6 kinds of 5k workouts, a training summary

From the sublime to the nitty-gritty, running gives us a chance to talk about it all. This is a nitty-gritty summary of my training over the last 6 months or so.

Since way back in December, I've been working on my 5k time with the help of my coach Van Townsend (more on him, soon.) Over the course of these six months, I've done a ton of workouts. Here's a quick summary of the workouts I've done, in order of importance.

1) Lots of easy runs, from 35 min to an hour. I don't usually log the pace of these runs or even keep track of it. That's because I am a nut and if I keep track, then I start trying to push the pace a bit. If I had to estimate, I'd say the average pace of these runs is 7:15 or so. They usually start with an 8 minute mile and then settle into 7 flat pace or so. I've been aiming for 55-75 miles on 8 or 9 runs per week. This is a moderately high volume that I know I can handle without accumulating fatigue.

2) Race pace intervals w/short rest. I've done a lot of different combinations of intervals, but the most common interval work I've done has been a total of 3-4 miles of work at or very close to goal 5k race pace. Most of the time the rest between the intervals has been relatively short. Something like half the time of the interval. This keeps me from running too hard during the rep and also keeps the whole interval set feeling continuous. You might think of it as tempo running combined with interval running. As I have gotten fitter, I've increased the pace of my recovery jogs and cut recovery rather than picking up the pace of the intervals.

Some representative workouts:
a) 3 x (400-800-400) @ 5k pace, 30s after the 400s, 60s after the 800s, jog a lap between sets.
b) 2-4 x (600-400-300-200-100) @ 3k - 5k pace, jog a 200 after the 6, 4, and 3, jog 100m after the 200 and 100.
c) 3 x (800-1200-800) @ 10k pace, 60s after the 800, 90s after the 1200, jog a lap between sets.
d) 1200-800-800-800-1200, odd intervals at 5k pace, even intervals at MP. This is a late season workout--not much volume, but a kind of combo tempo/interval workout.

3) Tempo runs. I did more of these early in the season. My favorite was the 5 + 1 tempo, which was a 2 mile warmup, 5 miles of steady running (slightly faster than MP), one mile easy, 1 mile hard (approaching 5k pace), one mile cool down.

4) Tempo intervals. This was good early season, effort-based training. 8 x 3min w/ 90s easy running in between.

5) Long run. My long run was generally 12-15 miles, run at a progressive, steady clip (avg. 7:00, usually some 6:30s or quicker in the last miles). I'm not sure how much this helped, but this is an enjoyable distance for me, and it gave me confidence to be able to run strong over 15 miles.

6) Strides, longer intervals, 200s. I put these last because I'm not sure how much they helped in this cycle. I mostly did strides as warm-up for the interval work. I tried a few difficult longer, harder workouts this cycle, but was only able to complete them erratically, mostly because I was doing them solo. One of these was 2 x 2400m cutdown (800m @ 10k pace - 800m @ 5k pace - 800m @ 3k pace). 10 minutes jog between the two sets. This is a very hard workout, as a 2400m interval at an average of 5k pace is no joke, especially if you are accelerating. Completing it gave me some confidence, and certainly some practice running race effort. Maybe in the next cycle I will be more prepared to do some of these very difficult workouts.

"Frequent racing" is not really a workout, but it should be slotted in importance right along with the race pace intervals as a key to 5k training. I did a good job of racing every 2 or 3 weeks. Obviously, this is the most specific form of training, as maybe the most important part of 5k racing is getting the effort level right and getting comfortable with the sort of effort required. Van and I did a good job of staying sharp enough to race well but also training hard enough to see improvement. I backed off of training for races more than I had in previous cycles and resisted the urge to "train through" and race on tired legs.

Most weeks I would do one workout and a long run or race. Occasionally, if the next race was a couple weeks out, I would do two workouts and a long run. My biggest weeks this cycle were a couple 75-80 mile weeks with two workouts and a steady long run. Though I had run consistent 80 mile weeks in the past, I had never really put that sort of volume together with interval work. So, I felt like those weeks marked genuine progress in my training capacity.

