An advanced plan for 5K training differs from novice or intermediate training primarily in these ways:
- The total amount you'll run per week
- The intensity (speed) and total time of your workouts during the week
- The frequency of hard workouts (compared to easy runs)
- The total number of days you'll spend running for the week
Advanced 5K training schedules vary according to your needs and goals, and should be adjusted to address individual weaknesses. In other words, you'll need to spend some time working out the kinks, since what works for one runner might not work for another. That said, most advanced 5K plans share certain characteristics in common; any good plan should be cyclical, allowing muscles time to recover.
An advanced 5K training schedule will typically include:
- Speed training (such as VO2 max or endurance intervals)
- A tempo session (aka anaerobic threshold run)
- A long run
Strength training, particularly core workouts, can be a valuable addition as well. You should also incorporate the occasional race as a fitness check and a chance to practice your racing skills.
Each of these fundamentals affects your body differently. Combined, they will boost your conditioning, endurance, speed and energy. Let's take a look at them individually.
VO2 max runs improve the efficiency with which your body delivers oxygen to muscles and the effectiveness with which your muscles use that oxygen. Essentially, they tune up your heart while transforming your legs into a pair of pistons. The most effective approach: Maintain a pace slightly faster (10 to 30 seconds per mile) than your 5K race pace. This will be a bit taxing, so you'll only keep it up for about 800 meters (or three to five minutes), repeating it six to eight times with a jog between repetitions.
How long a jogging break you should take remains a matter of some debate and probably varies according to your goals and your body. A four- or five-minute jog will promote overall efficiency but probably won't shave much time off of your race pace. If that's your goal, then you'll want very short intervals (50 meters, 164 feet, or about 20 seconds) of jogging between speed runs. Whatever your goal, resist the urge to run much faster than just above your race pace.
A tempo run is a run where you maintain a pace just below the threshold at which you produce too much lactic acid for your body to process. Staying below this anaerobic threshold allows your body to rid itself of, and even reuse, lactic acid. If you exceed that threshold, lactic acid will enter your muscles, slowing you down and causing that familiar "burn." By running just below this threshold, you can raise your anaerobic "ceiling" over time, increasing the speed you can maintain before crossing over into the burn zone.
Long runs (runs longer than 5K) improve your overall fitness by working your muscles and aerobic systems for longer periods of time.
Now that you're on the right track, let's fine-tune with a few tips.