Saturday, August 6, 2016

How To Fit a 5K into Your Marathon Training

Before I started working with my current coach, I never understood how people ran 5Ks while marathon training. 5Ks usually fall on the weekends, and that interferes with a weekend long run. So my assumption was that people who ran 5Ks during marathon training were skipping a long run, or they were super elite and able to do both. Or- they were heading down the injury path.

Once I started working with my current coach, I began to see how shorter faces fit into a marathon training schedule.

Why race a 5K while training for a marathon?
Semper Fi 5K, May 2016

5K races are great for testing your speed and practicing your ability to push through discomfort. They also don't beat you up as much as longer distances. Plus, they are fun and they can be confidence boosters too. Racing at such a fast pace will also make your marathon pace feel easier. If you are participating in a local race series, running frequent 5Ks can help you reach those goals as well.

I think that the best time to race 5Ks is early in the cycle. Your long runs aren't too long, and if you have a good base of speed early in the cycle, all you need to do is extend the amount of time you can sustain that speed. This is what my coach calls stamina. Before I got hit with mono, my long runs were no longer than an hour and 45 minutes, and my speed workouts were all intervals. Nothing at marathon pace, and no tempo runs.

Running a 5K in the weeks leading up to the marathon can also be good for sharpening the legs and getting you into race mode.I wanted to run a 5K two weeks out from Boston, and my coach approved this. It was a Friday evening 5K, and I was scheduled to run 24 miles the following day. However, it ended up being 70+ degrees and windy the night of the 5K, and I thought the heat would be an additional strain on my non-acclimated body, so I nixed it.

Saturday 5K
If you are racing a 5K or even a 10K on a Saturday, you can do your long run on Sunday. Your legs will be tired, and you don't want to overdo it, so the key is to keep the long run slow, especially at the beginning. The long run, if done slowly enough, can actually serve as a nice recovery from the race. The long run should be a little slower than your typical long run, but it will still serve its purpose of training you for endurance. Prior to working with my coach, my rule was that I would always take a rest day after a race, no matter what distance. But part of what helped me get to the next level was realizing that I didn't necessarily need complete rest in order to stay injury-free.

If your 5K falls on a Friday (I've seen a lot of Friday night 5Ks) then it's still okay to run the long run on Saturday or Sunday.

Sunday 5K
If the race is on a Sunday, I do not recommend doing your long run on Saturday. I've seen people do this and I realize that there are many coaching approaches out there. But my perspective is that if you are running a race, you should actually race it to the best of your ability, so you should be somewhat rested/tapered going into it. If you did your long run on Saturday and you want to race a 5K on Sunday just for fun, then that's possible, but many runners have difficulty holding back during a race. The race may not be an accurate indication of your fitness level if you just did your long run the day before.

Run Your Heart Out 5K, Feb. 2016
So if you "tapered" for your Sunday 5K, when do you do the long run? According to the plans I've seen from my coach, the following Tuesday. But it would be a shorter long run. So depending where you are in your training cycle, if your long runs are typically 15-16 miles, you might run 10 miles the following Tuesday. When I was training for Boston, I ran a half marathon on Sunday, and the following Tuesday, I was prescribed a 12-mile run.  I ran it at a pace of 9:09 instead of my typical 8:45, and all was good.  By doing your long run the following Tuesday, you've essentially swapped a speed workout with a long run, and the only sacrifice you made was that the long run was a little shorter. But that's balanced out by the fact that your speed work was a little harder.

If you run a 5K any other day of the week, you can pretty much swap it out for a speed workout. Of course all of this assumes that you're running long runs on weekends. Most training plans feature weekend long runs for the primary fact that people go to work during the week and can't be running 2+ hours. It's convenient. I once read an article that said the ideal length between long runs is 9 days, not 7. But most plans use 7 days for convenience. For people who run 90+ miles as week, then they've already made the decision to fit whatever length run they need to into their daily lives.

Race Strategy
My coach always tells me that I should race 5Ks hard, and not hold back. And that's why I always get a mini-taper. BUT, it all comes back to WHY you are racing a 5K to begin with. If it is to practice pushing hard and to get a confidence boost, then I think this mini taper and slight sacrifice in mileage is worth it. If you just want to run a 5K because it's fun or for a tempo workout, then a mini-taper isn't really needed.

All of this talk of running is getting me really excited about my return to training. I'm definitely on the mend and I actually walked around the neighborhood this morning (0.6 miles) and I felt decent. The problem is that I can feel weakness in my legs, particularly in my knees. I still feel a bit jello-like. I know that this phase of mono can last a really long time and I don't want to be stuck in it for another month. So, I will continue to take it one day at a time.

Anyway, here's hoping that I will be able to run some 5Ks during my next marathon training cycle, whenever that may begin!

Learning to walk again! I believe I've waited long enough. . . 


  1. I had 3 mile repeats on my last marathon training plan and I made them into 5ks--it was during the week and there were 2 of them, but it was fun to see how fast I could run!

    1. That's fun! I wish there were more 5K races during the week. It is really excited when you go out there and see what you can do!

  2. Nice post, Elizabeth. Thank you!!! Hoping you are back into a training plan soon!!

  3. Nice post, Elizabeth. Thank you!!! Hoping you are back into a training plan soon!!

  4. Great post! I rarely run 5ks and definitely not during my marathon training.

  5. I run a lot of 5Ks on Saturday and do a long run on Sunday, but my long runs are fairly short (10-12 miles). I'm not sure I'd do it if I had a 20 miler or something on the plan. One good option is to run the 5K as a tempo instead of racing all out, which is essentially what I do many times. We also have some 5Ks during the week here and those work really well to run as a workout (or as I say, "race-out"... race as a workout).

  6. I run a parkrun pretty much every Saturday and that's a 5k. OK I don't always race it but when I do I tend to use it as my speed session for the week and then use my long run as a slower recovery thing. If I had something really long planned, like 18 miles or whatever then I'd probably just run the parkrun easy pace.