How to Train For a 5K and a 10K

Thursday, May 12, 2016

from Canadian Running Magazine By John Lofranco

Most training plans focus on going long: mastering the marathon or running your first half. But 5Ks and 10Ks are their own challenge. Montreal-based coach John Lofranco explores how to succeed at two of the most fun race distances.

So you want to run a good 5k or 10k. The secret to running a good race at either of these distances is to shake the common notion that these are “shorter” distances.

While the popularity of the marathon and half-marathon can’t be denied, the fact is 5k and 10k are distance running staples, and the way to get better at running them is not that different from training for a half or marathon. The key lies in running more easy kilometres each week.

Most people don’t build mileage because they fear injury. You can reduce that risk significantly if you keep your runs slow. It sounds counterintuitive, but running slow will help you get faster. Another way you can lower your risk of injury is by running on soft surfaces. The best runners in the world run a ton of mileage, but they do much of it on dirt trails. No one is saying you have to run 200k a week to run a good 5k, but if you could get yourself from, say, an average of 40k a week to 60k over the year, you’d go a long way towards running a PB.

If this is your first race then you have it easy: all you need to do to get better is to keep running! Run slow – slow enough to talk to your friend. If you are out of breath, you’re running too fast. Those who say that long slow distance makes long slow runners are wrong. This is the foundation. Without it, you won’t be strong enough to benefit from the workouts.

How Much Mileage?

I don’t like to put a number on mileage, because the answer to the question of how much is needed is “as much as you can handle without injury.” How do you know your limit? Well, you have to test it. That doesn’t mean run until you get hurt. It means do more than you are currently doing, and listen to your body’s response. General muscle soreness is fine, but pain that’s only on one side of the body (like your left quad is twingy, but your right quad is fine) is pain that you need to pay attention to and back off.

If you are just plain tired, don’t give up yet. Give the new level of volume some time to set in. But don’t try to do a workout when you are feeling bagged, as your fatigue will put extra stress on your body and risk injury. Cycle your volume increase as two weeks increasing and one week down to about 50–60 per cent of your max.

The difference in training effectively for a 5k versus a 10k is the race-specific work you need to do. If you are training for a 5k, your main workouts will be at 5k pace. If the goal is 10k, then you’ll run some focused sessions at 10k pace. When you get down to race-specific workouts, there is some variation, but other than one session every week or two, a 5k runner and a 10k runner can do a lot of the same workouts.


Once you’ve run easy for a minimum three weeks start doing strides, which are just short, fast accel- erations in the middle or at the end of your easy run. Start with eights seconds per stride, building up to 15 seconds. You’ll probably naturally get faster as well. Keep this up for a few more weeks. You can vary the effect of strides by when you put them in the run. Do them at the beginning when you are feeling fresh to build up your “pure” speed, in the middle for the ability to change gears, and near the end to train your- self to run fast when tired.

But wait, you’ve have been running for almost two months now and you haven’t done any workouts. That’s OK. If you need to sharpen up for the local 5k then you can work your way up to 5 x 1k at 5k pace once a week over the course of four weeks leading up to race day. But if you are a runner, or want to be one, you’re in this for the long haul so you need to be patient. Running isn’t about a 12-week training plan, it’s about 12 months of running each year.

The Need for Speed

Let’s say you’ve run easy for about six weeks now and you’ve been doing strides. You are running more and more each week. If you have the patience to continue for six more weeks, then do so; if you feel the need for speed then here we go.
First, we’ll do some tempo. Tempo is the common word for longish sustained bursts of fast (but controlled) running. You might still be able to talk, but you don’t really want to. Tempo can range from marathon pace to 10k pace, depending where you are in your progression. Start slower and gradually get faster as the season goes on. Or, you can just try to go longer. That’s more for marathoners, I’d say, though. For 5k and 10k, a variety of tempo paces is best. Startwith around 20 minutes, and build to no more than 40 minutes. You can break it up into segments, too, like 2×15 minutes or 3 x 12 minutes. You can also do some long strides at the end, and eventually 200m repeats. You are allowed to mix up the paces in your workouts on the same day. When you get to the tempo stage, your strides should be substantial – 100m long. This is helping with your turnover.

