5 Interval Workouts for a Faster 5k

Happy Friday!

So, I’ve mentioned that I am turning my focus to the shorter distances for the next 8 weeks or so, and will be training for a 5k.  Many of you are part of the 5 by the 5th challenge and are working to chip away at your own 5k time as well, so I wanted to share some training tips for the final months.

One of the principles that clicked for me at the RRCA training was our discussion on the specificity of training as it relates to our running goals.

For a marathon, you should be logging lots of miles, incorporating tempo and some speed work with longer intervals, and including miles at your target race day pace.

A 5k is obviously a little different.  You don’t need the long, slow runs.  Instead, the focus is on teaching your body to run at the fast, quick pace for race day.  To work on speed, the focus should be on interval runs with bursts of speed work at a faster pace than your target pace, but much shorter durations of work.

If you’re already doing speed work, you can get these benefits from two interval workouts a week, or one interval workout and one tempo workout (using “short tempo” pace, slightly faster than “long tempo” pace).

If you are brand new to speed work, start by incorporating one interval session each week and see how your body responds.  Speed is a stress on the body just like distance, so it’s important to keep overall mileage where it is while your body adapts.

The point of intervals is to prep your body for those hard paces without needing as much recovery as the full distance because the workout is broken into pieces, with rest in between.  On race day, the magic can happen. 🙂

So, what sort of intervals can you be doing?  Anything that pushes your pace beyond your 5k target pace will help.  The standard track repeats of 200s (half lap), 400s (one lap), 800s (two laps) or ladders are all excellent.  The emphasis should be on the shorter, faster intervals which will build your VO2 max (your body’s maximum oxygen uptake).

Here are a few of my favorites, always with a 10-15 minute warm up and  cool down.

  • 5 x 1k (about .6 mile) at 10-15 seconds faster than goal race pace, rest for the length of the interval
  • 10 x 400s (one track lap) with two minute rest or 400m easy jog
  • 12 x 1 minute sprints, with 1 minute rest
  • Steady state run with 1 mile at race pace followed by 800m (20 seconds faster than race pace), 3-4 minute jog and repeat
  • 30/20/10 workout (easy 30, hard 20, sprint 10) and repeat 4x, then rest 2 minutes and repeat cycle 2-3 times

Interval days should always be sandwiched between easy days, either easy running or cross training.

Finally, a huge thank you to the ladies at Another Mother Runner for featuring me yesterday.  If you don’t already follow their blog, you should! I was lucky enough to meet Sarah and Dimity a year ago when they were in Houston, and they are amazing mothers, athletes and writers.

Do you incorporate interval work regularly? What is one of your favorite track workouts?


84 thoughts on “5 Interval Workouts for a Faster 5k

  1. Great tips! As I’ve said before, I’ve never run an actual 5k race so short speed workouts have never been in my rotation. After the marathon in May, there will be lots of shorter races locally that I might end up doing. Pinning your tips for future reference!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..Fun Facts Friday + Giveaway!My Profile

  2. I just started speed training for the half after my full in January and have already noticed quite a difference. I think I’d be afraid of speed training for the 5k. That would be really fast! I think I like running halves because you don’t have to sustain such a fast pace, though I guess the 5ks are over a lot faster. Hm. Tough choice.

  3. Thanks, Laura. Timely for me.

    I did some intervals when on the treadmill on Wednesday and wow, they were hard but I can see how that would help me get faster overall.

    Just gotta do it!

  4. I find that spinning up hills on my mtn bike is good too…and less traumatic for my almost 60 year old body!
    Testing out that theory on Sunday! ha!

  5. i’ horrible for doing speedwork and following through, but i think i’ve finally reached a point where I need to buckle down and revisit the track after all these years- thanks for sharing some of your favorite workouts!
    Lisa J recently posted..Jelly Bean Virtual 5KMy Profile

    • I’ve never been good at following through either, Lisa. What’s helping me now is 1) finding a running group to do it with and 2) telling everyone in blogland that I’m going to see if it helps me run a faster 5k in 6 weeks. 🙂
      Laura recently posted..5 Interval Workouts for a Faster 5kMy Profile

  6. This are great tips! I wanted this year to be the year I improve my 5k’s. My speeds are not very competitive for my age group but I am looking more to improve my PR. I have never heard of the 30-20-10 will start trying it out on the track once the snow clears.

