Workouts for 5K runners wanting to run longer or faster

Once runners have caught the competitive running bug I usually hear two requests. I want to run in longer races or I want to run faster 5ks.

For 5K specialists that want to run in longer distance races, the trick is to increase mileage and training volume safely over several weeks/months. I have seen many 5k specialists who will just say “I have been running 3-5 miles so this weekend I am going to run 8-10 miles.” While I believe that many runners could do this if they have been running competitively for more than a few years but the risk of injury is great!

The smarter way to train is to take the time to increase the distance of every run that you do by 10% a week. Then drop back 10% every 3rd or 4th week. This 3rd or 4th week would be your active recovery week. Those that are 40+ years of age should think about making every 3rd week of training an active recovery week and those younger than 40 should make every 4th week of training an active recovery week. These active recovery weeks and the days off in your training schedule are where physical adaptations are made! There is no perfect percentage for deciding how much we should increase the volume of running but 10-15% margin has proven to be pretty safe.

The other method to improve your ability to run greater distances is too well, run more. Age grouper competitive 5K runners can train in as little as 4 days a week and be very competitive. Those that are racing in open classes will usually need to run 5-6 days a week to be competitive. Sounds Like I just covered increasing mileage by a percentage again. Yes, but you may also find that the way your life schedule is that you may be better off adding an extra day of running instead of increasing the daily volume of your existing run days. You may also want to schedule 2 runs a day! However, this too can quickly lead to overtraining and overuse injuries. So I recommend caution when adding two a days to your plan. If you are over 40 or new to running I would strongly suggest you only do this once a week. Both runs would also not be identical workouts. So no high-intensity speed work twice a day!

Instead, the first run could be tempo, hill or speed intervals and the second run should be a recovery run.  For those a bit more experienced or younger you could do this twice a week but just make sure that you have 3 days apart to have a full recovery.

For those 5K specialists who want to trim down their splits, I have a secret.

Run faster! I know this sounds silly but try this out.  For the 4-6 week leading up to a 2-week taper before your priority race, you can change your focus from 5K to the mile. While this may seem silly at first you will quickly find that once you have your base miles in it really doesn’t take long to build up your average speed. I have found over and over that athletes are all too willing to big volume over higher intensity but hen it comes to the 5K if you want to start posting sub 7, 6 or even 4-minute miles you are going to have to make intensity your friend.

So rather than just trying pound out your favorite 5K courses faster, I recommend the following. Find a relatively flat stretch of road or track and complete the following workout once a week for the next 4-6 weeks in place of your usual speed work.

  • Warm up by running a mile mostly easy but make sure by the last quarter-mile you are running at your tempo pace.
  • Run 100% of your desired race pace for a quarter-mile
  • Recover by jogging back to the start
  • Run 90% of your desired race pace for a half-mile
  • Recover by jogging back to the start
  • Run 80% of your desired race pace for three-quarters of a mile
  • Recover by jogging back to the start
  • Run 3-6 sprints lasting 10-20 seconds with 2-minute walk between each
  • Cool down by just walking until you can catch your breath and have fully recovered

Increase the percentage of desired race pace by 2% each week for 4-6 weeks. Just don’t forget to schedule 2 or more active recovery weeks.

The goal of this workout is intensity and lots of it. At first, we want to get you use to progressively faster and faster distance but in smaller chunks. I find that athletes adapt faster and embrace easier training objectives when the workouts are simply structured.

Why sprints at the end, I am a distance runner, not sprinter?

The goal for this workout is to help an athlete get used to the intensity that comes with running faster across 5K. One of the biggest things I teach my athletes is that no matter what they are doing in training and racing is to finish strong and to race through the finish line, not to it. I have found that providing some overreaching at the end of a workout can enforce these training and racing principles while adding training stress that is often quick to recover from. Also running fast is not a comfortable experience so the sprinting at the end of a workout will help you to get used to being uncomfortable.

Have running questions I would love to hear from you!

To those that have read my site for years and are scratching their heads about a running article you should expect to see more of them. I am running coach too. More cycling articles to come!

Until next time,

Train Smarter Not Harder,

Coach Rob



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.