There is no secret to getting faster, but there are a handful of workouts that seem to boost nearly any triathlete’s speed when used in a progressive fashion during your training cycles.

Two of my favorite workouts to introduce to a triathletes run training cycles both utilize a running track of 400 repeats.  You’ve probably heard of or even performed “track work”, “speed work” or 400 repeats, but in my experience most of what you find in a training plan description or group workout isn’t specific enough regarding the effort or pace to use for the work and rest ratio. In both my private client’s training and my 12 week triathlon training plans for sale here on the site, I use 5k and vVo2max paced 400 repeats. Don’t let the names scare you!

Depending on the athlete’s development, I may start with a 4 week cycle of the 5k pace training, then back off and switch to a different intensity workout for the week (such as hills), or I may go straight to the “vVo2 max” based workouts for an more advanced triathlete.  The rest of this article is about 5k paced training, to prepare you for any race distance, including marathons and iron-distance racing.  vVo2 max pace training will be covered in Part 2 of the Elite Training Techniques.

5k Pace Track Workouts

Don’t be misled by the name, these workouts will benefit triathletes and runners of any distance.  The main planning strategy is where during your buildup these fit best depending on your goal race.  5k paced intervals are low risk when done right and can be incorporated into most training phases.   If your goal race is a sprint or olympic, do these closer to he race.  if you’re training for long course triathlons or half-marathon or marathons, adding these to the front end of your training plan will boost your fitness and threshold.

Regardless of your current ability, as long as you can run a 5k (at any speed), you can benefit from the 5k repeats to help add speed and minimize injury in training.

I first started using these workouts from Bobby McGee an Olympic Running Coach located in Boulder, CO.  Without exception, every triathlete I have used these with has improved their speed in a short period of time.  This is not a guarantee that you will also, but try it out and see how you feel.

Here’s how it works – 4 Simple Steps

Take your recent minutes/mile pace for a stand-alone 5k, either actual race or a simulated field effort. Divide that by 4 and subtract 2-4 seconds.  This is your target pace for each 400m/440yd repeat, or 1 lap around a standard running track.

Example 1:

Step 1: 5k time:  31:00
Step 2: Mile Pace: 10min/mile
Step 3: 1/4 mile pace: 2:30min/mile
Step 4: Subtract 2-4 seconds for a range of 2:26-2:28

This is your target pace for one lap around the track.

The key to making these work is to be brutally honest with yourself about whether or not you are hitting your paces.  These are not necessarily difficult to do from a fitness point of view, but it requires you to develop and improve your sense of pacing at a clip that’s relatively fast for you. If your time for each running lap varies by more than 4 seconds, you need to improve your ability to choose and hold a pace.

Don’t be a “First Lap Hero!”

I can nearly guarantee that the first time you try this workout, you’re going to go blazing fast around the track and be well ahead of the target pace…and you’ll feel like a superstar!! But that’s not the pace I want you to hit. I want you to be able to deliberately choose to hit this pace at will over and over and over again.

Work-Rest Ratio

You can take your rest one of two ways, either take equal work/rest ratios by running 1 lap then walking or jogging near the start for the same time period OR you can simply jog 1/2 lap in-between each running lap. If you choose the latter you’ll end up moving your starting point ahead by 1/2 lap each time, so every other effort you’ll start on the opposite side of the track.

How many intervals to do?
Use this guideline to determine how many of these intervals to start with in your first week.  This is a recommendation only, but it’s better to start with too few and then build your way up

5k time (min) Mile Pace (min/mile) Week #1 Week #2 Week #3 Week #4
30 – 37 10:00 – 12:00  4  6  8  4
24 – 30  8:00 – 10:00  6  8-10  10-12  6
22- 24  6:00 – 8:00  8-12  10-14  12-16  8-12

I’ve put some suggested boundaries on 5k times for this workout. If you are running slower than a 12 minute mile, or faster than a six minute mile, there are probably some other approaches that might make more sense for you.

For those hares running sub 22 minute 5ks, you’ll definitely want to check out Part 2 of the Elite Training Techniques on using vVo2 Max.  This is the exact technique I used with David who set his “5 in 5” this summer… 5 PRs in 5 Races.

For those running slower than a 12 minute mile, you can still benefit from these workouts, but you’ll need to be careful and observe your running form and your run/walk ratio during a 5k.  If your 5k race is done with continuous running and slower than 37 minutes, it’s likely that you’ve got one or more major improvements you can make including weight loss, consistency in training and running technique.  Adding an “elite triathlon training” technique to your current training may not be the best use of your current training time.If this describes you then you’ll want to check out Part 3 of this series…Elite Technique Tips (as opposed to training tips)

Don’t feel like self-coaching? Use these pre-made plans!

If you would like to try these techniques for your next Sprint or Olympic Distance Triathlon, these elite training tips are utilized in both the Intermediate and Olympic distance training plans available here.  The intermediate plans use these 5k pace workouts and the advanced plans incorporate vVo2 max training which you’ll read about in Part 2.





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