  7. I love speed workouts. Maybe it’s because my running career essentially started on a track. I ran track in high school and college and have always loved the speed and adrenaline. I haven’t done many speed workouts recently, mainly due to weather (hard to do speed work when you’re worried about snow and ice), but that’s one of the things I am looking forward to most about spring. I am ready to get back into doing a tempo workout and a track workout each week. I found they really helped my training and feel they can work when training for any distance. I love that your running coach training has taught you so much about this and you are putting knowledge to good use!
    Laura recently posted..Facts FridayMy Profile

    • Yes, you can do them on a treadmill, or you can go by time- hard pace for 1 1/2-2 minutes (for 400s), hard pace for 3-4 minutes for 800s, etc. Or see if there is a local track you can use? If you’ve never done speed work like this, start with fewer reps and work your way up week after week. It can be intense and your body will need to adapt and figure out what is going on. 🙂
      Laura recently posted..5 Interval Workouts for a Faster 5kMy Profile

  8. Oh, so excited to have stumbled across your blog and this post! For speed training I currently do:

    12x 1 minute sprints, with 1 minute rest

    I’m looking forward to trying out your other intervals as soon as my next 5K (this sunday) is over. Good luck on your 5K tomorrow! 😀
    Kristina recently posted..My Third 5K Race is This SundayMy Profile

  9. Awesome post! I love all things speed work and I can’t wait to be focusing on that all again in a few weeks! Good luck with your 5km. I have loved reading your blog this last week… Sorry I haven’t got to comment much but I have been following and I am so happy for you about your move. You are such a positive and inspiring person! Thanks for sharing ! :=)
    Jenelle @ mummylovestorun recently posted..The long and the shortMy Profile

  10. Great tips! I have never actually trained for a 5K for time…I have done some speed work/interval training as part of my marathon training. I really would like to take some time this year to train for a short race and see what I can do. Will definitely save these ideas.
    Gina recently posted..Finding My MotivationMy Profile

  11. Those are great! I’m going to pin them. Last summer I started a track group at our high school and we often did ladders and intervals, but you’ve given me some new ideas!
    jan recently posted..Favorite Things FridayMy Profile

  12. Awesome job! And your spin class is another great interval workout! Thanks for a great class!

  13. Awesome! I love your practical tips. You’re one of the bloggers I know have really good quality ideas when it comes to work-outs.

    I love speed work. I think it’s my favourite session (well intervals – the tempo is a nasty beast). I do mine on the treadmill though.
    Kate recently posted..More to lifeMy Profile

  14. I’m kind of curious to see where I’d go with shorter distances too, as I’ve always focused on longer ones myself. I just really love going long and am not sure if I want to give up any of my endurance base.

    I’ve enjoyed mile repeats at 5K pace or faster lately. I feel like they work double duty for a stronger 5K and marathon.
    Karen recently posted..By The Numbers…..My Profile

  15. Love those tips! I love a good track workout at dusk in the summer!! I hope to get intervals back into my training once I get my distance and pace back on track.
    Courtney recently posted..randomsMy Profile

    • You know, it’s funny… my mileage actually isn’t that different. I guess because I’ve been building back slowly since the full, and I’ve never been a high mileage runner anyway. But I am also doing more cross training and especially more weights than usual, which is nice for a change.
      Laura recently posted..Scope 5k RecapMy Profile

  16. I’m just getting serious about speed training this year, so I’m still pretty green. I tried the 30-20-10 method, but I’m still in winter mode (aka doing all my running on the treadmill), which meant there was a LOT of crazy button-pushing! 🙂 I ended up adjusting to 60-40-20, and it’s still pretty hectic. I’d love to hear any tips you might have for treadmill-based speed training!
    Kim @ Healthy Nest recently posted..March Top TenMy Profile

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  19. If you are really looking to become faster you should check out the workouts and drills from kingsporstraining. THey have made a big difference in the time I get when I am in a marathon. I have already noticed that I am faster, as well as more agile.

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