Many distance runners become comfortable with longer races like the half-marathon and marathon. Shorter races like the 5k may become less appealing as some runners prefer to race for longer distances. There are many benefits to racing a 5k, even if it is not your primary focus. The off-season can be a great time to shift your focus to a shorter distance race like the 5k. Here are some strategies for long distance runners looking to train for a strong 5k.
How Long Distance Runners Can Train For a Strong 5k
Determine your 5k Goal
Long distance runners could easily go out and run a 5k on any given day. (If you are used to running 13 or 26 miles, 3.1 miles probably sounds like nothing!). However, there is a difference between running a 5k and racing one. If you want to race a strong 5k, it can be helpful to set a reasonable goal. You can use a chart like VDOT to enter a recent race result or you can do a time trial. Keep in mind that if you are a slow-twitch runner you will probably perform better in longer distance races, while faster-twitch runners will perform better in shorter ones.
Adjust your mileage
When training for a 5k you won’t need to have the same volume of miles that you have when training for a half or a full marathon. You want to make sure that you can handle some more intense workouts. You can continue running the same number of days per week, or you can cut back. While your long run doesn’t need to be more than 5-7 miles, some advanced runners might want to keep a longer run than that to build aerobic capacity. Just make sure you are keeping your easy runs easy, especially if you are keeping your mileage on the higher end.
Develop a training plan to train for a strong 5k
If you really want to run a strong 5k it’s important to follow some sort of a structured plan. Long distance runners could include some faster workouts and still race a 5k in a decent time, but to perform your best it is more helpful to follow a progression of workouts. Even though you are only racing for 3 miles, a short taper is helpful as well. Your plan should include easy runs, speed workouts, and tempo runs. One of your runs can be longer, but this will most likely be done at a very easy pace. Depending on your fitness level and how your body responds to harder workouts, you can complete 1-2 workouts per week. (Very advanced runners may include a 3rd hard workout, but this will usually replace the long run).
New to running? Check out How to Successfully Train for Your First Race with Couch to 5k Training
Identify your weaknesses
As you start doing 5k workouts you may notice that you struggle with short intervals or that threshold runs are very challenging. The tricky part about 5ks is that you need to be able to hold a fast pace for a considerably long time. (5k pace feels very hard when you are holding it for 3.1 miles!) You want to make sure to include those workouts that are challenging, but they shouldn’t be all that you are doing. However, you may need to adjust your paces a bit and really focus on recovery the day after you complete those workouts.
Sample Schedule to Train for a Strong 5k
Here is an example of how you could structure your training if you are running 5 days a week. You can train by running more or less than this, but it will depend on your fitness and goals. It is best to start with wherever your current fitness is and build from there.
Workouts to Train for a Strong 5k
There are endless workouts that could be selected to help you train for a strong 5k. Typically, runners who favor the half or full marathon have very strong endurance already and therefore need to work more on speed work. However, it is important to remember to include easy runs and to make hard workouts a small percentage of your training. Tempo runs are also critical for helping you prepare to hold a challenging pace for a long period of time.
Speed workouts can be done on a track focusing on distances from 200 m to a mile. They can also be done as fartlek workouts by time rather than by distance. For these workouts your pace will be anywhere from 3k pace to slightly slower than 5k pace.
Tempo runs can be continuous runs of 20-30 minutes around 10k pace, or they can be broken into shorter segments. For example, you could run 2 x 15 minutes between 5k and 10k pace.
Train at appropriate paces
It is important that when you determine your race goal that it is realistic and within your current training capabilities. Once you have your goal pace, you can calculate your workout paces. The VDOT running calculator shows you how to pace different kinds of workouts (repetition, intervals, threshold, etc.) The McMillan calculator provides similar information as well.
A running coach can provide you with an individualized training plan and recommend paces based on your fitness, progress, and goals to help you train for a strong 5k!
Have you ever trained specifically for a 5k?
Do you prefer short interval workouts or longer workouts?