How Intermediate 5K Training Works

By: Meredith Bower
Intermediate runners are looking to increase speed and endurance to break personal records, or maybe even win the race.

In any given city, on any given weekend, early in the morning, you're bound to find a 5K race. Often, the race is a fundraiser, and the field of participants range from fit to flabby. People enter 5Ks for various reasons -- to cross it off their "bucket lists," to support the cause the race supports or simply to collect another commemorative T-shirt.

Beginning runners make it their goal to reach the finish line. Advanced runners often use 5Ks to train for bigger races. And seasoned walkers enjoy taking on the 3.1 mile course when the 5K's sister event, the "1 mile fun run," isn't challenging enough.


If you're an intermediate runner, then you probably pound the pavement about five times a week, but may not be breaking any records. Maybe you've mapped out a 3 to 5 mile (4.8 to 8 kilometer) route through your neighborhood. Or perhaps you hop on the treadmill and run while you catch the evening news. That's fine, but it may not win you any races or help you to break any personal bests.

For you, participating in a 5K race should be not only enjoyable, but also challenging; and no matter what your motivation for entering a race is, training is key to a successful, injury-free run. The intermediate runner -- someone who runs about 15 to 40 miles (24.1 to 64.3 kilometers) weekly and has a strong cardiovascular system -- enters a 5K race as an opportunity to begin training for improved speed and fitness.

At the end of the day, when the bananas and orange slices are gone, even if you don't post a personal record, you'll feel good knowing you gave it your best and supported a good cause. But if you're looking for more than a commemorative T-shirt, how should you train?

We'll dig into that on the next page.


Intermediate 5K Training Schedule

Runners who plan to enter a 5K race should spend eight to 12 weeks preparing for the race. This will ensure you'll complete the run in good time and enjoy yourself. Training for a 5K focuses on five key areas:

  1. Stamina -- the ability to run long distances with little exertion
  2. Endurance -- the ability to sustain a race pace at an uncomfortable level of exertion
  3. Tempo -- the ability to run comfortably at race pace; sustaining a rate of motion
  4. Speed -- the ability to sprint or surge during a race
  5. Power -- the ability to run relaxed at race pace; covering ground with every stride

[source: Clarke]


Most intermediate level training programs are structured to focus on endurance and speed so runners can run the 5K race comfortably and work toward improving their personal records. Unlike the novice training program, which recommends shorter distances and a combination of running and walking, or advanced training in which runners log some 30 miles (48.2 kilometers) a week to improve speed, intermediate training focuses on distance one day, speed another and a combination of the two on other days. Training programs vary, but one thing all levels share is at least one full day of rest (day one) each week to give the body a chance to recover. Here's what you'll do on the other days:

  • On day two, after a day of rest, you'll run 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) at pace -- meaning you're able to converse with a training partner without becoming breathless. If you can sing, you're moving too slowly and should pick up the pace.
  • Day three is a tempo run or interval training. In a tempo run of 30 minutes, you'll start at an easy pace for five to 10 minutes, building up speed during the middle 15 minutes and then slowing down for the final leg. Interval training has the runner starting and ending the workout with a slow jog. In between, you'll alternate running fast for 400 meters (1,312 feet) and jogging for 400 meters. Over eight weeks of training, you should strive to increase the number of intervals.
  • Day four is back to a 3-mile run.
  • Day five is the second day of rest for the week.
  • Days six and seven, which many runners save for the weekend, call for you to increase your speed and distance weekly in preparation for the race. By week seven, runners should hit their stride and be able to run 5 miles (8 kilometers) at a fast pace, and 7 miles (11.2 kilometers) at a pace where it's easy to talk while running.

[source: Higdon]

If training goes as planned, running a 5K race will feel like a breeze.


Tips for Intermediate 5K Runners

Since the 1960s, the sport of running has grown in popularity, and along the way, trends and techniques have changed to improve performance and reduce injury. Today, training has evolved to the point where it not only focuses on the actual roadwork, but also on strength training, cross training and nutrition. Seasoned sprinters as well as ex-couch potatoes can benefit from these tips for intermediate runners.

  • Stretching -- Before beginning any form of exercise, it's important to stretch the muscles to improve flexibility and prevent injury.
  • Strength training -- People who run exclusively tend to build muscle in the backs of their legs but not the rest of their body. By adding strength training, using weights and doing core exercises, runners will be more balanced and have a better overall fitness level.
  • Cross training -- Rather than running everyday, experts recommend swimming, bicycling, walking or other forms of aerobic exercise to give the running muscles a break while maintaining cardiovascular fitness.
  • Carbo-loading -- A diet rich in high-energy carbohydrates and low fat proteins both before and after races is effective at improving performance. Between races, a balanced diet of nutrient-rich foods serves as fuel for training.
  • Hydration -- There's a direct link between performance and body temperature. As body temperature rises and dehydration begins, performance drops, which may lead to injury. Drinking water before, during and after a race or a run is vital. Occasionally, runners may need to replace fluids with drinks like Gatorade or Powerade.

[source: Burfoot]


After the 5K race, intermediate runners can go in one of three directions. When they cross the finish line, some runners cross the race off their "bucket lists" and return to a more sedentary lifestyle, while others set their sights on bigger challenges like a 10K or half marathon. The third group keeps the pace and logs 20 or more miles (32.2 or more kilometers) a week. Motivation is the key to sticking with running or any form of exercise. If you need a little motivation to lace up your shoes and hit the track, consider some of these tips:

  • Treat yourself to new gear like shoes (which should be replaced regularly), shorts, a pedometer or heart rate monitor.
  • Find a running buddy -- be it man or dog.
  • Set a goal for the day or the week (distance, speed or number of runs).
  • Enter a race in another town and combine it with a vacation.
  • Keep a log or a blog.
  • Watch "Chariots of Fire," the story of two British athletes preparing for the 1924 Olympics.
  • Try a new route on trails, up hills or in a different neighborhood.

[source: Burfoot]

Whatever your goal, be it running a 5K or losing 5 pounds (2.2 kilograms), shake up your routine. It'll improve your ability and keep you in the game.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • How a Marathon Works
  • How Intermediate Marathon Training Works
  • How Advanced Marathon Training Works
  • How the Ironman Works
  • How to Train for Your First 5K
  • How to Train for Your First Marathon
  • What's a green marathon?
  • Why can a trained athlete run a marathon, but a couch potato cannot run half a mile?


  • Higdon, Hal. 5-K Training: Intermediate. 2002. (July 7, 2010)
  • Burfoot, Amy. "Runner's World, Complete Book of Running." Rodale, Inc. 2009.
  • Clarke, Brian. "5K and 10K Training." Human Kinetics. 2006.