Intermediate 5K Training Plan

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” – Christopher McDougall

The 5K Intermediate training plan is designed with similar mileage to the beginner 5K running plan. This plan is perfect for those who have completed a 5K race and want to improve their time. The plan includes four days per week of running with a mixture of easy runs, long-distance runs, speed workouts, tempo runs, rest days, and optional cross-training days.

This plan is 10-weeks in length and will have you running faster and more efficiently in your next 5K race! Most running sessions are based on time instead of distance, leading to a reduced risk of injury, and a more enjoyable experience!

The speed workouts and tempo runs are meant to improve performance by focusing on a faster pace and efficiency. In addition, the gradual increase in long-distance runs will have you running farther and feeling more comfortable while covering the distance.  As the plan progresses, the total running time and intensity of each session will increase.

I include optional, but highly recommended cross-training workouts in the Intermediate 5K plan. These cross-training workouts allow you to incorporate other activities you enjoy with this training plan. Cross-training activities may include cycling, yoga, elliptical, swimming, or weight-lifting. With the goal on improving your 5K time, cross-training workouts can make a remarkable difference in building strength and efficiency.

Individuals will want to choose this plan if they have been running regularly at least 3 to 4 times per week for 40 to 45-minutes. If you are currently running less, that is okay! You may want to consider starting or repeating the Beginner 5K training plan and building your fitness up to this Intermediate 5K plan.

At a glance

  • Length: 10 weeks
  • Typical Week: 4 Day Run (1 Speed Day), 2 Day Cross Train, 1 Day Rest
  • Longest Workout: 8 Miles
Download 5k Intermediate Plan

Intermediate 5K Training Plan Terminology

The terms in the Intermediate 5K training plan are defined inside the downloaded plan, but let me define them for you here as well.

Warm-Up: Run/Walk for 5 to 10 minutes at an easy effort before every workout (run days and cross-training days). A proper warm-up will help to gradually increase heart rate, improve circulation, loosen up muscles, and prepare you for a workout.

Cool-Down: Run/Walk for 5 to 10 minutes at an easy effort after every workout (run days and cross-training days). A proper cool-down will help gradually bring your heart rate and breathing back down to normal levels after the days workout.

Perceived Effort: A way to rate your effort level based on your feelings about the level of intensity on a scale of 1 to 10. A 1 is considered ‘At Rest’ and a 10 is considered “An All Out Effort.” Use this scale in combination with Pace and Heart Rate to stay in the correct intensity level shown in the training schedule for a given day.

Heart Rate: If you have access to a heart rate monitor then use this device to stay in the correct range and intensity level shown in the training schedule for a given day.

Cross-Training: Include activities other than running and walking in your training plan. If you are completely new to exercise, then you may want to wait until weeks 4 or 5 to add in cross-training workouts. If you are already active 3 to 4 days per week, then start the cross-training as scheduled in the plan. Examples of activities for cross-training may include cycling, elliptical, rowing, strength training, swimming, or yoga. Cross-training will help to reduce the impact on your body and reduce the risk of injury from running. Cross-training can also speed up recovery time between running workouts. If you are ever feeling to fatigued or sore from running, then you may want to consider taking an occasional cross-training day as an extra day of rest.

Strength Training: A form of cross-training, strength training can be a great way to increase lean muscle and boost metabolism while at rest. Strength training can be completed using body-weight, free-weights, resistance bands, weight machines, or classes such as Pilates, Yoga, or Cross-Fit. Include exercises for upper body, core, back, and lower body. Warm-up with a run/walk for 5 to 10 minutes. If you are new to strength training, then start with 1 set of each exercise for 12-15 repetitions. The goal is to work your muscles to fatigue or until you can no longer maintain proper form during the exercise. Continue with 1 set of each exercise for weeks 1 through 3, then progress gradually over a few weeks to 2-4 sets of each exercise for 8-15 repetitions.

Flexibility: Stretch lightly after every warm-up and cool-down period. Stretching will help improve flexibility, increase circulation, speed up recovery, and reduce the risk of injury.

Easy Effort: Easy pace/effort is considered at or slightly above what you can maintain a conversation, 65-75% of maximum heart rate, and 6-7 on the Perceived Effort scale.

Moderate Effort: Moderate pace/effort is where you can hear your breathing, but you are not breathing hard, 75-80% of maximum heart rate, and 7-8 on the Perceived Effort scale.

Long Run Effort: The key to developing endurance is the long run, progressively increasing in distance each weekend. The long run should be done at a pace/effort that you can easily maintain a conversation throughout the run. Work on running with an even pace/effort from start to finish of the long run.

Speed Work: Warm-up with 5-15 minutes of running at an easy pace. Then, complete the appropriate speed workout for the day. These workouts should be at a hard effort, 90-95% of maximum heart rate, 8+ Perceived Effort. You should be able to hear yourself breathing hard. It is very important to make sure your easy recovery effort between repeats is truly easy. Running to fast during the recovery can have a negative impact on your performance during these workouts. Walk for recovery if you need to.

Tempo Run: This is a continuous run with a buildup in the middle to near 10K race pace. Begin with 5-10 minutes of easy running, then accelerate gradually for 10-15 minutes in the middle of the run, then cool-down with 5-10 minutes of easy run at the end. Tempo runs are not about how long (in time) or how far you run, they can be run hard or moderate. These workouts will build your lactate threshold and endurance, and boost your confidence in your abilities.

Racing: Consider adding a 5K test race in week 4. This race will allow you to familiarize yourself more with running in a structured event. If you can’t find a race during this week, feel free to modify the schedule around what races are available.

Adaptability: Don’t be afraid to move the workouts from day to day and week to week. This training plan is merely a guide to help you complete a 5K. Be consistent with your training, and the overall details won’t matter. Listen to your body and progress as your fitness allows you to progress.

Training Plan Structure

The following Intermediate 5K Training Plan schedule is only a guide. Feel free to make minor modifications to suit your work and family schedule. You will find more information on 5K training in the FREE downloadable file.

Download Your 5K Intermediate Training Plan

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