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Train For Your Best 5K With Just 3 Days Per Week

 

Running is a fickle pursuit. If you want to be at the front of the pack in a given five-kilometer (3.1 mile) race, conventional wisdom pushes this idea that you have to run a hard 50+ miles per week (at minimum). We’re told we need to spend hours out on the road or do countless intervals on a track to come anywhere remotely close to a podium finish. Often many become dismayed at this idea and would rather give up on any formal training plan thinking that they do not have the time or capability to place. They instead settle for a lackadaisical jog, a one-off weekend run instead of the culmination of a training cycle. So if you’ve been scouring RunSignUp’s slate of race registrations and are wondering if you’re capable of crushing your goals, we’re here to tell you that you do not need to kill yourself to PR a 5K—or even to win one—and that you can do it with just three days of running per week.

Now to start, any exercise regimen should only be done when you are healthy enough to partake and we highly advise checking with your physician prior to beginning a formal training plan. If anything hurts or feels off when running, stop and seek medical care. In addition, this three day per week schedule is meant for runners who can comfortably run at least 10 miles across three days per week to start. If you’re not quite at that level yet, worry not! If you have no running experience, try walk-running 30 minutes a day, three days per week to start and then build up to comfortably running continuously for each session.

If you are a student-athlete, elite amateur or a paid professional then this plan will not be of much service to you. But if you are someone who has a job, a family and/or other time commitments that prevent you from training at a level required of the pros but you still want to put up respectable times and maybe even take first in a local race, then this is the plan for you.

We break it down as three days per week with an off day between each running session across a ten-week training period, however, it is sustainable enough to continue through the year. Though this only has you running three times in a given week, it is imperative that you keep active on your other days as well. Want to get the blood flowing to alleviate some running aches? Go for a 30 to 45-minute walk, hike or bike ride. Do you play on a club softball or soccer team? Or do you also swim laps a few times per week? Feel free to keep those up. Want to avoid the dreaded ‘runner’s arms’? Resistance training with weights or bands (we have a great workout plan for bands right here) is a great way to counter-balance your running days. With that said, we advise taking one day off from high-intensity fitness entirely each week to let your body recover (though foam rolling / stretching, walking and yoga all make for great recovery activities).

Before running each day, it’s best to warm-up with a dynamic routine. There are many great, effective dynamic warm-ups available online, however, some of the best moves to look for include knee pulls, toe sweeps, side to side jumps and leg swings. Also, after each workout aim for a consistent static stretching routine that is sure to target the calves, Achilles tendons, hamstrings, quads, and glutes. The standard runner’s pose is a great place to start.

Here is a glossary of terms that will be listed below for anyone unfamiliar:

Recovery Pace: Talking pace, roughly two minutes per mile slower than target race pace. 

Natural Pace: Moderate effort but not a tempo run…as if you were “naturally” running to get from one place to another without racing.

Negative Splits: When the second half of the run is faster than the first half, or, when each successive mile is faster than the mile that preceded it.

Tempo Run: A threshold run best performed at 30 seconds slower per mile than your target race pace.

Strides: Intervals of speed at or faster than target race pace per mile. 

Hill Sprints/Repeats: “Hill” is a catchall, but any incline will do—including bridges, steep driveways, grassy embankments, etc. The key is to build power running by charging up the ascent and recovering on the descent.

 

 

Weeks 1 & 2:

Day 1:
.5 mile (800 meter) warm-up at recovery pace
3.1 mile (5K) natural pace (aim for negative splits)
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Day 2:
1 mile (1600 meter) warm-up at recovery pace
4-6x hill sprints for longer hills, 8-12x for shorter hills (aim for at least 1 mile of distance covered on hills)
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Day 3:
4 mile long run at recovery pace

 

Week 3:

Day 1:
.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
3.1 mile natural pace (negative splits)
4x 80 meter (or 10 second) strides (90 second recovery pace between intervals)
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Day 2:
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
6-8x long hill sprints or 12-16x short hill sprints (aim for 1 to 2 miles of distance covered on hills)
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Day 3:
4 mile long run at recovery pace

 

Week 4:

Day 1:
.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
3.1 mile tempo run
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Day 2:
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
8x long hill sprints or 16x short hill sprints
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Day 3:
5 mile long run at recovery pace

 

