Get Fit Fast

Want to run your best 5K? Top coaches re­veal their strate­gies

Runner's World (UK) - - IN THIS ISSUE -

A 5K train­ing plan to get you in great shape


Once you’ve been run­ning for a while – and es­pe­cially if you’ve raced longer dis­tances – it’s easy to feel dis­mis­sive of a mere 3.1 miles. But truly con­quer­ing a 5K de­mands the same de­gree of prepa­ra­tion as a half or full marathon, says Kaitlin Gregg Good­man, an elite run­ner and coach, with a best 5K time of 15:29.

‘It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of hard com­pared with a marathon – it’s shorter, but it’s not easier,’ says Matt Thull, a run­ning coach with a 14:07 PB for 5K. So to achieve your 5K po­ten­tial, you’ll want to set aside your hal­fand full-marathon am­bi­tions and ded­i­cate at least one three-month train­ing block to the ef­fort.


Try what Thull calls a ‘rust-bust­ing’ 5K race or time trial at the be­gin­ning of your train­ing cy­cle: run it as fast as you can and use it to set workout paces and race goals. You might find you’re ca­pa­ble of cov­er­ing it faster than you think, says coach Alan Culpep­per, a two-time Olympian and au­thor of Run Like a Cham­pion (Velo­press).

If you’re in­juryprone, how­ever, pre­pare with six weeks of 5K train­ing be­fore that first race, says Culpep­per. You’ll prime your mus­cles and joints for faster run­ning, de­creas­ing your odds of get­ting hurt.

Another op­tion: run a bench­mark workout. Af­ter a oneto two-mile warm-up, Good­man pre­scribes three hard one-mile re­peats with four to five min­utes’ walk­ing or jog­ging be­tween each. By the end of 5K train­ing, you should be able to race a 5K at the same pace you av­er­aged for those reps.


A train­ing plan works like a syl­labus, guid­ing you step by step through un­fa­mil­iar ter­rain to­ward your goals. You’ll log fewer miles than you would prep­ping for a half or full marathon – but you’ll do more fast run­ning to build mus­cu­lar strength, in­crease your ef­fi­ciency and im­prove your run­ning me­chan­ics, says Culpep­per.

In fact, a well­crafted plan is al­most more crit­i­cal for the 5K than for longer dis­tances, says Thull. Short, in­tense work­outs de­mand pre­ci­sion in their ex­e­cu­tion; if you shift days around or run faster than pre­scribed paces, you may in­jure your­self or ham­per your re­cov­ery.

A good plan – like the one on p83 – usu­ally in­volves two hard work­outs per week, in­clud­ing one with sev­eral re­peats at around 5K pace and another that features short, fast in­ter­vals, hill re­peats or tempo runs. You’ll also do a long run of be­tween five and 12 miles, plus one or more easy runs.

Cross-train on off days, if you like, but keep it easy – gen­tle

yoga or a mod­er­ate swim in­stead of a high-in­ten­sity boot camp. Keep­ing your hard days hard and your easy days easy al­lows you to crush your 5K work­outs, says Good­man.


For­get the marathon mind­set of us­ing early miles to ease into race ef­fort. ‘You’re ask­ing your body and legs and mind to do so much in that first mile of a 5K,’ says Thull. ‘When that gun goes off, it’s like, “Here we go.’’’

Plan to spend at least 15-30 min­utes warm­ing up be­fore both speed work­outs and races. Prac­tis­ing your en­tire pre-run rit­ual dur­ing train­ing in­creases the chance that each workout will go well – and also helps you nail race day, says Thull.

Begin­ners should start with one easy mile, jog­ging more slowly than on a reg­u­lar easy run. More ad­vanced run­ners can do up to three, pick­ing up the pace slightly dur­ing the last mile, says Good­man. Then spend at least five min­utes – more if you have time – do­ing drills such as leg swings, arm cir­cles and skip­ping. Fol­low that with about a minute of hard run­ning.

Im­me­di­ately be­fore your race, do four to six strides – 50-100m pick-ups at an ef­fort level of about nine on a scale of one to 10. Run tall with a fluid stride, says Good­man. Re­cover be­tween ef­forts.

Though it’s ideal to repli­cate your pre­work­out rou­tine on race day, don’t freak out if race of­fi­cials de­mand you line up be­fore you’ve fin­ished your strides. Even if you skip them, the minute of hard run­ning still preps you for your start­ing pace, says Good­man.


On race day, you want to hit goal pace right away – which doesn’t mean run­ning all out, be­cause you’ll blow up and slow down, warns Culpep­per. Break­ing the race into thirds pro­vides a good frame­work for proper pac­ing. Good­man uses the mantra ‘calm and con­trolled’ for the first mile. Re­mem­ber that you’ve trained for speed and your legs are well rested. Com­bine that with adren­a­line and goal pace may feel like you’re not run­ning fast enough.

The second mile should also come in close to your goal pace, but your ef­fort level will be higher: about eight on a scale of one to 10, says Thull. Don’t panic if it feels hard. ‘In­stead, do a body scan and think, “All right, where am I at? It’s hurt­ing, but it’s sup­posed to if I’m on track to reach that am­bi­tious goal,”’ says Good­man. Then bring the last 1.1 miles home at an ef­fort level of 10 out of 10.

Your ex­act pace at a given ef­fort level may vary based on the course: study the pro­file of your goal 5K and mem­o­rise when you’ll turn cor­ners and en­counter hills, says Culpep­per. That way, you won’t sweat a slightly slower pace on up­hills – or miss the chance to make up time charg­ing down­hill.

Do­ing tempo runs (or even some speed­work) on the roads pre­pares your body to run fast on the sur­face you’ll en­counter on race day.

Do some static stretch­ing postrun if it feels good, but ev­ery run­ner should do dy­namic stretches (such as leg swings) be­fore speed­work.

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