An Introduction to 5K Speed Workouts

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Not everyone participating in a 5K is worried about winning their event. But that doesn't mean speed workouts aren't an important aspect of 5K training to help you maximize your training and have the best race-day performance possible.

We recently spoke to Jennifer Burningham, a Portland-based running coach, to get her advice on the perfect 5K speed workout and how newbie runners can avoid common speed workout mistakes.

More: 3 Ways Speed Workouts Can Boost 5K Training

Got a Need for Speed?

Speed work isn't just about speed. It's about making the most of the long hours of a 5k training program. According to Burningham, speed work helps athletes become stronger, speedier, and more efficient runners.

Unfortunately, many distance runners neglect speed work altogether, and those who do include it often make crucial errors when it comes to interval distances and recovery times.

More: What to Do Before Your 5K

What Not to Do

"Many runners choose the wrong interval for their event," said Burningham. For example, she explains that someone training for a 5K should not do mile repeats. "The interval is too long and will not help to build the speed required for a competitive 5K race time," said Burningham. (Similarly, a marathon runner would not be optimizing their specific event training by doing 200 meter sprints.)

The second mistake that 5K runners often make with speed work is inadequate rest. "They don't take enough rest between intervals – so they'll start their next interval without being fully recovered and they can get injured," said Burningham.

More: Your 3-Step Plan to Run a 5K

The Ideal 5K Speed Workout

So what kind of speed workout does Burningham recommend? She explains that she likes to have her athletes do what she calls a "ladder."

For a 5K, she advises:"Doing an 800m, a 400m, and a 200m – and then doing a 200m, a 400m, and an 800m. So they go down the ladder and then back up the ladder."

More: Race-Day Tips for Your First 5K

"That gives the person just over a mile and a half of speed work, which is perfect for a 5K distance."

Burningham likes the ladder because "it addresses both the speed and the stamina, and it changes the interval, so the person doesn't get bored, especially if they're doing it on their own."

The Importance of Recovery

Because of the intensity of this type of interval work, Burningham recommends doing it only once every week or two, depending on the age of the athlete. She warns that "if you're not used to doing speed work, you're definitely going to feel some muscles you haven't felt in a while."

It's a good idea to do a very short, easy run the day after interval training, and Burningham suggests taking the third day completely off in order to allow the body to fully recover.

More: How to Recover After a 5K

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