If you’re looking to improve your 5k time, it can often be confusing about how best to do this. Should you run more? Should you increase the distance of your runs? How many fast sessions should you include?

Over the summer, I’ve been helping our Run Things Run Club members to improve their 5k times with 8 weeks of interval sessions that they can incorporate into their regular running routine, and the majority (15 out of 17) improved their fastest 5k time. If you have never included speedwork in your running routine before, this is the best way to improve your 5k. However, doing too much too soon could lead to injury, so I’ve set out two really simple plans, whether you’re a complete beginner to speedwork, or whether you already include it and just need some structure specifically to help you with 5k (keep scrolling for the improvers plan).

Beginners

The beginner’s version is suitable for you if you:

  • Have never done speedwork before
  • Have recently completed the Couch to 5k
  • Run two to three times a week

Tips:

  • Don’t push too hard in the sessions, any increase in speed will help.
  • If you’re doing both sessions, make sure you leave at least a day in between them.
  • Make the rest of your runs easy.

Week 1

  1. 20 minute run followed by 8 x (20 seconds fast; 40 seconds jog recovery) then walk to cool off.
  2. Two to three easy runs depending on what you already do each week.

Week 2

  1. 20 minute run followed by 8 x (20 seconds fast; 40 seconds jog recovery) then walk to cool off.
  2. 10 minute warm up; 6-8 x (1 minute faster; 2 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs.

Week 3

We’re increasing the length of the shorter, faster reps this week. If you’re new to speed work, don’t worry about specific paces, as this will differ from day to day anyway, affected by many things such as your fatigue levels and the temperature outside. Instead, just focus on running faster than you normally would for the efforts.

  1. 10-15 minute easy run to warm up followed by 8 x (30 seconds fast; up to 90 seconds jog recovery) then walk to cool off. For your efforts, run them faster than you normally would, so you get out of breath (aim for around 85% of your max effort)
  2. 10 minute warm up; 8 x (1 minute faster; 2 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs.

Week 4

Let’s introduce some hills this week to begin to build some power into your running.

  1. 10-15 minute easy run to warm up followed by 8 x (20 seconds effort uphill; recovery downhill) then 5 min easy run to cool off. For your efforts, don’t worry about pace, just focus on running uphill at the maximum effort you can manage. Use your arms to help power you up them.
  2. 10 minute warm up; 6 x (2 minutes fast. If you want a pace to aim for this week, I would suggest around your goal 5k pace; 2 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs.

Week 5

Let’s build on those hills from last week.

  1. 10-15 minute easy run to warm up followed by 6-8 x (30 seconds effort uphill; recovery downhill ) then 5 min easy run to cool off. For your hill efforts, don’t worry about pace, just focus on running uphill at your maximum effort. Use your arms to help power you up them.
  2. 10 minute warm up; 8 x (2 minutes at your goal 5k pace; 3 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs depending on what you usually do each week.

Week 6

We’ll continue to build on those hills and increase the length of your reps a little from last week.

  1. 10-15 minute easy run to warm up followed by 6 x (45 seconds effort uphill; recovery downhill) then 5 min easy run to cool off. For your efforts, don’t worry about pace, just focus on running uphill at your maximum effort. Use your arms to help power you up them.
  2. 10 minute warm up; 6 x (3 minutes at your goal 5k pace; 3 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs depending on what you usually do each week.

Week 7

  1. 10-15 minute easy run to warm up followed by 8 x (30 seconds fast; 60 seconds jog recovery) then 5 minute easy run or walk to cool off. For your efforts, run them faster than you normally would, so you get out of breath (aim for around 85% of your max effort)
  2. 10 minute warm up; 4 x (4 minutes at your goal 5k pace; 3 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs depending on what you usually do each week.

Week 8

  1. 10-15 minute easy run to warm up followed by 10-12 x (30 seconds effort at your fastest pace; 60 seconds recovery ) then 5 min easy run to cool off.
  2. 10 minute warm up; 4 x (5 minutes at your goal 5k pace; 3 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs depending on what you usually do each week.

5k Week

It’s time to head out and test your progress on a 5k time trial. I would suggest a 10-15 minute warm up first so you can get the best out of yourself.

If you would prefer to wait until later in the week to do your 5k, and have time/inclination to fit in another interval session, I would suggest 5 x 1 minute intervals with a 2 minute recovery. This session shouldn’t take too much out of you and will remind your legs that they need to work at speed during your next run. Enjoy!

