High school distance runners put all their focus into getting better in the 5K during fall cross country and the mile or two-mile during spring track. If you’re aiming for a road 5K or mile, you could do worse than to adopt workouts that have honed these national-class champions. When we asked the “fastest of the fast” at the Brooks PR Invitational what workouts they considered key, they were quick to answer, detailing their toughest sessions with fond memories for the fatigue they conquered during the workouts—and the satisfaction after.
The athletes divided their key track sessions into two categories: Early season strength and stamina workouts, and late-season, pre-race sharpening.
These are long workouts at controlled paces, designed to build endurance and patience. They often work multiple paces, getting faster as the workout advances.
Drew Bosley of Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin—who has run a 4:07 mile and 14:52 5K—likes not only the physical strength that comes from this kind of stamina work but the mental benefits as well. “This workout has taught me discipline in races,” Bosley says. “Staying focused and patient. You don’t have to kill every lap; you stay in that calm state. In big meets, when emotions are high and the stakes are bigger, you need to keep that sense of calmness and awareness.”
Here is Bosley’s favorite workout and several more creative options. We’ve named them for the athlete who described them to us, although their coaches most likely will, and should, take credit.
Drew Bosley Ramp Up
Bosley’s favorite XC/strength workout combines a tempo run with increasingly faster intervals:
- Start with 5K tempo run (about 15 seconds per mile slower than 5K pace) on a hilly, paved road.
- Hop on the track and do 3–4 X 1K repeats at 5K pace
- Recover, then do 3–4 X 400m faster than 5K
“Every rep, I’m not killing it—I’m keeping it under control, knowing there will be another workout in 3 days,” Bosley says. “It’s meant to ramp up steadily. Since you need more gears at the end of a race, you try to simulate that as best as you can in a workout.”
Abby Loveys Strength+Speed Combo
Abby Loveys, a Randolf, New Jersey, senior with PRs of 4:46 for the 1600m and 17:05 for the 5K, says she doesn’t do a lot of speed, but she does do a lot of strength. Like Bosley, her “Go to” workout combines some road and track work.
- Start with a 35 minute “steady state” run. These aren’t as fast as a tempo run, done at about 60–70 seconds per mile slower than 5K pace. “We do those before workouts,” Loveys says. “They don’t beat you up too much, but are still faster than an easy run.”
- Move to the track for 3–4 X 1,000m, using the 200m jog back to the start for recovery, starting the next one as soon as you get back. Loveys runs the first 1,000m about 5K pace and gets progressively faster.
- After 2–3 minute recovery, do 4 x 200 to finish off the workout fast.
Camren Fischer of Fayetteville, Arkansas credits this unique combo workout for helping build the strength for his 14:51 5K and 4:09 mile.
- Start with two miles at threshold pace, judged by feel: Right at the point where going fast stops feeling fun and starts to feel hard.
- End at a 200 meter hill and run it 4 times hard, jogging down for recovery.
- Head straight back out for another two miles at threshold.
- Bonus credit: Add another set of hills and a final two-mile tempo when you’re up for an extra-difficult—and extra-effective—workout.
Hicks Continuous Quarters
Charlie Hicks, 4:07 mile, 14:53 5K, of Jacksonville, Florida, cites a more “standard” workout of 400 meter repeats as one of his favorites for building cross-country strength. But it comes with a twist: These are run continuously, with cruise recoveries.
- Run 14 X 400m with 3 minutes recovery runs in between. “You try to run the 3 minutes as fast as possible while still maintaining 67s [approximately 5K pace] on dirt.”
Add 400s as you are able while maintaining race pace during the repeat and a strong tempo pace during the recovery. The most Hicks has completed? “I did one that was 18 400s, with 3 minutes in between,” he says. “400, jog, 400, jog, 18 times—doing low 6s for the jog. I ended up covering 13 miles for that workout.”
As they get closer to goal races, these top runners report that they do shorter workouts at race pace that go by quickly and leave them feeling fresh. Often this is simply something like 5–8 x 400m at race pace or slightly faster. But some add creative twists to these as well. Here is one we’d like to try:
Sam Gilman of Hilton Head, South Carolina has a 4:06 mile and 15:11 5K to his name. Before a big race, he likes to do this sequence:
- 800m at race pace, followed by an 8 minute rest.
- 4 x 400m with the first 3 at race pace, last one all-out. Recover with a 400m jog between each repeat. Here’s the catch: You need to get back in 2 minutes (or roughly twice the time of the repeat if you’re running slower than Gilman’s 60-61second 400s).
“After running a full-out 400, trying to get back around in 2 minutes makes it a little difficult—I’m not able to fully get my breath,” Gilman says. “It seems really easy, but after a while that first 200 meters of the recovery is tough—you want to walk. It’s not a lot of volume, though, which is nice.”
The high-schoolers do these workouts after several months of summer or off-season training that ranges from 30 to 70 mile weeks and includes long runs of 8 to 13 miles, turnover work, tempo runs and progression runs. Don’t try them without a similar base—or keep the pattern and scale the volume to your current fitness. Make sure to also scale paces to your current race speeds. Adding one of these workouts a week won’t necessarily make you as fast as Brooks PR invites, but it could well set you up for your own PR.