Running Your Fastest 5K

2 years ago

​By: Brian Crigger

So, you are ready to take the next step in your running to see how fast you can get, but don’t have all the time in the world to dedicate to training? I hear you! This short guide is designed to help you get the most out of the limited time you have in the day while still pushing yourself to see just how fast you can get in the 5k!

Consistency – This is the number one thing that helps runners improve. If you want to get to be a better runner you have to run! Seems like common sense but too often we convince ourselves that we deserve extra days off when in reality a run would have made us stronger for our upcoming races. It is ok to run when you are tired, as you are going to be tired at the end of the race, and these easy days will pay off. With all that being said, you must still listen to your body and know the difference between being sore and being injured, as well as being tired and physically breaking down. If you simply don’t want to runbecause you are mentally tired or a little tired get out there and at least start your run. If you don’t feelbetter after a few minutes you can always come back, but most of the time you will realize that you don’t feel as bad as you thought you did.

Mileage – As a general rule the more you run, within reason, the better you will be at running. The key is to find your training sweet spot, which is a weekly mileage that is challenging, but also does not leave you exhausted at the end of the week. I would suggest that most runners try to follow the 10% rule and increase your mileage by 10% a week until you find a range that works for you. Remember though, pushing your mileage limits is a fine line and it is always better to do a little less than do too much.

Tempo Runs – My friend Austin Bunn wrote an excellent article on incorporating tempo runs into your training in an earlier blog entry. Tempo runs truly are the “Most Important Workout of the Week” and I encourage you to read his blog entry and add a weekly tempo run to your training. It is recommended that you run your tempo runs at 25-30 seconds slower than your 5k race pace. Tempos are an excellent way to become physically, as well as mentally stronger which will pay off when race day comes around.

Your Most Important Workout

Speed Work – Speed work is one of those things that runners either love or hate, but it is of the utmost importance when training to run your fastest 5k. There are a million different ways to do speed work and in my opinion it really depends on the type of runner you are as for what works best for you personally. The easiest way to add a bit of speed to your running is to add strides at the end of your easy runs. Strides are typically run at about 85% of your maximum speed and are about 60-100m in length (15-20 seconds). I tell my runners that you should be getting to a hard, but controlled, speed when running strides. Ideally you should do strides on a nice soft surface like a track, trail, or grass, but if that is not available the roads will work just fine. After each stride, take a minute or so to catch your breath before you start your next one. I would suggest doing 4-6 strides 1-3 times a week. Another way to add a bit of speed to your training is to start incorporating surges, also known as fartlek training which is Swedish for “speed play”. This can take a less structured approach such as running harder every other light pole or a more structured approach such as running 1:00 hard and 1:00 easy. If you are just starting to add speed to your training you might only repeat this a couple of times, while a more experienced athlete will want to build up to 3 miles worth of harder running. The good thing about fartleks is you can run based on time, distance, or feel and it allows you to get some speed in your workout without having to stop after your warm-up jog for stretching, drills, and strides. Adding full speed workouts is the final step in adding speed to your training regimen. Typically for 5K training you will want to build up to 3 miles worth of faster running at your reasonable goal 5k pace. I say reasonable goal because you want to train a little faster than you can currently run a 5k, but not so fast that you are physically exhausted at the end of the workout or even worse, where you cannot finish the workout at all! An example would be 12X400m with 400m jog after easy hard session; this would be an advanced workout. You might start with 4X400m and slowly add more repetitions. All of these workouts should be hard but manageable; you do not want to train outside of your ability level because that will just lead to potential frustrations and setbacks. All speed sessions, with the exception of strides which are done after an easy run, should begin with at least a mile of easy running and should end with at least a mile of easy running and stretching. The full speed workouts typically include a full warm-up of easy running, stretching, sprint drills, and strides, while fartleks can typically be “rolled into”, or ran without stopping to stretch, by just running the first couple repetitions easier and working up to your goal 5k pace. Adding speed can be a strain on your body so it is important to do the little things in order to take care of yourself like stretching and using massage tools like a foam roller or a massage stick.

Long Runs – The old adage is that 25% of your weekly mileage should be your long run. While that might be true for marathon training, 5k training does not require quite as long of a long run to be successful. In my opinion a long run of 15-20% of you weekly mileage is more than sufficient to help you run for fastest 5K.

Putting it all together – When you are in full training mode your should have one speed workout, one tempo run, and one long run each week with the other days being easy running with strides ran at the end of 1-3 of your easy runs. How this is structured depends on your personal calendar and when you have time to train. I recommend running 6-7 days a week if your body can handle it, but if you need off days you should do them on one of your “easy days”. It is ok to be a little tired while you are training; pushing yourself is what will help you run your fastest come race day!

Below is a sample schedule of how to structure your week. The weekly mileage will vary depending on your training history and ability level.

Monday - Easy Run
Tuesday - Speed Work
Wednesday - Off, Easy Run or Cross Train
Thursday - Tempo
Friday - Easy Run
Saturday - Easy Run
Sunday - Long Run

Peaking for Your Race – It is important to choose one race that you want to run your fastest at since it is impossible to peak for every race you run. You will still want to run some races leading up to your goal race as a way to help get your body “race ready.” These races will replace your weekly speed or tempo session depending on where it fits in your individual training. You will not want to cut your mileage back much for these races since they are not your goal race and we will be training through it to help make you stronger. For the last few weeks before your goal race you will want to reduce your weekly mileage a bit and focus on your speed.

Race Day – Before your race you want to do a warm-up routine similar to your speed workouts that includes 1-2 miles of easy running, stretching, sprint drills and a few strides. This will help you loosen up and get your body ready to run fast. There are a lot of different racing strategies, but running even splits is typically the best idea when racing for a goal time. Since you have been doing your speed work at your goal pace, you should have a good idea how fast you should be running. When the race starts there will be a lot of people sprinting out for the start, don’t get sucked into their pace! Run your own pace and you will find yourself passing runners later in the race that started the race too fast. Using the principles in this guide you should be well on your way to becoming a stronger and faster runner which should hopefully give you your peak performance on race day. Good Luck!

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