Want to be able to run the 5k to your absolute max? Learn how to run the 5k with the right combination of strength and pace.  

Ah, the 5k distance – the shortest mass participation race you can do and yet sometimes it seems so far! When you are racing a 5k there is never going to be a point where you’ll be flat out running as fast as you can go for the duration of the race. Well, maybe at the end when you are really grimacing with spit hanging out your mouth and arms flailing trying to get to that finish line!

Strength and pace

Getting the 5k right is all about doing the correct training and even then there are a hundred ways you could train to get to the same result. To be successful at it you need to get the balance between strength and pace right. You need to be strong enough to run the distance at pace, but also fast enough to run it at that pace.

To be successful at 5k you need to get the balance between strength and pace right.

Remember the 5k is all about maintaining the pace you want to run for just over 3 miles. A lot of coaches talk about really ‘focusing’ on the 4th kilometre of the race, because that is where the time is lost. Generally people get to 3k on pace and then in the next kilometre tiredness sets in and before you know it, that PB is out of the window.

Example session at race pace

A good session to do when training for a 5k is 400m reps and the idea is you should do these at the pace you want to race at. For example you might run 10 x 400m with 60-90 second recoveries at your chosen race pace. The rest in between them will allow you to recover sufficiently so that you can still run the pace. Over time you should see improvement so that you can lower the time for each 400m. This would be your speed workout.

Tempo run example session

With the 5k you want to be aerobically strong as well as having the speed in the legs and this is where a tempo run comes in. A tempo run is a slower than race pace run done for an extended period of time.

A tempo run is a slower than race pace run done for an extended period of time.

If you were just training for a 5k I would say you wouldn’t need to go any further than 6 miles. The idea is that you would run 6 miles at a pace which is about 40-60 seconds slower per mile than your 5k race pace. This might seem quite quick and if so just start off with a shorter distance, perhaps 4 miles and then build it up.

Whichever one of the example sessions feels most difficult to you will probably be the area you need to work on the most. Like I said there are many different training sessions that you can do for a 5k and these are just two examples. A coach down at your local running club will be able to help you further and there are also some training plans on realbuzz.

Balance your training

If you focus too much on either speed or strength the other will suffer, because it is very hard to train both at the same time. That is what makes the 5k rather challenging to get right. It is not like the marathon where strength is the main requirement, and it certainly isn’t a 200m race either.

When it comes to the actual race many people make the mistake of going out too quickly and then they start to slow. Try to resist that urge and go off instead at a pace that you know you can maintain until the end. Running even splits is the best way to run a PB in the 5k. If you feel good at 3k then really focus on maintaining or even increasing the pace during that crucial fourth kilometre. That is where the race really starts for you, a bit like in the marathon when people say the ‘race’ starts at 20 miles. And remember, everyone has got a sprint finish at the end, no matter how tired you are! Good luck.