubber band ankle stuff,

Rattlesnake Road 8, 1:01:54 tot. 8
at Reggie Lewis Center, 23:57 warm up.  strides, 400m in 72, strides. 12x400m and 1x200m with 100m jog rests 1:07.3(30.3), 1:07.4(29.0), 1:06.1(27.9), 1:07.0(26.4), 1:06.2(26.4), 1:07.6(29.5), 1:06.1(30.8), 1:07.8(29.1), 1:06.3(30.0), 1:07.3(30.0), 1:08.3(32.8), 1:06.1(26.4), 32.4- 6200m including rests in 19:43.7( 5:07 mile/ 3:10.9 kilo pace) 5000m of ‘effort’ in 13:55.9 – this was a hard effort with the sharp rests.  22:13 cool down tot. 11

Rattlesnake Road 9, 1:04:48 tot.9 –  mika for chiro and treatment
PM Road 6, first 4 with Melissa, 49:27, tot. 6 – XT stretching, concentric calves

3 mile warm up, 22:47, strides, 5k tempo on Holt Road loop- lightly rolling, goal was about 90% of 5k race pace (so 15:25 or so) ran 15:16, felt pretty good, which was nice because I felt shaky after the warm up.  3 mile cool down, 21:03 tot. 9++
Holt Road 6 loop, 51:18, shakeout, tot. 6+ –  XT stretching, concentric calves, butt routine

Holt Road 6 loop, 47:01- cold! wind chill -9 f. tot. 6
Holt Road 6 loop, 47:44, cold! wind chill -7 f. tot. 6 – XT stretching, butt routine

3 mile shakeout, 23:36- Cold! Again, wore a ton of clothes for this. tot. 3

5PM 24:01 warm up, strides including one of about 170m, race BU terrier 5000m, 4th place 13:56.74- PB- splits 34.53, 32.85(67.38), 32.62, 32.84 (800m- 2:12.84), 33.31(1k- 2:46.15), 33.23, 33.71, 33.35(1600m- 4:26.44), 32.97, 33.43(2k-5:32.84/ 2:46.69), 33.44, 33.56, 33.31, 33.67, 34.00(3k-8:20.76/ 2:47.92), 33.56(3200m-8:54.32/ 4:27.88), 34.10, 34.53, 34.28, 33.51(4k- 11:10.84/ 2:50.08), 33.87, 33.97, 33.40, 33.39(4800m-13:25.47(4:31.15), 30.59(5k-13:56.06 hand, last K -2:45.22, last 800m-2:11.35, last 400m-63.98- all of those fastest of race)  6 mile cool down with ruben, others there for parts, 47:27 tot. 12++

Great Pond Road 20, 2:16;04, cold!, tot. 20
Holt Road 5 shakeout with Melissa, 42:53, tot. 5

Summary 120 miles for week, two workouts, one race.  Very good week.  Race was great.

This is awesome! A glimpse into a Professional Marathoner's Training! Click To Tweet

What You Can Learn From This Cycle

Training through but still racing well

Often we have a period where we want to be training hard but still race well at the same time. This is a good example of one way to approach this.

The miles are fairly high, and the weekly work volume is pretty high. This isn’t advisable for new runners, as without a large aerobic base behind them the significant anaerobic work will over sharpen them and leave them susceptible to illness and injury.

For the strong athlete with a large base, this is a great compromise which allows them to race well while still increasing overall fitness.

The key, though, is that even the anaerobic workouts must remain somewhat aerobic in nature.

Make sure that, including the rests in your intervals, you are running marathon pace or faster for the entire workout. If you can get down around half marathon pace, that is even better.

Marathoners Training for the 5k

You may be, like me, be a pure marathoner and one of those folks who finds long runs to be the easiest session of the week. Perhaps you possess little basic speed and even less explosiveness. If you find that with each move up in distance you move up in finishing place, then this training cycle is for you.

Often we are tempted to shy away from the shorter races, but the reality is that you need to do short work more than the speed merchants who have drifted up to the marathon in order to get the best out of your running.

A speed training cycle like this can, with a couple of small tweaks, be a great base phase for a specific marathon prep.

Also, if you are trying to improve your 5k and 10k PRs, your weaknesses if you will, in order to improve your marathon outlook, then a successful specific 5k season is a great idea.

The thing you may have already discovered is that when you start lowering your volume and rocking the speed work on the track, you don’t improve for as long or as much as your club mates.

As a pure, slow twitch runner, you need an aerobic contribution during all phases of training. Even if you are 100% committed to getting your mile, 3k, or 5k PRs down, you still need to be doing some tempo work every week to ten days in order to keep your aerobic fitness up.

Otherwise you’ll fall apart mid-season without reaching your full potential.

Improve your marathon time by training for the 5k. Great post by @Runners_Connect Click To Tweet

Do You Need Specific Work to Run a Good 5k?

Yes and no. To run your absolute best 5k, you need specific 5k work. Doing specific workouts like you see above will get you there fast and with certainty.

That said, if you are doing good, high-quality base work that includes both a good bit of tempo and threshold work and good muscular work—at least 3k of volume each week at mile effort/pace or better in the form of alactic, 15 second or less bursts—with full recovery you can and will race very well over the short distances simply because your fitness improvement will be well-rounded and you will be ready to handle most any racing challenge that comes up.

Want to learn more from Nate? Check out our What Can You Learn from One of America’s Best Marathoners podcast Interview with Nate.

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2 Responses on “How to Improve Your Marathon PR by Training for the 5k

  1. Hello. I had a question regarding what kind of training I should be doing to get ready for xc next fall. I ran this fall and finished with a 8k pr of 29 minutes. I didn’t get in very good summer training before that and I felt like I wasn’t anywhere near top form. I was only at that school for a semester, and I took the spring off to work. For about 5 months iv been getting in steady 50-60mpw training, and recently started doing a good amount of supplementary work. But xc is still 7 months away and I’m wondering how I can break down that time to see the best results in the fall. I would also like to run 16 minutes in the 5k over the summer, as my hs pr was 16:40. Any advice would be awesome

    • I would shoot to run your 5k goal sometime early to mid-June. So, focus on 5k training from now until then. After that, take a short 1-2 week break and then begin building up your mileage. Once you get back to peak mileage, include one easy tempo run per week and one easy fartlek session. Hope that helps!

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