After a couple weeks of tempo, you can start hitting some specific work that will prepare you for runninga strong 5k or 10k. There are a couple ways to build. You can start with long intervals at your current 5k pace and try to run them a little faster each week, or you can start with the pace you want, your goal pace, and lengthen the interval over time. I like to start at goal pace and lengthen the interval.

Your first 5k workout is 25 x 200 m at 5k goal pace, with a 200m jog for recovery. Be sure to stick to your goal pace in order to survive the entire set. The first few intervals should feel easy. Next time, do 18–20 x 300 m, then 13–15 x 400 m, then 10 x 500 m, then 9 x 600, 7 x 800 m and maybe finally, 5 x 1k at 5k goal pace. If you are going well and still have a few weeks to race day, you can do 6 x 1k or 4 x 1,200 m and eventually build to 3–4 x 1,600 m. Keep the recovery short. When you start, these will seem easy. When you get up to 600 and 800 m intervals, it’ll be a lot harder, but that’s the idea.

The 10k progression is 25 x 400 m at 10k pace, 18 x 600 m, 12 x 800 m, 10 x 1k. The principle is the same, and the recovery (short at first, longer later) as well. You’ll probably do some 5k pace workouts when training for a 10k and vice versa. It’s also useful to run shorter, faster intervals, too, like 8 x 200 m at your 1,500 m pace. Of course you don’t have time to get to all of these paces in one week, which is why a runner needs to be patient. Enjoy the journey and your gradually increasing fitness.

The Race Warm-up

Some people find the race warm-up tricky. You should warm up for a race the same way you warm up for a workout. This is what we do at the McGill Olympic Club: 15–20 minutes of very easy running. Near the end of the jog, throw in 2–3 minutes of tempo pace running. Then, if you are still not quite ready to go, do 2 x 30 seconds at race pace. These primers help get your body ready for the intense work to come. Then do some drills, such as As, Bs and Cs. It might also help to throw in a couple short sets of jumps – short fast hops– do a set of 2 x 10. It’s been shown that doing some jumps in your warm-up can get your muscles ready to run fast.You can do strides if it makes you feel good, but here’s some- thing you should know: once you are warmed up, you can sit around and do nothing for 15 minutes and still be warmed up. Yes, it’s true, and the pros do it all the time. At any big track meet, you have to be at the call room (a tent or room where officials gather racers to check their numbers, spikes, and uniforms) 20–30 minutes before your event. Then you get paraded into the stadium just before your event. You might get time for one last stride, and then, if it’s on TV, you have to stand around for a little while longer. If you are fast enough to have to wait for a TV introduction before your race, you’ve probably got your warm-up routine down.

How to Race a 5K

The best way to race a 5k is to go out a little faster than you think you should. This is good news because it will probably happen anyway. So don’t worry about it, but when you hit kilometre one, know what you want your second kilometre split to be, and get locked in for the next two ks. The fourth kilometre will be the hardest, so gradually increase your effort as the race goes on. Once you reach 1k to go, start the kick.

How to Race a 10K

The 10k probably requires a more even approach, but you can still get away with a few seconds faster than goal pace of the start. There’s more room to recover from a mistake in a 10k, but there is also more room to make one. A good 10k feels like a slow burn. When you get to 7k or so, it should be hard, but manageable. Those 10k/marathon fartleks will give you confidence in the late stages of the race.There are plenty of ways to go about your training, but these are the ways that have worked best for us. Training is not really like a cake recipe because you never know what’s going to happen next. Everyone is different, and what works for some may not work for others. You may need more strides, and your training partner may thrive by running tempos. The important thing is to gradually progress and vary your training so you are moving towards your goal by stimulating your body to keep growing, changing and adapting.

The Kick

The thing about the kick that most people don’t realize is that you best train your kick by having good aerobic strength. Doing more easy miles will actually help your kick. Why? Because you’ll be less tired when you get to the end of the race. You’ll have more energy to kick, especially if the final kick is a kilometre long.

When you get into those final 200 m before the finish and you want to find that extra gear to crush your local rival, do a workout that forces you to change pace abruptly. You can do a series of 150 m sprints where you change gears every 50 m. The change should be hard, not smooth, like popping the clutch.