November 2019 - Best 5k Workout

The Question

November's question is from Em in Portsmouth. Em would like to know:

What's the best session to do for 5k?

- Em, Portsmouth

Matt - running coach
Matt - Athletics coach and distance runner

“So many to choose from!

Variations of intervals will always give you the edge over your competitors who don’t include them in their training. To be able to run outside of your comfort zone for a certain amount of time (such as 1 minute reps) followed by a short rest before doing it again - will be very beneficial in the long run.

I’d suggest sessions which will be beneficial (warm up before these) include:

  • 3-5 x 1600m at 10k pace with 2 minutes recovery
  • 8 x 800m at 5k pace with 2 minutes recovery
  • 12 x 2 minutes at 10k pace with 2 minutes recovery
  • 10 x 3 minutes at 10 pace with 2 minutes recovery

All of these will give you that extra gear to be able to go through in a race. When introducing these into your programme it's best not to do more than 1 of these a week for the first 3 weeks. The following day's session should be an easy run or a complete rest.

These sessions are often far more interesting if done with a group. It will also push you as a runner. If you don’t have a club or a group, we would certainly recommend that you look into joining one. Sessions such as those outlined above are staples of most group programmes.

Hill sessions are also beneficial. Scout one that is close to you, and find a variant where you can run up one for a minute. Then complete 6/8/10 reps with the jog back down the hill as your recovery.”

Simon - running coach
Simon - Middle-distance runner and athletics coach

“Don't neglect sessions that include sections at faster than 5k pace. My personal favourite - a real toughie that's ideal a week before a race - is a progressive-paced, down-the-clock session:

  • 10 minutes at half marathon pace; 3 minutes recovery
  • 8 minutes at 10k pace; 2 minutes recovery
  • 6 minutes at 5k pace; 90 seconds recovery
  • 4 minutes at slightly faster than 5k pace; 60 seconds recovery
  • 2 minutes slightly faster still; 30 seconds recovery
  • 1 minute hard as you can

The reps get shorter as you continue, which makes things easier psychologically. But you don't suffer from not working hard enough, since recovery time also decreases and the pace gets quicker.

There's a quite a bit of volume there, but actually the 10 minutes at half marathon pace shouldn't be too demanding and really serves as an extended warm up.

What's really nice about this session is that you increase the intensity as you continue, meaning the faster paces don't feel as challenging as they might have. That's not to say you won't be working hard - it'll just seem a little bit more manageable.

I prefer jogging recoveries, but it's not crucial. Walk or stand if you prefer.

Do note that these tough sessions are great for ensuring peak performance, but that long term you need a balanced training plan that includes a good variety of running intensities and session types.”

Phil Patterson
Phil - Marathon coach and parkrun fan

“Intervals, reps and hills are all really important to get the best out of yourself. But the single best session? I think it's racing a 5k itself.

Actually, a 3k race is a great idea too. These aren't very common, but you can usually find some over the summer, especially if you look at track meetings.”

Our Member's Answer

November's member's answer was from Ron in Streatham.

Ron - all about hills

“Get on the hills. 10 x 400 metre repeats with a jog back down recovery is really hard going. I did that session with my club a few years ago and got a massive PB at my 5k that weekend. Since then it's almost become a superstition to do it a week before a big race. If I'm struggling I just think back to those hills and suddenly things don't seem so bad. ”

Thanks, Ron. Agreed. If you find a session that works with you then stick with it.

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