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Smash your 5K PB with Canadian triathlete Lionel Sanders

Follow along with one of Canada's top iron-distance triathletes as you chase down a 5K personal best

Lionel Sanders Photo by: Paul Phillips

Lionel Sanders is one of Canada’s best Ironman and long course triathletes. He has won the ITU Long Distance World Championships, placed second at the Ironman worlds and he has many other wins across various race distances. He’s also a great runner without the swim or the bike on either end, and back before his triathlon career took off, he ran for McMaster University in Hamilton. Sanders has a very popular YouTube page, and he recently posted a series of workouts as he worked toward breaking his 5K PB — an attempt that was ultimately successful as he ran an impressive 14:34. You might not be able to match Sanders’s result, but his workouts have proven effective, so test them out yourself and try to beat your own best time over 5K. 

The framework

Sanders explains his plan for the eight-week build toward his 5K time trial. He aimed to run one workout a week going “really fast” with race-pace efforts from one mile up to 3K. Another workout each week was a bit slower at 5K race pace, and he added a tempo run every couple of weeks. Sanders is a professional athlete, so his body is used to hammering hard runs multiple times a week. If you think you can only handle one speed session per week, that’s totally fine. Another important note: Sanders doesn’t always include warmup or cooldown times for these workouts, but you should run about 10 to 15 minutes on both ends of the main set.

RELATED: Lionel Sanders secures triathlon worlds victory with race-best 30K run

Workout #1

Corey Bellemore, sub-four miler and one of Canada’s top 1,500m runners, joined Sanders for the first workout of the 5K PB campaign. In this workout, you’ll target 3K race pace, which Sanders says is about 5 to 10 per cent faster than 5K pace. 

  • 6-8 x 600m at 3K race pace
  • Two minutes rest between intervals (featuring 200m jog recovery)

Workout #2

Sanders says the second workout in his build is “a real bread and butter workout” for him. You’ll be running 5K, but not all at once, and Sanders says it should be “a controlled hard effort.” 

  • 5 x 1K just below 5K race pace
  • Three minutes rest between intervals (featuring 200m jog recovery)

Workout #3

Workout #3 is the first tempo run of the build. Sanders ran 4K for both the warmup and cooldown, but he says it’s OK to cut those down if you feel it will be too much. 

  • 4K warmup
  • 6K at half-marathon pace
  • 4K cooldown 

RELATED: Workouts to break 20 minutes in the 5K

Workout #4

The fourth workout in the series gets back to the super fast intervals, this time with a broken mile. 

  • 2 x 800m
  • 800m, 2 x 400m
  • 4 x 400m
  • 1.5 minutes rest between intervals, 2.5 minutes rest between sets 

Workout #5

In Workout #5, you’ll be running 10K pace. If you have it in you to hit 5K pace on the final repeat, Sanders says you can go for it. 

  • 3 x 2K at 10K pace
  • Three minutes rest between intervals

Workout #6 

The fifth workout of the series saw the longest intervals so far, but Workout #6 gets right back to the short and hard stuff with “pure speed,” as Sanders says.

  • 10 x 400m 
  • 80 seconds of rest between intervals (with a five-minute break after the first five repeats)

RELATED: Core and stability work with Ironman world champion Craig Alexander

Workout #7

The seventh workout in the series is the same distance as the second, but with less rest between intervals. You should also run it a bit faster, aiming for your goal 5K pace.

  • 5 x 1K at 5K race pace
  • 2.5 minutes rest between intervals (featuring 200m jog recovery)

Workout #8

Sanders calls Workout #8 “The 1K Sandwich,” and it’s once again going to focus on “pure speed.” 

  • 1K at 3K race pace
  • 4 x 400m at 1,500m pace 
  • 1K faster than the first kilometre 
  • One-to-one recovery (meaning if your kilometre was four minutes, you rest for four)

Workout #9

Workout #9 is another tempo run, exactly the same as the first (although Sanders does say to try going a bit faster this time around). “This should be a comfortably hard effort,” he says.

  • 4K warmup
  • 6K a bit quicker than half-marathon pace
  • 4K cooldown 

Workout #10 

The third-last workout of the series features 800m repeats. 

  • 5 x 800m 
  • Two minutes rest between intervals

Workout #11

Sanders says that the penultimate workout of the 5K build made him “very, very nervous.” Even more nervous than he is before an Ironman triathlon, he says, and that’s because it’s a short, hard and fast 3K time trial. An all-out run with “pure VO2 max stuff.” (Sanders ended up running 8:37, beating his PB by eight seconds.) 

RELATED: Post-run core work with triathlete-turned-marathoner Gwen Jorgensen

Workout #12

Finally, we’ve reached the final workout before the 5K time trial, and it is to be run “at bang-on 5K pace,” Sanders says.

  • 4 x 1 mile (1,609m)
  • Two minutes rest between intervals

All that’s left after these 12 sessions is to run your 5K time trial. If you want the fastest result, it’s best to run it on a track, but mapping out a course will work fine if that suits you better. Really, regardless of where you run it, if you follow these workouts and stick to Sanders’s training plan, you’ll have a great shot at breaking your 5K PB.