Smart Race-Ready Workouts for the 5K

Fine-tuning your body for a 5K as you head into the race requires a nice balance of speed without overdoing it.

Most of us know the staples of how to train: speed workouts, tempo runs, long runs, hill work, etc., but applying the right workouts at the right time during the proper phase of your training requires a bit more knowledge.

One area that’s often overlooked is what kind of workout to do in the days directly before a big race. More than a few coaches may err on the “hard” side, thinking that a really tough workout five days before a big race will boost confidence and top off your training. The reality is, a really smart workout in that time frame is going to help bring you to the starting line ready to race.

Let’s take the 5K. It’s not easy to run as hard as you can for 3.1 miles. To fine-tune your body for a 5K as you head into the race requires a nice balance of speed without overdoing it.

Former Austinite and elite coach Greg McMillan loves what he calls the 3 X 3 X 4, meaning three sets of three times 400 meters. It’s done five days before your 5K target race.

For set one, he prescribes running 3 x 400-meter repeats at your goal 5K pace with 100-meter jog in-between. For set two, bump it up to 3 x 400m repeats at two to three seconds faster than your goal 5K pace with a 2000-meter rest in-between. For set three, you’ll run 3 x 400m repeats at 4-6 seconds faster than your goal 5K pace with 400-meter between each repetition.

According to McMillan, “This workout accomplishes much, yet leaves you refreshed and excited to race. The first set helps you dial in race pace from the start, something that will be important come race day. The slight pace increases in sets two and three help the mind and the body prepare for the increasing effort level required as you pass through miles 1 and 2 of the 5K. While the pace is increasing with each set, you’ll notice that the recovery interval between each repeat is also increasing. This workout is not designed to cause undue fatigue.”

Hal Higdon, a contributing editor to Runner’s World and author of the Ultimate Training Guide recommends six times 200-meters at a pace faster than your 5K pace.

Another variation on the race-ready workout focuses on time, not distance, and is as follows: Run a three-mile warm-up, then run six repeats at two minutes each at your goal 5K pace with two minutes of easy jogging between each interval. Follow that with four times 30 seconds at mile pace with one minute of easy recovery between each interval. Complete the workout with a one to two-mile cooldown.

What do these workouts have in common? Running at or slightly faster than your goal 5K race pace helps tune your body and mind to readily dial in that effort. The faster pace reinforces a more economic stride and can gets you more comfortable with running fast. These types of workouts are basically short, and don’t require an all-out effort. That way you have something left for race day!

Upcoming races: Saturday, September 22 at 8:00 a.m., Country Roads 10K at Country Estates Swimming Pool 712 Country Estates Dr., San Marcos. Sunday, September 23 at 8:00 a.m. Schlotzsky’s Bun Run 5K at 11401 Century Oaks Terrace at the Domain in Austin.

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