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Looking for a New and Different 5K Workout? Try This 1000-Meter Countdown

A unique 1000-meter ladder workout you can do at almost any time in your training cycle for the 5K or 10K.

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Want a great 5K/10K workout you can do pretty much any time in your training cycle, when you’re looking for something new and different? Try one of my training group’s favorites: the 1000-meter breakdown.

Key Elements

One of this workout’s big calling cards is that it’s not the same-old/same-old. Key elements include a 900, a 700, and a 500, and if you’re like most runners, these aren’t distances you normally run. That makes it a nice break from routine, in and of itself.

But it’s also a good workout for flexing a wide range of paces, with a nice balance of 5K speed, 3K, speed, and 1500m speed… ending with a 200 for those who truly love to fly.

The idea is simple: start with a 1000 and chop off 100 meters with each repeat. I.e., 1000m, 900m, 800m, 700m, 600m, 500m, 400m, 300m, 200m. Think of it as a 1000m countdown. You could finish with a 100m, but most distance runners will be content to call it quits with the 200.

Pacing

Pacing starts at 5K speed and accelerates as you move down the ladder. There are two ways to do this. The first time, you might just break the workout into three pieces. Do 5K pace for the first three repeats (the 1000, 900, and 800), then shift to 3K gear for the next three (700, 600, and 500), finally go to 1500m/mile speed for the last three (with the likelihood that the 200 will be faster).

But once you’ve mastered that, you might try speeding up slightly with each repeat. Doing that takes pace control (a good thing to practice in and of itself) and an ability to do base-60 math on the fly. (Though, if you are good at running a steady pace, your 400m split times will tell you all you need to know until the last two repeats.)

Real World Examples

Valerie Weilert, a shoe designer for Hoka One One in Santa Barbara, Calif., recently ran this workout at 3:50, 3:17, 2:50, 2:26, 2:04, 1:38, 1:15, :53, :33, equivalent to 400m lap times of 1:32, 1:27, 1:25, slightly above 1:23, slightly below 1:23, 1:18, 1:11, and 1:06. Most folks won’t speed up that much — she got off a bit slow in the 1000 and has a ferocious kick that allows her to eat fast 200s and 300s like it’s dessert — but that’s the type of pattern you are looking for.

Weilert calls the workout “unique in a great way,” adding that it’s also good for relaxing your mental game because the longest and most threatening intervals are the first. After you’ve run half of the repeats, you’ve already completed 70% of the total distance.

“What I love about this workout is that you get to see the light at the end of the tunnel, getting faster and faster on your way to the finish,” she says.

woman running intervals on a track in cool weather
Photo: 101 Degrees West

Recovery Formula 

To make it work, you need to use recoveries that look a bit odd and random at first glance. But they aren’t, because the goal is to have you begin each repeat at either the 400m or 200m start on the track. That way you don’t have to remember the exact recovery distances. Just don’t launch into the next repeat after 100m… or wait more than 400m. Also, note that the recoveries get proportionally longer, compared to the work repeat, as you move to shorter intervals and faster paces. 

I use the following formula, where the recovery distances are the ones in parentheses.

1000 (400)

900 (300)

800 (200 or 400)

700 (300)

600 (400)

500 (300)

400 (400)

300 (300)

200

The only recovery that might be hard to remember is for the 800, and it actually depends on how fast you are going by the time you hit that distance. If you’ve already progressed to close to 3K speed, a 400m recovery might be in order. If you are still closer to 5K speed, 200m is better. If in doubt, trust your body and do whatever feels appropriate for the day.

Consider Your Volume 

One caveat is that the total distance for this workout is 5400 meters, which might be a bit high for lower-volume runners (under 30 miles a week). If that’s you, skip the 500m repeat. 

Super-high-volume runners, on the other hand, can start the progression at 1200. But beware, that changes the balance of the workout, so it might be better just to run it as is and add a couple of tempo miles on at the end.

Running 900s, 700s, and 500s is a unique key to greatness. Other, more-conventional ladder workouts will exercise the same training variables. What’s important here is that including distances you don’t ordinarily run is mentally freeing. Because you most likely have no clue what your “proper” times are for them, all you can do is run.

That turns the workout into a game, not a test.

Eugene, Ore., coach Bob Williams says the workout, “really sounds like fun.”

About the Author 

Richard A. Lovett is a coach and writer in Portland, Ore. As a coach, he works with Team Red Lizard in Portland, where he has trained recreational racers, national age-group champions, and competitors in the last three Olympic Trials marathons. He is also an award-winning science fiction writer and author of 10 books (four of them on running) and 3,500 magazine and newspaper articles. Before finding his career in journalism he studied astrophysics, got a law degree and a Ph.D. in economics, and taught law at the University of Minnesota — a diverse background that has led him to write about a wide array of topics. Find him on Facebook or visit his website.