Finally, I'm happy with how I kept my training efforts under control. I never really felt like I was pushing the envelope in training, which perhaps kept me from peaking too early (a prior problem), and hopefully has put me in a place where I can continue to build on the work I've done.

I've got my goal race this weekend at the Music City Distance Carnival. I've been feeling pretty good, and my hope is to be able to run in the 15:30s, which would be faster than I ran in college except for one season... whatever the outcome, this has been my most consistent and best racing since college, and I am excited to build on this work this summer towards some longer races.

Gratuitous Wilco clip:


  1. WOWOWOWOWOWOW! 15:30's!!!!!! Might have to give your training a try!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Ha, well, 15:30 is not even guaranteed for me, much less any other runner. I think these ideas are certainly transferable (with appropriate pace adjustment) to slower and faster runners.

  2. Very timely, thank you. I have an 8-week window before starting a fall marathon training cycle and was looking for more 5k-specific workouts. Just want to work on turnover and speed a bit before launching into marathon slogging again :o)

    1. I think you will find these workouts enjoyable and not too taxing. You need to work into them, though. And of course, they can translate to the road pretty easily.

  3. Great stuff Jeff, thanks. Too often this kind of information is either vague or just sort of lost. Thanks for organizing it while it's still fresh.

  4. These are my kind of workouts! I may not be as fast as back in the day, but I still love trying to be speedy just the same. Marathon intervals workouts don't really get my spark but what you got posted above lights the fire for the new season ahead. I was recently contemplating adding 200s back into my plan and here you have it noted. Yes!

    Heck, I've done workouts like this for my marathon training phase just to keep it fresh and its what I feel works for me. OK don't have proof (yet) that it works but it's something quick and fresh and makes me happy.

    Good luck Music City Carnival! Tear it up!

  5. Sounds like a solid training plan. Good luck this weekend, I'm sure you'll run well.

  6. Thanks Dan and Willie. Hopefully I will have a positive report to write after the race.

  7. Good luck in the race! Looking forward to reading your race report.

  8. Great stuff. Now I'm looking even more forward to the MCDC! Race well!

  9. Talk about all quiet on the western front....

    Those workouts look pretty slick; not quite deek-esque, but bad-ass nonetheless.

    I have two questions:
    1. The race pace intervals, could you clarify a bit? You say "rest" in the beginning, but I think you were doing jogging recoveries(?). I ask because it seems a trend of competitive non-elites is to skimp on the recoveries, but you are not ??

    2. I was wondering how much a competitive athlete might do their tempos on the track? I like how you were doing the (early season) tempos based on time/perceived effort, any other thoughts on that (I found that to be helpful for me, but was wondering if there was a limit)?

    Knock out that 5k!

    1. Hey Danny,

      Here are some thoughts w/respect to your questions:

      1) Unless a jog distance is specified, the recoveries are standing rests. For the recovery jogs, I just tried to keep them honest--no walking, and actually moving a bit. Usually this works out to about 60-75s for a 200 jog, 2:00 for a 400 jog... Some of these workouts have recoveries at a faster pace, like MP or "easy running." MP is marathon pace and "easy running" for me is about 7:30 pace.

      2) I very rarely do tempos on the track. I like a flat or slightly rolling course. To my mind, tempo is an effort rather than pace, so the constant pace feedback of the track can be detrimental to the workout. I have a one-mile road loop that is flat (but a lot of turns) where I do most of my tempos.


  10. A lot of solid workouts. You should be in good form for your race. A few of your workouts are at MP, does that stand for marathon pace?

    1. Yes, MP is marathon pace. Since I'm not in marathon training right now, this is pretty flexible, and it just means a steady effort where I am running with a quick and open stride. For less experienced or slower runners, this might just be a pace a little quicker than standard easy pace.

    2. Thanks for the clarification.

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