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Despite being “short” from a distance runner’s standpoint, the 5K and 10K are difficult race distances to master.
The 5K requires you to run at close to maximum effort for 3.1 miles, which usually results in redlining only 1.5 miles in. While the race is over in just 20 to 30 minutes, toe the line unprepared and you’ll be suffering the second half of the race.
The 10K, on the other hand, is a blend of speed and endurance that necessitates running only a few ticks slower than 5K pace, yet for double the distance. Be off your pacing or fitness by only a fraction and the last two miles will be torture.
As such, it’s imperative that you have a training plan designed to prepare your body for the exact physiological challenges of the race distance, teach your body and mind how to push through the tough parts of a race, and perfect a pacing strategy that allows you to run on the edge of your limits.
The smarter you train, the better your odds of achieving your goal. This article will provide you with concrete guidance and workouts that will have you crushing your PRs in no time.
Physiological Demands Of The 5K And 10K
Most runners equate 5K and 10K training with speed work, but racing these distances has more to do with your aerobic strength and speed endurance than it does with absolute or pure speed.
Speed endurance is your ability to hold a specific pace for an increasingly longer period of time. This is the key to running a fast 5K or 10K
Let’s use an example to demonstrate how this works in the 5K. What is the average pace you need to run to break your 5K goal/PR? If you were to run a mile as fast as you could, how much faster would you be able to run than your average 5K pace?
I am willing to bet you can run significantly faster.
Thus, the problem isn’t that you don’t have enough pure speed to run faster for 5K; it’s that you lack the endurance to run three miles at this pace without stopping. Therefore, the key to racing faster is improving your speed endurance.
While getting faster and improving VO2 max is a large component to improving speed endurance, perhaps the most important piece is your aerobic capabilities.
Consider the energy demands and the aerobic contribution to a 5K race. It’s pretty clear that while us distance runners see the 5K and 10K as “speed work,” these distances are still aerobically dominated events. As such, we can’t ignore the aerobic system in training.
Getting Race Specific
While all types of running will generally help you improve as a runner, race-specific training will produce better results at a particular distance. For example, long runs will help you improve your overall running fitness, but they aren’t very specific to the demands of the 5K or 10K race itself.
The closer you can perform workouts that mimic the exact physical demands of a specific race, the fitter you’ll get at racing that exact distance.
So, how do we target speed endurance in training to better prepare for the 5K and 10K?
Improving Speed Endurance
One mistake runners make when training for the 5K or 10K is running lots of fast VO2 max workouts, which improves the speed component, but doesn’t specifically target your ability to hold a fast pace for an extended period of time.
Consider a workout like 6 x 800 meters at 3K pace with 2 minutes rest. This is a great VO2 max and speed workout. However, it’s not very specific to the demands of the 5K, since the 3 minutes rest allows you to effectively recover fully between each repeat.
A better workout to prepare specifically for the 5K would be something like 6 x 800 meters at goal 5K pace with a short jogging rest at 85 percent of marathon pace. An example for a 20-minute 5K runner would look like: 6 x 800 meters at 3:10-3:15 w/200 meters jogging (8:35 pace) rest between.
In this instance, you’re teaching yourself how to run at 5K pace with as little rest as possible. By not fully recovering and jogging quickly between repeats, you still improve your ability to run at race pace, but you ensure you have the aerobic strength and support to maintain goal pace on race day.
The following is a 6-week, race-specific guide for both the 5K and 10K. This sample schedule is for intermediate to advanced runners. If you are a beginner, cut the workout volume in half (i.e. instead of 10 x 800 meter repeats, run 5 x 800 meter repeats).
5K Specific Workouts
Week 1: 2-3 mile warm-up, 11 x 400 meters at 5K goal race pace with 100m jogging rest, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 2: 2-3 mile warm-up, 8 x 600 meters at 5K goal race pace with 100m jogging rest, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 3: 2-3 mile warm-up, 6 x 800 meters at 5K goal race pace with 200m jogging rest, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 4: 2-3 mile warm-up, 12 x 400 meters at 5K goal race pace with 100m jogging rest, hammer #10 as fast as you can, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 5: 2-3 mile warm-up, 8 x 800 meters at 5K goal race pace with 200m jogging rest, hammer #6 as fast as you can, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 6: Race week. 2-3 mile warm-up, 2 x 1 mile at 3k-5K pace w/5 min rest, 2 x 400 meters at mile pace w/3 minutes rest, 2 mile cool down.
10K Specific Workouts
Week 1: 2-3 mile warm-up, 16 x 400 meters at 10K goal race pace with 30 seconds rest, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 2: 2-3 mile warm-up, 10 x 800 meters at goal 10K pace with 45 second rest, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 3: 2-3 mile warm-up, 3 miles at 10K goal race pace with 60 seconds rest, 5 x 1000 meters at 5K goal pace with 60 second rest, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 4: 2-3 mile warm-up, 8 x 1000 meters at goal 10K pace with 30 second rest, hammer interval #7 as fast as you can, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 5: 2-3 mile warm-up, 3 x 2 miles at 10K goal race pace with 90 seconds rest, 1-2 mile cool down
Week 6: 2-3 mile warm-up, 5 x 1 mile at goal 10K race pace, hammer #4 as fast as you can, with 45 seconds rest, 1 x 800 meters as fast as you can, 1-2 mile cool down
You should perform one tempo or threshold workout in addition to these 10K specific workouts each week. Your long run should be 12-16 miles, depending on your total weekly mileage.
The next time you’re building your training plan, think about the specific demands of the race distance and how you can purposely target them in training.