5k Training: what worked and what didn’t

I’ve been mentally shuffling through the content for this post for the past few weeks. I wanted to make sure to get something written down about my spring 5k training before marathon training completely takes over. Taking on a training plan to improve my 5k time was a completely new experience for me. I’ve made a lot of progress with the 5k since I started running, but the progress I made this spring really blew me away.

I love this photo of my trying not to die after the race.

To recap, I created a 10 week training plan that was based on the information found in “Solving the 5k Puzzle” by Pete Magill. My training plan was comprised of the following elements:

  • form drills
  • hill repeats
  • 5k specific endurance
  • easy runs
  • weekly long runs (10-12 miles)

This was probably one of my worst training seasons in terms of consistency. I missed 2 full weeks of running due to illness and clumsiness (road rash/swelling/bruising…but no serious injury!). So all told I only ran 7 weeks of training and one cut back week leading up to the race. For future seasons I think I will try for a longer training period (12-14 weeks) and finish with a series of races each a few weeks apart. That way, should training interruptions happen, I will still have plenty of time to get back on track. Also, instead of putting a ton of pressure on one race, I will have multiple opportunities to PR.

In the 7 weeks of training I averaged 30 miles/week. I am happy with this volume based on where I was leading into the training. I took a look at last year’s training log and in the 10 weeks prior to my injury last fall I had been averaging 36 miles per week (no speed work!). December – February was spent rebuilding my mileage. I expect in the future I will be able to maintain a higher volume, but for now 30/week with weekly speed work was the right level for me.

Speaking of speed work, it was the worst. But also maybe the best? Running intervals at 5k effort always left me feeling completely wiped out and exhausted. After every session I found myself thinking that there was no way I would be able to sustain that pace for 3.1 miles instead of just a 4 minute interval. But I did! I really did! Any future 5k training plans that I craft will be including these intervals for sure.

One thing that didn’t work was trying to include hill repeats the same week as 5k efforts. My plan called for 5k effort intervals on Tuesday, easy running on Wednesday, and alternated between hill repeats and form drills on Thursday. I had no issue with the form drills, but trying to run the hill repeats on already tired legs was draining. I ended up reducing the workouts and, eventually, cut the hill repeats entirely because I felt like I was pushing toward an injury.

Hill repeats are supposed to help train the muscle fibers needed to run fast over long distances (in this case the 5k is considered a distance race). “Fast-twitch type IIa muscle fiber provides much of the “speed” associated with fast-twitch type IIx (sprinter) fiber, but it also has the capacity to function aerobically. Bingo! This combination allows us to run faster longer — the definition of 5K racing.” (source) The next time I focus on the 5k (next spring?), I want to include more hill repeats. I think it would work best for me to alternate between a 5k effort workout one week and hill repeats the following week.
I didn’t have any problems with the easy runs, long runs, or form drills. For future plans I might make the easy runs a bit easier, more in line with a recovery run, and the long runs just a smidge longer (12-14 miles?). I’ll want to keep my running volume up so I can easily transition to longer races. Also higher volume means better endurance, and I know I already have more speed than endurance. I’d like to say I would just cut the form drills, because I didn’t love doing them, but I can’t expect to stay injury free and all that if my form is sloppy.
21:02 good enough for first place!
In terms of results, yes, this plan worked! In 2014 I raced two 5ks and finished in 22:12 and 22:15. After completing my training cycle this spring I ran a 21:02, which included stopping to tie my shoe! I am hoping over the next few years I can continue to improve my time. I have a kind-of-scary goal of someday running a sub-20 5k. I don’t know if this is the exact plan that will get me there, but taking 1:10 off of last year’s time is a serious step in the right direction!
I guess that is it. If you are interested in focusing on the 5k, I definitely recommend reading the article that I linked. But, please remember that I am not a running coach/expert/etc.

7 thoughts on “5k Training: what worked and what didn’t

  1. Great recap! It's so fun to look back and see what helped. I'm so happy that you met and exceeded your goals, and I bet you'll reach your goal (especially if you get shoes that don't come untied!)


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