Rhythm Intervals

Best 5K Run Plan: Rhythm Interval Training

Whether you’re looking to up your 5K time or need to prepare for the best race of your life, this workout will improve your pace.

If you’ve read my articles on the alternating long run and tempo surges, you know I’m a fan of incorporating workouts designed to break up your running rhythm and make you feel uncomfortable.

By incorporating surges or keeping the rest intervals at moderately quick paces, you’re prevented from falling into that space where you can settle in, zone out, and just cruise.

However, when it comes to racing, being able to calm down, relax, and settle into a smooth, rhythmic pace where you can conserve energy is crucial. So it pays to practice this in training.

One of the best ways to practice running comfortably at goal race pace is what my college coach at Villanova University, Marcus O’Sullivan, calls rhythm intervals.

5K Race Training: Rhythm Intervals

Once or twice a week, immediately following an easy to moderately paced run, O’Sullivan has his runners add 1-2 miles of rhythm intervals at 5K pace on a track. O’Sullivan would have his runners start the early season with 100 m at 5K, followed by 100 m at everyday running pace, for a total of 1 mile.

‘Throughout the season, he would progress up to 200 m at 5K pace, followed by 200 m at everyday running pace for a total of 2 miles.

As a standalone workout, rhythm intervals aren’t very taxing, but tack on 6-8 miles before, and it turns out to be a solid 8- to 10-mile day with 1-2 miles of half-marathon to marathon pace at the end.

Still, the intention of this workout isn’t to be overly hard or leave you feeling beat up.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a race effort, rhythm intervals should fall in the 5 range. It’s only a half-mile to a mile of 5K pace broken into less than 1-minute intervals. The ultimate goal of rhythm intervals is to practice running goal 5K pace as efficiently as possible: relaxed, calm, and in control.

The more you practice a particular pace in a relaxed state, the more efficient you become at that pace.

Rhythm intervals make a great Friday speed session, where your hard speed session is done on Tuesday and your long run is on Sunday.

5k pace - rhythm intervals

The Workout: Rhythm Intervals

  • Run 5 to 8 miles at your normal every day running pace (you can use maintenance or steady pace from this running calculator)
  • Immediately following (without stopping) run 100 m at your goal 5K pace followed by 100 m at a moderate pace
  • Repeat the 100/100m intervals for 1 to 2 miles
  • Once you comfortably reach 2 miles of 100/100, increase to 200 m at goal 5K pace followed by 200 m at a moderate pace


How Do You Train for Your First 5K?

There are many factors that improve your 5K time. For beginners, simply running more often will improve your 5K times. Once you feel you’ve reached your limit by running easy, start to layer in a weekly speed session like the above workout or this one, hill repeats, and a weekly longer run.

How Can I Run a Faster 5K?

The single most important thing you can do to run a faster 5K is to be consistent with your running. However, no matter how many days per week you run, commit to it, and stick with it.

Then start to layer in a variety of workouts such as the above workout, the 30/30, hill repeats, tempo, and threshold runs, and longer runs.


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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.