Run Your Fastest 5K: 5 Blistering Workouts to Try

After basking in the accomplishment of finishing a few 5K races, the desire to compete rather than complete takes over. Whether it’s for bragging rights, an age group medal, or the delight in beating some other speedy folks, the urge to get faster is all a part of the road racing experience. But determination and toughness will only get you so far. If you really want to boost your performance, you’re going to need to do some hard work ahead of time.

Simply running your regular routes quicker might seem like the answer, but it’s not quite that easy. The 5K requires a combination of speed and endurance that you can only build with targeted training. Never fear, we’ve scoured the web for some of the best 5K-specific workouts to help you get there.

Remember, not every workout should be hard. In order to adequately recover and prepare yourself for the next intense effort, you’ll need to build in more relaxed runs or cross training. Also consider a weekly long run, which should be a very relaxed pace. If you’re an intermediate runner, Breaking Muscle said 60 minutes is sufficient. Beginners should start with even less. With this simple formula, you’ll be on pace to race your fastest 5K ever.

1. Fartlek

man running on the beach on a sunny day

Man running on the beach | Source: iStock

Swedish for “speed play,” fartleks are pretty true to their name. The idea is to alternate between hard and easy segments over the course of the run, but these workouts are completely malleable. For this reason, they’re perfect for beginners. They give you a chance to get used to running at a quicker tempo without the pressure of hitting a specific distance. Even experienced runners can benefit from fartleks, particularly early in a training cycle.

While fartleks’ inherent flexibility is largely an asset, it can also be confusing for those new to the concept. We like The Huffington Post’s basic structure of alternating 1 minute of fast-paced running with 1 to 2 minutes of easy running. For this workout, you’ll begin with 15 minutes of running at an easy pace to warm up. For the meat of the workout, run 1 minute at what feels like a 5K race pace, then immediately follow the fast segment with between 1 and 2 minutes of relaxed running. After completing 10 cycles, finish with a 15-minute cool-down.

2. Hill sprints

a man sprinting

Hill sprints | Source: iStock

Though the 5Kis considered a distance event, the most successful racers rely on fast-twitch, intermediate-twitch, and slow-twitch muscle fibers. Pete Magill, a masters runner and coach, told Outside Online that short sprint segments on hills is the best way to target each type of muscle tissue. That means downhill segments, too.

For this workout, run at an easy pace for at least 15 minutes to warm up, and end on a relatively steep hill. To begin, sprint uphill at 95% of your maximum effort for 6 to 10 seconds. For the recovery portion, walk down to where you began. Repeat until you’ve completed between four and eight cycles.

For the downhill portion, you’ll sprint for 8 to 15 seconds at 85% to 95% of your maximum effort, building into your top speed a bit more gradually. Once again, complete four to eight repetitions, walking back up to the start for your recovery portion. After completing both the uphill and downhill portions, wind things down with at least 10 minutes of running at a relaxed pace.

3. 500-meter intervals with 100-meter float

male athlete running on a race track

Man running on a track | Source: iStock

While track intervals aren’t strictly required for 5K training, they do hold you accountable because there’s no way to fudge the distance. One of the best sessions for the distance is Active’s 500-meter intervals followed by a 100-meter float, meaning a portion that’s just slow enough to let you recover. It’ll help develop your sense of pace as well as your mental endurance because, while the first few intervals will feel easy, you’ll be extremely tired by the end.

As with all the workouts, give yourself a solid 15 minutes of running at a relaxed pace before beginning. For the intervals, run 500 meters at your goal pace no faster, but also no slower. Immediately break into a slightly slower run that allows you to just recover in 100 meters. Follow this pattern until you’ve completed 10 repetitions. Finish with 10 to 15 minutes of easy running.

4. 1-2-3 intervals

man running outside on a secluded road

Man running on a road | Source: iStock

This progressive interval session from Runner’s World is sort of like a combination between the basic fartlek and track intervals. This makes it easy to execute on any sidewalk or trail, but you’ll also be huffing and puffing by the end. Because you don’t have the track to tell you exactly how much distance you’ve covered, you really have to rely on your internal sense of pace, which will be an advantage come race day.

Start with at least 10 minutes of easy running for your warm-up, then you’ll begin running 1 minute at a very hard, manageable pace. This isn’t a sprint, but you want to be going as fast as you can maintain for a sustained period of time. Follow this with 1 minute of easy jogging before going right into 2 minutes of hard running, then another 1 minute of easy jogging. To complete the cycle, run 3 minutes hard, then one last easy segment. You’ll repeat this process two more times, then cool down with at least 5 minutes of easy running.

5. Tempo run

man running on a grassy trail

Trail running | Source: iStock

Often considered a distance runner’s bread-and-butter workout, a tempo run is one of the best ways to boost your lactate threshold, the point at which your body fatigues at a given pace. RunnersConnect explained tempo runs, which are runs at a pace just below this threshold, teach your body to go farther at a faster pace.

There’s no set distance for a tempo, but recommended 5K runners aim for 3 miles at a pace of 10 seconds per mile slower than they would race a 10K. If that’s all too confusing, try to think about running at a difficult pace that you can still maintain for an extended period of time. Many runners call it comfortably hard. Though this type of workout isn’t as quick as the others in the roundup, you’ll still want an adequate warm-up and cool-down.

Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec

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