5k workouts

Nail Your Race Pace: Six Workouts to Hit Your 5K Running Goal

When it comes to training for a specific 5K time goal, it’s best to do workouts at your goal 5K pace. The more time you spend running at your goal pace, the more confident and comfortable you’ll feel at that pace.

By practicing your goal pace, your body will become more efficient at that pace, leading to a better running economy. The best way to practice running your goal 5K is to incorporate a series of goal-paced workouts throughout your training.

The key is progressing the workload of each workout so that as you approach your goal race, you get fitter and able to more easily handle higher workloads at your goal pace.

One of my favorite 5K pace workout progressions is something famed track and field coach Steve Magness calls the bottom-up method. Magness explains the bottom-up method as “intervals [that] are run at a specific pace and the length of the interval is progressively increased.”

To incorporate the bottom-up into your 5K training, you’ll want to schedule one of the following workouts every 2 to 3 weeks. If you have enough training time, I suggest cycling through all the workouts. However, if you’re short on time, it’s OK to skip one or two.

5K Goal: Bottom-Up Method

Typically, I find my athletes can easily complete the first two workouts within their goal 5K pace. Things start to get tough around the third or fourth workout.

If you find that you’re struggling to hit your goal pace on the first two workouts, I suggest adjusting your goal, especially if your goal race is less than 8 weeks away.

5k workout - bottom up method

As with all workouts, you’ll want to start with a one- to two-mile warm-up, followed by dynamic drills. Here’s the workout progression:

5K Workout Progression

  • Workout #1: 3 x (4 x 400 m at 5K w/ 30 sec. jogging rest) with 3 min. between sets
  • Workout #2: 3 x (3 x 600 m at 5K w/ 40 sec. jogging rest) with 3 min. between sets
  • Workout #3: 2 x (3 x 800 m at 5K w/ 45 sec. jogging rest) with 3 min. between sets
  • Workout #4: 2 x (600 m, 800 m, 1,000 m w/ 45 sec. jogging rest) with 3 min. between sets
  • Workout #5: 5 x 1,000 m w/ 60 sec. jogging rest
  • FINAL WORKOUT: 3 x 1 mile @ 5K w/ 2 min. jogging rest


What Should My Goal 5K Pace Be?

If you’ve been running a long time and your time has plateaued over the past few 5Ks, I suggest targeting 10 to 15 seconds faster. If you’re new to running the 5K and each race has been getting progressively faster, I like to aim for the next round number. For example, if your current time is 19:23, try to break 19 minutes.

Alternatively, if you’ve never run a 5K, you can use this running calculator to find your equivalent 5K time from another race distance. If you’re using a half marathon or marathon time, I suggest subtracting one minute from your goal time, as most runners are able to run a faster equivalent 5K.

How Can I Run a Faster 5K?

The best way to run a faster 5K is to be consistent with your training and make sure you’re doing a variety of workouts including tempo runs, fartleks, hills, long runs, and goal-paced workouts like the one above.

I suggest targeting at least three 5K races in a 2-month period, spaced out 2 to 3 weeks apart, with the last one being your goal race.

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Cory Smith

Cory Smith is a Santa Barbara, California-based athlete, online running coach, and freelance journalist specializing in running- and climbing-related content and gear reviews. He draws from over 25 years as an elite runner and rock climber for ideas, inspiration, and expertise. Check out his portfolio here.