What’s the best way to train for a 5k? Do you still need long runs? Only sprint workouts?
It’s been at least 10 years since I really focused on the 5k as a goal race. Recently, it’s been longer road races and triathlons as the goal and the 5k’s were only there to spice up the training or get in the speed work, but with my knee arthritis and the goal of building back up very slowly, 2018 is looking like the year of the 5k and the sprint triathlons.
For the last six weeks I have slowly been ramping up the running with the goal of starting the new year with a solid race. Here is what I’ve learned and put into practice as my training.
Good 5k training is made up of five distinct things: speed, strength, mechanics, endurance and mental toughness. Pitch any of these out of balance and race day will be tough. Balance them all and you will have a better chance of executing on race day.
The 5k is a fast race. I’ll admit, the pain is sort of the reason I veered away from the distance. It’s a red line race the whole way. So how do you (re)discover your inner speed demon? The two most effective ways I’ve found are fartleks and interval sprints.
Interval sprints are pretty self explanatory. I like to use treadmill sessions to get interval sprints done. Depending on your fitness level, run a max effort for a set amount of time and then recovery.
Hill sprints are just like intervals but incorporate the grade for an extra challenge. Go all out for 8-12 seconds up a steep hill with a full walking recovery in between.
Sprints like these can help you build injury resistance, improve your neuromuscular control, and develop the ability to run at top speed. Because with these types of sprints when you start, as your injury risk is higher, but after a few sessions your body will be stronger and more injury resistance because of the workouts.
The other speed workout is called a Fartlek. Funny to say, but fun to do. Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”, alternating surges at a faster pace with easy running as recovery. You can do these on the track or incorporate them into an easy run.
Strides biggest benefit is to increase your running efficiency by reinforcing proper running form. Every runner should do them.
Strides may be the single, most simple running drill that gives you the most bang for the buck. Strides are about 100 yard accelerations. You start out at a very easy jog, build to about 95% of your max speed and then gradually slow down to a complete stop. A stride should take about 20-30 seconds.
Now take a minute to catch your breath completely and then repeat. Start our with four strides and gradually increase to six or eight over time.
Strides biggest benefits, among many, is to increase your running efficiency by reinforcing proper running form.
Yes, you still need that weekly long run. Despite it’s shorter length, the 5k still requires endurance so you’ll still need that longer run. Better to be over-prepared, right? Maybe you don’t need one quite as long as if you’re training for a marathon or half marathon, but you should plan to run at least 6 – 8 miles.
Strength training as a runner gives you two main advantages: injury prevention and power.
When running a 5K, you are recruiting muscles that will help you push that last mile. In addition, your body is recruiting your stability muscles to help you take on the impact of the pounding your body is taking.
Adding strength exercises specific to running like squats and lunges can help you become a faster runner. It doesn’t just help your legs either. Training your upper body and core will help you hold your form as you begin to fatigue. Getting strength training into your training at least 2 times a week can really help your running and keep you healthy.
The final hurdle to your fastest 5k is your brain. Your brain doesn’t like you to do hard, dangerous stuff. And the pain and discomfort of a 5k, at least that first time, feels dangerous. Your brain wants you to stop. You need to teach it is is okay. You got this.
Having felt the discomfort and anxiety that comes with running a 5K before makes it slightly easier to run another one, as that familiarity breeds confidence to continue pushing outside your comfort zone.
A lot of the mental toughness comes with experience, but you can prepare yourself in training to push hard, attack the race and be comfortable with the discomfort. Master this last piece and the PRs will be within reach.
The 5k is a short race, but it’s anything but easy. You need all the tools at your disposal as a runner to really run your best. Just remember the reason why you run. Maybe it’s to live a healthy lifestyle, maybe it’s to challenge yourself, or to burn off the stress in your life. Find that motivation, put these tools to work, and push through your training to have your best race.
Only a week or so to go to see if I can put all of this into practice myself. I’m not looking for a PR, but just to have a pain-free, fast race. Mostly, I’m just looking forward to racing again after all the time off for knee. That will be it’s own sweet reward.