5 Ways to Sharpen your 5k Speed

Develop your aerobic base, strengthen your running muscles, and increase your speed.


By Jason Saltmarsh


The 5K is the darling of American road racing. It’s short, fast, and fun! Runners of all abilities can race hard, and still recover in time to race again next weekend. For many runners, the 5K is the gateway to competitive road racing.

Longer race distances require endurance, while shorter distances require speed. In training for a 5K, runners will need to work on both. The following workouts will help you develop your aerobic base, strengthen your running muscles, and sharpen your speed.

Long Runs

Long, slow runs are great for improving endurance, building mental toughness, and developing running efficiency. Intermediate 5K runners should complete one long run of 60-90 minutes at a slow, easy pace (about 2 minutes per mile slower than 5K race pace) each week. Remember to fuel properly on runs lasting more than an hour.

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs help you adapt to running faster for longer periods of time. This workout consists of three distinct phases: a warm up, a tempo (faster) period, and a cool down. For an intermediate 5k runner, a tempo run might look like this: 1.5 mile warm-up, 2 miles at race pace plus 30 seconds, 1.5 mile cool down. This workout can be done once each week.


Intervals are used to increase a runner’s speed and stamina. These are are short, intense efforts followed by equal or slightly longer recovery time. An intermediate 5K runner might begin with a 1-mile warm up, followed by four 800m repeats at 5K race pace (400m recovery jog after each one), and a 1-mile cool down.

If there’s not a track or measured course nearby, this workout can also be done using time intervals. For example, a 1-mile warmup, followed by four intervals consisting of 3 minutes at 5K race pace with a 1 minute recovery jog, and a 1-mile cool down. This workout can be done once each week.


Running strides will help you develop a good finishing kick for the end of your next race, and give you the ability to accelerate when you crest a hill, turn a corner, or choose to separate yourself from the rest of the pack. Strides will make you faster by conditioning your fast-twitch muscle fibers and teaching your body how to run more efficiently.

Look for an area that will allow you to run about 100m in distance. A soccer field is just about perfect. Start your stride at an easy pace and gradually increase your speed until your reach your “fast” pace before gradually slowing down again. Walk back to the start, and repeat.

This isn’t an aerobic workout, you’ve already done that part. This is about good running form and quick turnover. If you’re just beginning to add strides to your workouts, you can do 3-5 reps after your easy training runs once or twice each week.

Warm up on Race Day

On race day, warm up properly by running 10 to 15 minutes at an easy pace followed by a few strides. This will help you loosen up and let your body know that it’s time to go to work.

Use this time to think about race strategy. What pace do you want to run? Who do you want to run with? Are there any tricky sections of the race course that require special attention? Visualize a successful race from start to finish.

When both body and mind are prepared for the race ahead, your chances of success are much greater. Now, go crush it!

Jason is a competitive marathon runner and RRCA distance running coach. He's the senior editor at, and writes for several online health and fitness publications. When he's not running on the roads and trails, Jason can be found enjoying life with his family and friends on the New Hampshire seacoast.

Main Photo Credit: Dirima/; Second Photo Credit & Third Photo Credit: Maridav/