If you’re looking to run your best 5K race, National and State Champion coach Benjamin Tilus has a secret recipe for both beginners and professional runners. Follow these 3 steps to improve your performance and win your next race.

runners crossing the finish line

Whether you’re a runner or a coach, this comprehensive guide to 5k race training is packed with valuable insights and strategies to help achieve top performance. Share it with your network to empower others in their pursuit of 5k success!


Step 1: Beginner's Advice for 5k Training

When you’re new to running you should not overcomplicate your 5k training preparations. Ben’s simple advice: increase your running volume as much as possible with long slow distance running. Presuming that you increase volume in a responsible way, “30 miles per week is better than 15 miles per week.”

It does make sense to add some workouts that contain race pace intervals. This results in short term VO2max benefits and some mechanical, strength and technique improvements. In other words, these intervals prepare your body to run at a higher pace.

Keep in mind though that long slow distance volume should be your main focus, says Ben Tilus.

To summarize, here are the key takeaways for beginners:

  • Increase running volume responsibly
  • Incorporate race pace intervals
  • Focus on long slow distance volume

Want to know how you should pace your 5k? Learn how to determine how fast you can run your 5k over here

Step 2: Optimize Your Metabolic Profile for 5k Run

If you’re an experienced runner looking to run your fastest 5k, there’s more to training than just increasing your running volume. To improve your performance, you need to understand your metabolic profile and optimize it accordingly.

Ben uses the INSCYD performance software to fully understand the metabolic profile of his runners. He noticed that many experienced runners who want to run a fast 5k, fatigue too early in a race. They simply don’t have the athletic foundation that is necessary to run a fast 5k time trial.

Ben noticed that two factors often cause a poor 5k performance in experienced runners:

  1. Their aerobic energy system (VO2max) is not good enough
  2. Their anaerobic energy system (VLamax) is too dominant

To optimize your metabolic profile, you can take an INSCYD test to determine your own VO2max and VLamax levels.

“A highly developed anaerobic power is useless in races over a minute in length if the aerobic engine can't deal with it.”
Benjamin Tilus INSCYD coach
Ben Tilus
National and State Champion coach

To give some ballpark numbers, Ben suggests aiming for a mid 60’s VO2max and a VLamax somewhere between 0.3 and 0.4 mmol/l/s. 

When VO2max is not high enough, your most important energy system is simply not good enough. When VLamax is too high, you rely too much on anaerobic energy supply and fatigue too early in the race.

Since VO2max goes up automatically when increasing training volume, Ben prefers to focus on decreasing the VLamax. Together with Ben, we wrote a full white paper about decreasing VLamax in runners, while increasing VO2max. Download it via the form:

After you implemented the training strategies described in the white paper, you’ll notice that:

  • Your steady 5k running pace increases
  • Your lactate concentration at any given running intensity decreases
  • You burn more fat and less carbohydrates at any given running intensity

Here are the key takeaways for experienced runners:

  • Understand your metabolic profile with INSCYD software
  • Aim for mid 60’s VO2max and 0.3-0.4 mmol/l/s VLamax
  • Focus on decreasing VLamax
  • Implement training strategies from the white paper

If you’re a sports coach or lab looking to enhance your athletes’ training and performance, now is a perfect time! Book a free 1:1 consultation with the INSCYD team today and unlock the power of understanding metabolic profiles to help your athletes reach their full potential. Our experts are happy to offer the consultation in your own language.

Ready to win your first 5k running race?

Step 3: Train to win a 5k run

Runners crossing the finish line

If you want to win a 5K, running at a fast steady pace is not always good enough. Although in theory, you could run so fast from start to finish that no one can follow, you often need a “kick” (sprint) to finish first. This last step focuses on exactly that. However, Ben suggests not worrying about this final step as long as you’re not finishing in the top 10 already. But if you are, here’s how to start winning 5K races.

In step 2 the goal was to increase VO2max and decrease VLamax. To give it a final push at the end of a race, you do need a certain amount of anaerobic power (VLamax). If you managed to increase VO2max (step 2) over the course of several seasons, you can now slightly increase VLamax, without huge drawbacks. But it’s a fine line. 

As Ben mentions, the questions you and your coach need to answer are: How low can you get your VLamax and still have enough power to finish strong? Or: How high can you get your VLamax without harming your steady pace effort?

The INSCYD performance development chart helps to track VO2max and VLamax over time, to make sure they stay within the desired boundaries.