Week 5:

Day 1:
.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
4 mile natural pace (negative splits)
4-6x 100 meter (or 12 second) strides (90 second recovery pace between intervals)
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 2:
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
10x long hill sprints or 20x short hill sprints (aim for 2+ miles of distance covered)
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 3:
6.2 mile (10K) long run at recovery pace

 

Week 6:

Day 1:
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
4 mile natural pace (negative splits)
6x 100 meter (or 12 second) strides (90 second recovery pace between intervals)
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 2:
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
10x long hill sprints or 20x short hill sprints (aim for 2+ miles of distance covered)
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 3:
6.2 mile long run at recovery pace

 

Week 7:

Day 1:
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
3.1 mile tempo run
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 2:
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
10x short hill or 20x long hill sprints (aim for 2+ miles of distance covered)
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 3:
.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
6.2 mile long run at natural pace
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Week 8:

Day 1: (on road or track)
800 meter (.5 mile) warm-up at recovery pace
4x 800 meter (.5 mile) intervals at 10 seconds faster than target per mile 5K race pace (400 meter [.25 mile] recovery between each interval)
2 minute break (hydrate!)
4x 400 meter (.25 mile) intervals at 5 seconds faster than target per mile 5K race pace (400 meter recovery between each interval)
800 meter cooldown at recovery pace

Day 2:
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
10x short hill or 20x long hill sprints (aim for 2+ miles of distance covered)
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 3:
.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
6.2 mile long run at natural pace
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Week 9:

Day 1: (on road or track)
800 meter warm-up at recovery pace
4x 800 meter intervals at 10 seconds faster than target per mile 5K race pace (400 meter / 2 minute recovery between each interval)
2 minute break (hydrate!)
4x 400 meter (.25 mile) intervals at 5 seconds faster than target per mile 5K race pace (400 meter / 2 minute recovery between each interval)
5 minute break (hydrate and keep moving around)
3x 200 meter (or 30 second) sprints at all-out effort (1 minute break between each interval)
800 meter cooldown at recovery pace

Day 2:
1.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
10x short hill or 20x long hill sprints (2+ miles)
1.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 3:
.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
6.2 mile long run at natural pace
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

 

Week 10:

Day 1: (on road or track)
1 mile warm-up at recovery pace
4x 800 meter intervals at 10 seconds faster than target per mile 5K race pace (400 meter / 2 minute recovery between each interval)
2 minute break (hydrate!)
4x 400 meter (.25 mile) intervals at 5 seconds faster than target per mile 5K race pace (400 meter / 2 minute recovery between each interval)
5 minute break (hydrate and keep moving around)
4x 200 meter (or 30 second) sprints at all-out effort (1 minute break between each interval)
1 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 2:
2 mile warm-up at recovery pace
10x short hill or 20x long hill sprints (2+ miles)
2 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 3:
.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
6.2 mile long run at natural pace
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

The above plan is designed with the idea that your target race is the week following week 10. During any race week you want to significantly dial back volume but keep up some level of speed. For the above referenced schedule, a recommended race week (week 11) would look like:


Day 1:
.5 mile warm-up at recovery pace
3.1 mile natural pace (negative splits)
4x 80 meter (or 10 second) strides (90 seconds recovery between each interval)
.5 mile cooldown at recovery pace

Day 2:
3.1 mile recovery pace

Day 3:
Race day!

As you can see, this plan tops out at a little over 20 miles in week 10. Any elite or pro runner would probably laugh off such “low” mileage but make no mistake, the level of intensity you put forth in each session will emphasize quality work over quantity of work. If you have a fitness watch, keep an eye on your heart rate. To calculate your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. So if you are 35 years old, your max heart rate will be around 185 beats per minute. You need to dial it back if your heart rate gets too close to your max heart rate while running. Perceived exertion improves your running regardless of what speed it occurs at. For recovery runs, aim for 60% or so of your max heart rate.

Maintain consistency by scheduling the same workouts on the same days of each week (track or speed work one day, hill repeats another day, long run another day) and be sure to not run on the days in between each workout (though, as mentioned earlier, cross-training or resistance work is a great supplement). Also be sure to take one day entirely off from high intensity work. Try your best to get eight hours of sleep per night and be sure to take in plenty of water, lean protein and complex carbohydrates without added sugars.