You're one week away from a 5K, and it's your goal to run the best time you can. What type of workout is best to complete on race week? After all, your fitness has already been gained over the many weeks and months of training before the race. As they say, "the hay is in the barn."
Before your goal race, it's best to practice two different paces during your final fast workout: goal pace (how fast you'd like to run for 5K) and slightly faster than goal pace. Running at goal race pace helps "hard-wire" that pace into your muscles and brain. The faster pace provides a stimulus that helps prime your body for fast running, reinforces a more economic stride, and can build the muscle tension you need to run fast.
But it's also important to recognize that every runner is different. We're all at different levels, and the workout the 17:00 5K runner completes will (and should) be different than the workout the 25:00 5K runner completes.
The following three workouts—with beginner, intermediate and advanced modifications—are ideal to complete at the end of your 5K training before the big race. These examples should be run three to four days before your goal 5K.
Race-Week 5K Workouts
Since fartlek workouts require no equipment and can be done virtually anywhere, these workouts are presented in a time-based format. If you have access to an outdoor track, you can also run this type of workout there.
For beginners, the goal is to do some race-pace running so the body and brain remembers what this pace feels like.
Beginner Workout: 2-mile warm-up + 4 strides, then 6 x 75 seconds at goal 5K pace with two minutes of easy jogging to recover between each interval. Run about 1 mile to cool down to complete 5 miles total.
Intermediate runners have the fitness to include more total mileage, more time spent at goal pace, plus some running faster than goal pace.
Intermediate Workout: 2-mile warm-up + 4 strides, then 6 x 90 seconds at goal 5K pace with 2 minutes of easy jogging to recover between each interval. Then run 4 x 30 seconds at mile pace with 90 seconds of easy jogging to recover between each interval. Run 1.5 miles to cool down to complete 7 miles total.
More: Run Fast With Strides
Advanced runners can run workouts that include slightly more mileage and intensity. Again, the goal here isn't to build fitness—that's already been done—it's just to fine-tune your existing fitness so you're ready on race day.
Advanced Workout: 3-mile warm-up + 6 strides, then 6 x 2 minutes at goal 5K pace with 2 minutes of easy jogging for recovery between each interval. Then run 4 x 30 seconds at mile pace with 1 minute of easy jogging for recovery between each interval. Run 1.5 miles to cool down to complete 8 miles total.
These workouts are just examples, but they show the underlying principle: to race well over 5K, you must practice running at goal 5K pace and faster often. It seems simple, but it's common for many runners to run too slow or even too fast.
And of course, any race-week workout is simply icing on the cake. When in doubt, err on the side of caution, and run a shorter workout that's not as challenging. The goal isn't to make you too sore or fatigued because that may carry over to race day.
Instead, you just need to remind your body what it's like to run at 5K pace so it remembers a few days later. Then, it's time to run a new personal best.race.