The 5K is a complex, but thrilling, race. It’s short enough to require a lot of speed, but long enough to certainly be a distance runner’s event. Ignore the speed necessary to run well and you won’t have that “higher gear” to finish strong. Skip the foundational endurance during training and you’ll crash and burn in the final mile.
So what does sound training look like for runners targeting a fast 5K? Training should include three main ingredients:
Endurance (specifically, developing high-end endurance)
Speed development (training at 5K pace and faster to stimulate muscular strength and the central nervous system)
Race-specific fitness (running roughly 3 miles worth of intervals at goal 5K pace during training)
When you start planning a season, the focus should be on the ends of the speed spectrum: endurance and speed development. As you get closer to the goal race, workouts start to look more similar to the 5K itself. In other words, they get more “specific” to the demands of the race.
Step 1: Build High-End Endurance
Many distance runners today are used to training for longer races like the half marathon or marathon where pure endurance is the priority. But the 5K presents new opportunities for different types of workouts. That begins with the long run; Instead of always running a certain number of miles at the same pace, runners training for the 5K can add more complexity to their long runs.