The 5K has become the standard starting point for beginners and is often a distant memory for middle distant and endurance runners. However, every runner can benefit from maintaining a faster 5K speed. Just because you have a good race pace for long distances doesn’t mean you don’t need to keep up a personal best for your 5K. And, in fact, improving your personal record (PR) for your 5k will translate into improvements in longer distances.
Training for a faster 5K means more than running 3.1 miles over and over and over again, until you feel you have mastered a steady pace. You need to mix in some longer distance runs with a few threshold runs and do not forget about completing a fartlek (Swedish for “speed play”) or two as well. Mixing up your training will improve your aerobic threshold, meaning a faster 5K time after time.
Reach Your Goal Pace
Establishing a goal means also establishing a baseline. If your fastest 5K on a flat surface race was 21:00 minutes – that is approximately 6:45 per mile. According to world renowned running coach, Bill Bowerman, this is your “date pace.” You want to set your “goal pace” at about one second faster per 400 meters, according to Active.com. At 6:45 per mile, you are completing 400 meters in about 116 seconds. So, you will need to train to achieve 400 meters in 115 seconds and bring your race pace to 6:41 per mile.
Once you have mastered that, you can strive to complete your race-pace workouts at 6:41 per mile.
Complete these workouts on the track. You will get the greatest accuracy, beyond using a GPS or your “known distance” running path. Accuracy in distance is key to achieving success. And, while training for a 5K on a treadmill isn’t impossible, it is not ideal for training your muscles or wrought with accuracy in distance either (never underestimate just how much a pulley and lever system can take away from your workouts.)
Run in the shoes you intend to race in – don’t save your brand new shoes for the race. Break them in first.
Train Faster to Achieve Your Goal Pace
You may want to include a few faster paced interval runs during your training, as well as on the days just before your race. Coach Jay Johnson recommends this to his athletes to ensure they are more comfortable at their race pace on race day. He suggests, “4 x 30 seconds at faster than 5K pace with 60 to 90 seconds of slow jogging in between near the end of your easy day run.” And this routine does not need to be completed on the track either. The alternative however, states Johnson, “you can go to the track and run some 200s with a 200m steady jog at a pace that is a few seconds faster than goal race pace. Just five 200s the day before a 5K will help you feel good the next day, and will ensure that in the last 200m of the 5K race, you’ll be able to kick.”