5k Training Philosophy

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A lot of people ask about 5k training in relation to the marathon philosophy of HMM and the idea of cumulative fatigue. The truth is, it doesn’t because they are two different beasts. There’s some components that transfer over, but the cumulative fatigue and 5k performance is an oxymoron. With longer races, we are dealing with general endurance and fatigue issues, but for most 5k runners, that’s not the problem. For example, you may have heard me use the weekly mileage example before. If you average 30 miles a week for marathon training, then you are barely covering your race distance over 7 days. If you are running the same volume for 5k training, then you are running farther than your race distance on probably every run you do. Given that, general endurance is not going to be your issue. On the flipside, the 5k is still a largely aerobic event, which means having that aerobic base is still key, but it changes timing and priority of workouts. Having that foundation will allow you to engage in much harder workouts when the time comes. 


General Points in 5k Training


  1. Segments can be shorter. Personally, I like 10-12 weeks in length. This is especially true if you consistently train all year. This would include 6-8 weeks of increasing distances at pace and maximizing fitness, followed by about four weeks of sharpening. Any longer than that and you really run the risk of over cooking. Even at this, with an extended taper, you could probably race 2-3 times from weeks 12-15 if you had too. 
  2. While cumulative fatigue is key for marathon and even half marathon development, being fully recovered between hard workouts of much higher intensity is key to making it through and making progress. Too much too often can lead to acidosis, which would mean a forced shutdown. 
  3. Moderate mileage. I still love the miles and it’s still key here, but can be very easy between hard workouts. I always thrived on being between 80-90% of my peak marathon volume. 
  4. The idea of more specific work as you get close to the race still applies. That is a general rule of thumb for any plan. In a 5k plan you may start out with more LT repeats and 10k pace work, but you will progress down to 5k, 3k, and even some mile pace work sprinkled in. 
  5. Our goal is to get fast and sustain that pace for as long as we can. If you are a newer runner, we’ll see VO2max improve and that will automatically make you a faster runner. If you’ve been at it a while, we won’t be able to change that VO2max much, BUT…
    1. We can change how fast you can run at VO2max and how long you can sustain that VO2max
    2. A 5k will be well above your lactate threshold for most people, so while having a high VO2 and a faster velocity at VO2 is great, we have to be able to handle all that junk flooding the system. However, the scope of that changes with shorter training. We want to be able to tolerate things like lactic acid being flushed through our circulatory system, we want to be able to get used to the system just being completely bombarded at higher levels. 
    3. That being said, if you are working on these two areas simultaneously, you can now see why having a segment not too long in weeks, but also workouts spaced out appropriately becomes absolutely crucial in being able to develop, but also stay on the right side of developing injury. 
  6. Long runs are still important, but we won’t need the long grueling marathon length ones here. We can scale these back a bit and we can space out more. To allow for hard workouts to be the priority.  You will see these more in the earlier stages, but then scale back as the race season becomes closer. Given that, the runner actually is more fresh for these and tends to run faster, which allows us to recover, but also maximize aerobic development (as long as they keep slower than marathon pace). 
  7. Marathoners tend to treat 5k segments with less detail as they do their babies (marathons), but it is important to put as much thought and effort into the recoveries modes- window snacks, foam rolling, muscle recovery, hydration, sleep, etc into these segments as you do the marathons. The intensity of these segments more than makes up the lesser volume of day to day work. 
  8. Also for half marathoners and marathoners- since when following our plans, you will be doing a version of “speed” during the first several weeks, you don’t have to revisit that part. There’s no need to repeat that work. Recover from your races and leave yourself 8-14 weeks of dedicated training for the longer event. 


Ok, that’s a good starting point for now, we’ll revisit this document as things come up. I hope you can take some general points from this and use them when thinking about your own speed segment.

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