Specific 5K Workouts

By Rick Morris

If you are going to run your best 5K your body needs to be finely tuned and operating at peak efficiency. You need highly specific 5K workouts. You can run well in some race distances even when some of your body’s energy producing systems aren’t at peak capacity. For example, when running a marathon you may be able to get away with foot speed that isn’t quite up to par. If your pure endurance is good and your lactate threshold is high, you will probably still run a good race. If you are running a mile, you might be able to get away with a lower level of pure endurance or a less than optimal lactate threshold. But the 5K distance requires efficiency in all energy systems. You need the pure endurance to get you through the 3.1 miles. Your lactate threshold must be high so that you can maintain your speed for a long period of time. Your vVO2 max should be optimized so that you are running at your maximum running velocity when you reach your VO2 max. Your running economy needs to at peak efficiency so you are running faster with less effort.

Contrary to popular belief each of the different types of 5K workouts you do contribute some benefit to each of your energy and training systems. No single workout trains one isolated running system. Endurance training, for example, is primarily intended to develop your pure endurance. But is also helps improve your VO2 max. The main reason you do lactate threshold workouts is to improve the ability of your body to process accumulating lactate for energy, but it also helps develop your running economy and VO2 max.

So, what is the best workout for 5K training? If you follow the rule of specificity, which says that you should practice running using workouts that are as similar to your goal as possible, running a 5K would be the best workout. That makes a lot of sense. Running a 5K at goal pace is as specific as you can get. That type of workout is indeed a very good 5K workout. It develops your VO2 max, your lactate threshold, your running economy and obviously is very good at preparing you to race a 5K. Unfortunately it is not that easy. First, if you ran a 5K at race pace every day your muscles would look like shredded mozzarella. Your body cannot tolerate a race length, race pace workout on a consistent basis. Another problem is that you are eliminating workouts that are critical for your overall 5K running development. You still need longer endurance runs, strength building hill workouts and speed enhancing vVO2 max training.

There are many possible workouts and variations of workouts you can do, but here are some that are highly efficient at building your 5K performance. Each of these workouts should be performed one time per week.

12 x 400 Meter Repeats.

After a warm up run 12 x 400 meters at your goal 5K pace. Recover between each repeat for 30 seconds. After a few weeks at this level drop your recover time to 15 seconds. Click here to view additional information on goal based progressive 5K workouts.

6 x 800 Meter Repeats.

After a warm up, run 6 x 800 meter repeats at your goal 5K pace. Recover between each repeat for 1 minute. During subsequent training sessions you can start to decrease your recovery time.

3 x 1600 Meter Repeats

Warm up an then run 3 x 1600 meter repeats at your goal 5K pace. Recover between each repeat for 2 minutes. Again, gradually decrease your recover time during later training sessions.

400 Meter Repeats With a Float

Run for 2 to 4 miles alternating between 400 meters at 5K pace and 200 meters at a strong but relaxed pace. This is an excellent workout for raising your lactate threshold and running economy at race pace.

Lactate Builders

Alternate between running for 30 seconds at nearly full pace and 30 seconds at an easy pace. Keep running until you are unable to hold a strong pace. This is an excellent lactate threshold builder. It also improves your vVO2 max and running economy.

3 x 400/800/400 Compound Set

After your warm up, begin this set by running 400 meters at nearly full pace, then slow down to goal 5K pace for 800 meters before speeding up to nearly full pace for another 400 meters. Take no recovery between the distances, but recover for 5 minutes between each compound set.  This workout is excellent for building lactate threshold, vVO2 max, running economy and finishing speed.

5K Long Run

It has become a common practice to perform part of marathon long runs at goal marathon pace. Most 5K runners do their long runs completely at an easy pace, using it simply as an endurance run. You can make your long run more specific to your 5K goal race by following this workout.

Start this workout with 4 miles at an easy pace. Then speed up to goal 5K race for ½ mile. Slow down to an easy pace for 4 more miles. Now speed up to 5K pace for ½ mile before slowing to an easy pace for 2 miles. Finish this 12 mile run with 1 mile at your goal 5K pace. This 5K long run improves your endurance, raises your lactate threshold, makes you a more economical runner and trains you to run at 5K pace when fatigued.