Nail Your Race Pace: 6 Workouts to Hit Your 5K Running Goal

(Photo/Nick Presniakov)

For your body to run your goal 5K race pace more efficiently, you need to practice running it in training. The best way to do this is to incorporate a series of goal-paced workouts into your training regimen.

As with any athletic training program, progressive overload is the key. As you adapt to a specific workload or workout, meaning it begins to feel more manageable, you change something to make it more difficult. Ultimately, as you get closer to your goal race, you’ll become fitter and more capable of handling higher workloads at your goal pace.

One of my favorite 5K pace workout progressions is the bottom-up method, developed by renowned track and field coach Steve Magness. According to Magness, the bottom-up method involves running intervals at a set pace, with the duration of the intervals gradually increasing.

To integrate the bottom-up method into your 5K training, schedule one of the following workouts every 2 to 3 weeks. If you have ample training time, cycle through all the workouts. However, if time is limited, skipping one or two is acceptable.

5K Goal: Bottom-Up Method

(Photo/iRunFar, Eszter Horanyi)

In most cases, my clients don’t have too much trouble completing the first two workouts within their goal 5K pace. However, things start to get tough by the third or fourth workout. 

You must run the planned intervals at your goal 5K pace, no faster or slower. This allows you to practice dialing that pace to get a feel for it, and on race day, you’ll have a better understanding of pacing.

If you’re struggling to hit your goal pace on the first two workouts, I suggest adjusting your goal, especially if your goal race is less than 8 weeks away.

As with all workouts, you’ll want to start with a 1- to 2-mile warm-up, followed by dynamic drills and a 1-2-mile cooldown after the workout. Here’s the workout progression.

5K Workout Progression

(Photo/iRunFar, Eszter Horanyi)
  • Workout #1: 3 x (4 x 400 m at 5K w/ 30 sec. jogging rest) with 3 min. between sets
  • Workout #2: 3 x (3 x 600 m at 5K w/ 40 sec. jogging rest) with 3 min. between sets
  • Workout #3: 2 x (3 x 800 m at 5K w/ 45 sec. jogging rest) with 3 min. between sets
  • Workout #4: 2 x (600 m, 800 m, 1,000 m w/ 45 sec. jogging rest) with 3 min. between sets
  • Workout #5: 5 x 1,000 m w/ 60 sec. jogging rest
  • Final Workout: 3 x 1 mile @ 5K w/ 2 min. jogging rest


man running on road in front of yellow arrow road sign
(Photo/Kendra Smith)
What should my goal 5K pace be?

If you’ve been running a long time and your time has plateaued over the past few 5Ks, I suggest targeting 10 to 15 seconds faster. If you’re new to running the 5K and each race has been getting progressively faster, I like to aim to round down to the next number. For example, if your current time is 19:23, try to break 19 minutes.

Alternatively, if you’ve never run a 5K, you can use this running calculator to find your equivalent 5K time from another race distance. If you’re using a half marathon or marathon time, I suggest subtracting 1 minute from your goal time, as most runners can run a faster equivalent at the 5K distance.

How can I run a faster 5K?

The best way to run a faster 5K is to be consistent with your training and ensure you’re doing various workouts, including tempo runs, fartleks, hills, long runs, and goal-paced workouts like the one above.

I suggest targeting at least three 5K races in 2 months, spaced out 2 to 3 weeks apart, with the last one being your goal race.

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