For those that have an upcoming 5k race on their calendar, there’s nothing that will help get your stronger than some good old fashioned speedwork to ignite those fast twitch muscle fibers and help you run a fast 5k.

Before engaging in any speedwork you should always have a proper warm-up of at least 10 minutes. For me that’s a jog from my house to the local track where I can go right into my speedwork session.

Here is a very simple rule to keep in mind when training: If you want to run a fast race, you need to train fast. Ok, not every run should be fast as this will tear up your muscles and not be effective at all. But one run per week should be fast – either a tempo run at or near your 5k race pace or speedwork. No, these sessions are not easy, but they will get your body ready for race day. It’s very important to follow a tempo/speedwork day with an easy run, cross train, or rest the next day to allow the muscles to recover. Most runners choose Tuesday or Wednesday as “speed day”.

For those not familiar with terms such as 8 x 400 with 200 recovery let me explain. After your 10 minute warm up, you should run one lap around the track, which is 400 meters, at a hard, fast pace you can maintain. After each lap, you’re going to slow to an easy jog or walk for half a lap, or 200 meters, then do a fast lap again and repeat 8 times. 4 x 800 with 400 recovery would be hard, fast two laps (800 meters) followed by an easy lap and repeat 4 times. Get it?

Keep in mind the shorter your speedwork intervals the faster you can usually go. For example, it’s much easier to run a 7:30 minute pace for one lap (400 meters) than it is to maintain that pace for two laps (800 meters). However, the shorter interval you choose, usually the more you need to do so if you can run the first 400 meters with a 7:30 minute pace, will you be able to run your last 400 meters at 7:30 also? It’s important to try and maintain your fast pace throughout the workout which may take some adjusting.

For a 5k, I like doing the shorter intervals, or 400 meters. Here is what I would recommend for the next three weeks leading up to your race:

Week 1 – 8 x 400 with 200 recovery
Week 2 – 10 x 400 with 200 recovery OR 3 mile tempo run at 15 seconds slower that goal race pace
Week 3 – 12 x 400 with 200 recovery
Week 4 (race week) – 6 x 400 with 200 recovery

Another popular one is 800 meter intervals. That would look like this:

Week 1 – 4 x 800 with 400 recovery
Week 2 – 5 x 800 OR 3 mile tempo run at 10-15 seconds slower than goal race pace
Week 3 – 6 x 800
Week 4 (race week) – 3 x 800

Whether you want run your 5k race fast or not, speedwork is always a great tool to incorporate into your weekly routine to help you become a more efficient runner. It also makes your long runs feel easier.

Good luck on your race!