Improvers

The improvers version is suitable for you if you:

  • Include some speedwork into your training already
  • Have been running for a while
  • Run four to five times a week
  • Can run a long run of 90 minutes.

Tips:

  • Make sure you leave at least a day in between interval sessions, or do an easy run in between them.
  • Make the rest of your runs easy (save your energy for the speedwork)
  • Include a weekly long run of at least 90 minutes, at an easy pace.

Week 1

  1. 10 minute warm up; 10 x (30 seconds fast; 60 seconds recovery); 5 minute cool down
  2. 10 minute warm up; 8 x (1 minute 85% max effort; 2 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. 2 or 3 easy runs depending on what your usual week looks like.

Week 2

Let’s introduce some hills this week.

  1. 10 minute warm up; 10 x (30 seconds uphill; up to 90 seconds recovery); 5 minute cool down. It doesn’t have to be a really steep hill. Any little incline will provide you with some added resistance, which is what we’re aiming for this week.
  2. 10 minute warm up; 6 x (2 minutes faster; 3 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs and a long run of 90 minutes.

Week 3

We introduced some hills last week, so we’ll build on that again this week, as hills are great for building power and strength, as well as encouraging good running form.

  1. 10 minute warm up; 12 (30 seconds uphill; up to 90 secs recovery); if you feel able to do a longer rep, try 8 x (45 seconds uphills with up to 2 mins recovery) ; 5 minute cool down. Again, don’t worry about your pace, but put a strong effort in uphill and focus on using your arms to power you up the hill.
  2. 10 minute warm up; 5 x (3 minutes at your goal 5k pace; 3 minutes jog recovery); 5 minute cool down.
  3. 2 or 3 easy runs.

Week 4

  1. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 12-15 x (30 seconds at your max effort; 60 seconds recovery jog). 5 mins cool down run. The number of reps depends on your recovery. If you’re struggling to recover after 60 seconds then stop after 12 reps, otherwise, carry on and do a few extra.
  2. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 4 x (4 minutes at your goal 5k pace; 3 mins recovery). 5 min cool down.
  3. One or two easy runs and a long run of 90-100 minutes.

Week 5

  1. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 6 x (60 seconds uphill with 3 mins recovery) ; 5 minute easy run to cool down.
  2. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 4 x (5 minutes at your goal 5k pace; 3 mins recovery). 5 min easy run to cool down. If you’re struggling to hold your goal 5k pace on these, do slow them down a little.
  3. 2 or 3 easy runs.

Week 6

We’ll keep building on those longer efforts this week.

  1. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 4 x (90 seconds uphill with up to 5 mins recovery) ; 5 minute easy run to cool down.
  2. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 4 x (6 minutes at your goal 5k pace; 3 mins recovery). 5 min easy run to cool down. If you’re struggling to hold your goal 5k pace on these, adjust your goals a little and simply slow them down. We’re building speed endurance here, but don’t run them so fast that you risk not finishing the session.
  3. One or two easy runs and a long run of up to 90-100 minutes.

Week 7

  1. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 6 x (1 minute at your goal 5k pace with 2 minutes recovery); Have a 5 minute rest (you can jog this if you like) then; 6 x (30 seconds at your top effort with 60 seconds recovery); 5 minute easy run to cool down.
  2. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 2 x (10 minutes at your 5k pace; 5 mins recovery in between). 5 min easy run to cool down. If you’re struggling to hold your goal 5k pace on these, do slow them down a little.
  3. One or two easy runs and a long run of around 90 minutes.

Week 8

  1. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 6-10 x (1 minute at your maximum effort with 60 seconds recovery); 5 minute easy run to cool down. See how you many you can manage here. If you’re still breathing hard after 60 seconds recovery, then stop the session there.
  2. 10 mins easy run to warm up. 3 x (8 minutes at your 5k goal pace; 3 mins recovery in between). 5 min easy run to cool down.
  3. 2 or 3 easy runs.

5k Week

It’s time to head out and test your progress on a 5k time trial. I would suggest a 10-15 minute warm up first so you can get the best out of yourself.

If you would prefer to wait until later in the week to do your 5k, and have time/inclination to fit in another interval session, I would suggest 5 x 1 minute intervals with a 2 minute recovery. This session shouldn’t take too much out of you and will remind your legs that they need to work at speed during your next run.

Good luck, and most of all, have fun!!

Remember that this is just a guide. Always listen to your body, and if you would prefer to work from a plan tailored especially to you, then do please get in touch about coaching.

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