5K Long Runs

By Rick Morris

We’re all intimately familiar with our weekly or bi-weekly long run. It’s become part of every competitive runners training programs, especially during marathon training. That weekly long run is the critical workout for marathon runners. But – how about the shorter 5K distance? Is a long run important for top 5K performance? At first glance it may seem that a long run isn’t a critical part of 5K training. After all, it’s only 3.1 miles – right? Yep – it is only 3.1 miles, but your long run is still an important part of 5K training. The endurance gained through a weekly long run will make your body more efficient at burning fat for fuel, will improve the ability of your heart to deliver oxygen to your muscles and also your muscles ability to extract and use that oxygen. A weekly long run will also improve the injury resistance of your muscles and connective tissues.

While any long run will help your 5K performance you can maximize its positive impact by doing a long run that is specifically designed for a 5K. Here are some 5K long runs that will give you that extra edge you need to set a new 5K PR.

The Classic Long Run

You’re already familiar with this one. It is the classic long run that is performed completely at an easy endurance pace. This one requires very little explanation. Simply run for between 12 and 20 miles at a pace that feels easy. This classic long run does a good job of improving the ability of your body to use oxygen and fat to produce energy. If you are a beginning runner, these classic long runs also improve your VO2 max.

5K Fartlek Long Run

You probably already know this, but fartlek workouts are runs in which you change your pace throughout the workout. You can structure this workout however you please. In fact, that’s one of the ideas behind this workout. You should have fun with it and change pace whenever you get the urge. Here is just one example of a 5K fartlek run.

Start with 4 miles at an easy pace. Then speed up to 5K pace for .5 miles. Slow down to an easy pace for 4 more miles before speeding up again to 5K pace for .5 miles. Slow again to an easy pace for 2 miles and finish this 12 mile long run with 1 mile at 5K pace.

5K Progressive Long Run

A progressive run is a workout in which you gradually speed up throughout your workout. You can design any number of specific 5K progressive long runs. The goal is to gradually increase your pace during the run. Just be careful not to increase your pace too quickly. Remember that this is a long run. Here is an example of a 5K progressive long run.

Start your 5K progressive long run with 5 miles at an easy pace. Now speed up to marathon pace for about 3 miles. Then speed up again to ½ marathon pace for 2 miles. Next, increase your speed to 10K pace for 1 mile and finish your 12 mile progressive long run with 1 mile at 5K pace.

5K Goal Pace Long Run

If you’ve race the marathon distance you may be familiar with marathon pace long runs, in which you run the last part of a long run at goal pace. You can also do 5K goal pace long runs. To perform this run you simply run the mile or two at your goal 5K pace. These  long runs should be progressive in nature. For example, a long run early in your training cycle could be 12 miles with the first 11 at an easy pace and the final mile at 5K pace. You should gradually increase both the total miles and the amount of goal pace running. A long run late in your cycle may progress to 20 miles with the first 18 at an easy pace and the final 2 miles at 5K pace.

Fast Finish Long Run

A fast finish long run is nearly identical to the 5K goal pace long runs with one exception. You run the last 400 meters at sprint pace. This type of long run will improve your finishing kick and your ability to run at a very hard pace when you are highly fatigued.