Here is an inquiry from an experienced runner: If you don’t need Endurance – how much long stuff do you need? After decades of racing events from the 10k up to the marathon, I am now focusing almost exclusively on 5ks. So the question is how long should my long / endurance runs be? I enjoy doing hills, intervals, and tempo runs, and use all three to try to reduce my race time. What I’m struggling with is how long runs lead to improved performance in such a short race, and the optimal distance and pace.
This is a really good question. The answer depends on a runner’s background in part. A novice runner will want and need to keep in some long runs periodically to add to aerobic conditioning in general even though the longer workout is not extremely race-specific. Once you have a sound background in running – as you do – then you have far more flexibility in your “long run” distance as well as your total miles per week.
The direct answer is that I would recommend going for an 8-10 mile run every 2-3 weeks. As the season gets closer to your “big” race (usually a championship race for instance) then drop the long run entirely. A 6 mile run will suffice as your attention will then shift dramatically to very high intensity quality runs and rest days.
I will add to this answer by also addressing something in your list of current workouts. Remember that for the most part (other than novices), you do not get faster by running slower. Therefore, if your focus is 5K then your quality runs need to be at your 5K goal pace (GP) or faster. Of course you have some easy days for recovery and balance in training as well as the occasional long run mentioned above.
A tempo run by definition is approximately 15K race pace or about a one-hour all out race pace. That means about 10k mile pace plus a few seconds. This is a good “quality” workout for anyone racing an hour or longer. It does not enhance conditioning for shorter races very well. Why? Because it’s not fast enough to enhance speed nor is it slow enough to be a recovery run. Therefore for track specialists (800 through 5000/5K) this is a poor investment of your training energy.
The solution is to replace tempo runs with higher quality track workouts or hill repeats or with a recovery run. Then it serves a specific purpose to your training goal.
Do not misinterpret what I’m saying. It is not that tempo runs are not good workouts. They are. But, they are best used for the longer race preparation not shorter.
One final note: The older and more experienced the athlete the more their training should focus on high quality workouts. They will enhance conditioning and racing more with faster paces than more miles. It only makes sense. General physiological adaptations (heart, lungs, blood vessels, muscles) have already occurred. The key now is to enhance the other physiological factors (enzymes, muscles ability to use energy & oxygen) which are better enhanced through faster NOT slower running.
The bottom line is that now that you are focusing on the 5K you need less distance runs, more quality runs, more rest and recovery days and more race specific targeted workouts.