Blog Post provided by Jason Fitzgerald of StrengthRunning.com
A popular question I get goes something like: "I want to run a fast 5k but I don’t want to run much. How do I accomplish this with just three runs a week?"
It’s possible to run a personal best and get faster with only three runs per week provided you haven't been running a lot already. If you stop running 70 miles with two fast workouts per week and try this strategy, you will not improve.
But for those runners who have done some running and want to be productive with just a few runs per week, it’s possible.
Let’s be clear that this type of training isn’t ideal. The bare minimum won’t help if you want long-term success. This is not the best way to train for long races like a marathon but it will allow someone who lacks time to run well.
These are my training recommendations for a 5k with a reduced training schedule.
Three Days Per Week
If you want to be run well and only have three days to train, then you have to focus on quality. A normal schedule would include a few "maintenance runs" that build your aerobic – but not this plan. All three runs in this schedule are specific to racing a 5k.
Day #1: Combination Workout
The first run of the week will focus on strength: the combination tempo and hill workout. To make this successful, shorten the length of the tempo so it’s shorter than normal and cut the number of hill reps.
A general rule is to cut the tempo in half from what you normally run and do the same with the number of hill repetitions. So if you normally run a 20 minute tempo and eight hills, do a 10 minute tempo + 4 hill reps.
Run the hills at your current 5k race effort. The incline will make the actual pace slower, but the effort should be the same.
Run the tempo first; otherwise, your heart rate will be too high after the hills to run a successful tempo. A short tempo is also a great warm-up for harder running.
Day #2: Intervals Specific to 5,000m
Next you’ll be on the track running intervals at slightly faster than 5k pace. I like 800m or 1,000m intervals because they’re relatively short and allow you to easily hit your goal splits. Confidence is important during workouts.
It's important to run between 4 - 5,000m in total volume during this workout. This translates to 4-5 x 1k or 5-6 x 800m. Covering the race distance or close during the workout will give you the strength necessary to race where you want to be. Take 2-3 minutes between the intervals to ensure you're adequately recovered.
As you get in better shape and your goal race looms closer, reduce your recovery time to two minutes or even a minute and a half. But keep in mind that you shouldn’t be racing during a workout – leave some effort in the tank.
Day #3: The Long Run
Every training plan needs a long run (especially for races 5k and up). It's vital to developing endurance that will allow you to out-sprint your competitors at the end of the race. The distance of your long run depends on your current fitness and past training background.
If your longest run in the past four weeks has been six miles, then try to run seven miles as your first long run. But if you ran 13 miles last week, keep it at this level. For this minimalist training program, there's no need to run longer than 13-15 miles.
Your long run should be about 40 - 50% longer than your other two training days. So if you want to run 14 miles then your other sessions should be roughly 7-9 miles. If your long run is ten miles, your other training runs should total about four to five miles.
A Sample Schedule
Let's see how this program looks when it’s all put together. For simplicity, I’m not including any strength training, core workouts, or supplemental aerobic work like biking or pool running.
Tuesday: Combination workout - 10 minute tempo and 4 x 400m hill reps. Includes: 15 min. warm-up and 15 min. warm-down. 6 miles total.
Thursday: Intervals - 5 x 800m with 400m jog recovery. Includes: 15 min. warm-up and 15 min. warm-down. 6 miles total.
Saturday: Long run - 11 miles.
This schedule is high-intensity - it assumes the runner wants to improve and race well but only has three days to run. By combining four types of workouts in three sessions in this week, this program allows a busy athlete to get the most bang for their time investment.
Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner, founder of StrengthRunning.com, and the author of 101 Simple Ways to Be a Better Runner. He’s been featured in Yahoo, Fitness Magazine, and Active. Sign up to get free access to the Runner’s Gear Bag – a collection of resources to help you be a better runner.