The INSCYD performance development chart
The INSCYD performance development chart shows how your metabolic profile trends over time. You can use it to better understand how an athlete responds to a certain training program.

To increase your anaerobic power slightly, you need to add explosive interval training to your training program. Ben shares a couple of specific workouts that increase VLamax.

Not sure if you should increase or decrease VLamax? Together with Ben Tilus, we devoted a full article to this question: Should my runner increase or decrease VLamax?

Bonus: Pacing Strategies for Your 5k Race

An athlete sprinting towards the finish line during a 5K race, showcasing the importance of a strong finish

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or pro, pacing is important in a 5k race. Here’s how to determine your fastest 5k running pace.

As always, it starts with knowing your metabolic profile. After you performed an INSCYD test, you get your lactate recovery and accumulation graph. This graph shows how fast you accumulate lactate during your 5k. This is a good marker (not cause) for fatigue.

Our example athlete accumulates 0.7 mmol/l/min lactate when running 5 m/s (purple solid line).

Lactate recovery and accumulation graph
Lactate recovery and accumulation graph. The purple solid line shows how fast our example athlete accumulates lactate per minute, at a given running speed. The purple solid line shows the lactate accumulation when our example athlete would increase VO2max by 5% and decrease VLamax by 5%.

The INSCYD metabolic test results show that our example athlete has a maximal lactate concentration of 13.5 mmol/l. If the concentration reaches 13.5 mmol/l, the athlete will reach a maximal effort. The metabolic test also shows that our athlete has a resting lactate concentration of 1.5 mmol/l. 

When the athlete runs 5k at a running speed of 5 m/s, he would finish in 16:40 min:sec. He would accumulate 11.6 mmol/l lactate (0.7 mmol/l/min * 16:40 min:sec). If we add this to the resting lactate concentration of 1.5, we know that our athlete will finish with a lactate concentration of 13.1. Since this is slightly below his maximal lactate concentration, we now know that our example athlete can run a 5k at a speed of 5 m/s.

Notice that if the athlete increases VO2max by 5% and decreases VLamax by 5%, the lactate accumulation rate is lower for every given running speed (dashed purple line). The athlete would now be able to run 5.3 m/s, which would almost shave off a full minute of his 5k finish time.

Learn more about these performance projections in running via this article.

Wrap-up and Next steps

By following these 3 steps and pacing your 5k race correctly, you can train for and win your best 5k race yet. Use the INSCYD performance software to track your progress and adjust your training program accordingly. With dedication and hard work, you can achieve your 5k running goals. Let’s wrap-up:

  • Start with the basics: Focus on increasing running volume, incorporating race pace intervals, and emphasizing long slow distance volume for beginners.
  • Optimize your metabolic profile: Use INSCYD software to understand your metabolic profile, target mid 60’s VO2max and 0.3-0.4 mmol/l/s VLamax, and implement strategies to decrease VLamax.
  • Train for victory: Track your metabolic profile trends with the INSCYD performance development chart, increase anaerobic power through explosive interval training, and balance VLamax for a strong finish and steady pace.
  • Master pacing strategies: Perform an INSCYD test to determine your fastest 5k pace, use the lactate recovery and accumulation graph to adjust your running speed, and improve your lactate accumulation rate by increasing VO2max and decreasing VLamax.

Unlock your athletes’ full potential and elevate their training by scheduling a free 1:1 consultation with the INSCYD team today! Dive deep into understanding metabolic profiles and how they can impact performance with the help of our experts. Don’t worry about language barriers – our team is ready to assist you in your own language. Act fast as spots are limited, and you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity to revolutionize your coaching approach

Learn more from National and State Champion coach, Benjamin Tilus. Read his previous 3 articles:

Or watch his most recent webinar Using metabolic data to enhance middle distance running performance:

Found this article useful for improving 5k race performance? Spread the knowledge by sharing it with friends, athletes, and coaches alike, and help them unlock their full potential in their next 5k race!

Benjamin Tilus INSCYD coach
Benjamin Tilus

Coach Ben Tilus is an elite performance coach and data analyst who has helped runners of all distances achieve maximum results through individual testing and optimized training since starting coaching in 2008. In 2020 he founded XLR8 Performance Lab and began testing and assisting approximately one dozen athletes over the first 6 months of the business. Today he serves over 200 athletes, primarily working alongside high school athletes and their families to accomplish their goals! Learn more at xlr8-performancelab.com