Fastest 5k Running Plan

Fastest 5k Running Plan

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Running a faster 5K takes specific training and dedication.

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The 5K has become a popular race for beginning runners and seasoned veterans alike. The short distance appeals to newbies because it is absolutely achievable by an "average" runner, and it gives more experienced runners the chance to show off with little more than a sustained 3-mile sprint. There are tricks to mastering the 5K, though. In order to truly excel, you have to train your body to the race you intend to run, and the 5K is no different. The physiology behind the 5K requires more power, speed and sustained aerobic capacity, and less endurance than longer, slower races.

Speed Work

Running expert Hal Higdon's eight-week-long advanced 5K training differs from his novice and intermediate training because it focuses on speed work, otherwise known as interval training. Interval training is incorporated at some level into most training plans that are aimed at improving your time, rather than just getting you across the finish line. Intervals should be run at a pace faster than your 5K race pace, and each repeat should be followed with a recovery jog or walk for 400 meters. Higdon's suggested interval schedule is to run five to 10 repeats of distances varying between 200 and 400 meters, once per week. Track and field coach Andrew Kastor's four-week program includes four to six 80-meter sprints once or twice per week.

Strength Training

Many training plans, including Higdon's and Kastor's, include nonspecific recommendations for incorporating strength training during the week. Jay Dicharry, the director of the University of Virginia's SPEED clinic and Motion Analysis Lab and author of "Anatomy for Runners," says runners need to strength train in order to prepare for the stresses of running and to remain injury free. He says the risk of bad posture from a weak core and bad running form may indicate larger physical limitations, and that it's important to correct form imbalances through strength training before those imbalances become injuries. Dicharry's strength-training workout for runners focuses on postural alignment, specific stabilization and the ability to create and readily tap into those strengths. For posture he recommends focusing on your spinal alignment all day, as well as doing pushups, pullups and Russian twists. Exercises to work your stabilizer muscles include clamshells, side bridges and hip adductions. He also recommends deadlifts and squats, and jumps for building strength and power.

Hill Repeats

Running coach Pete Magill says to train for both speed and stamina, which are requirements so you can run faster and longer in order to improve your 5K time, you should train your fast-twitch type IIa muscle fibers. Running hill repeats while training for your 5K will build strength, increase flexibility and improve speed. Hill repeats can vary from 10-second uphill sprints to 90-second long uphill runs, but for the most part they are exactly what they sound like -- go find a hill -- Magill recommends about a 6-percent grade - and run up it. Walk down, backward if you want to avoid stress on your knees, recover for a few minutes, and then do it again.

Tempo Runs

Higdon, Magill and Kastor's 5K training plans all include some tempo runs. Tempo runs are designed to get your body used to running slightly above and slightly below your race pace; they challenge your stamina, and force you to stay in the moment and train your mind to endure a "comfortably hard" effort. A tempo run will generally begin with a mile or two of easy running at a pace that would allow you to carry on a conversation with a friend, then run at an increased intensity for two or three miles, putting forth such an effort that you wouldn't really want to try and carry on a conversation, but might manage a few choppy phrases, and then ending with another easy mile. Running at varied paces helps simulate what might be required of your body on race day, if you have to kick up the effort to pass a competitor, or turn on the burn for that last half-mile to the finish.


One thing that all 5K training plans have in common is the need for proper rest and recovery to help your body rebuild muscle and prevent overtraining. Overtraining hampers your progress because you are constantly feeling achy, fatigued, grumpy and just plain blah. Bringing your overtrained body to the starting line on race day is a recipe for disappointment, because you simply won't have the juice to get the job done. In order to run a fast 5K, make sure you allow yourself enough time to recover in between different types of runs, and don't be afraid to use rest days for just that -- to rest.