Monday, September 27, 2010

The 5K Race: Simple and Effective Training Tips

The 5K race. Many runners have a love hate relationship with this distance. On the one hand, it's a short race. If you're not too concerned with time, then most anyone with a basic fitness level can run or run/walk the distance. On the other hand, however, if you're racing it, it can be a grueling distance.

To race a 5K, you're pretty much in high gear the entire race. There's very little ramp-up time and very little room for any back-sliding. That however, is what appeals to many runners. They love the rush of adreniline and challenge that a 5K provides.

So how do you train for a 5K? There are a lot of different theories on training for a 5K, but the one common thread of most 5K training plans is speed work. I personally think that three types of runs are key to 5K training—Lactate Threshold Runs, Aerobic Power Runs, and Endurance Runs.

Lactate Threshold Runs are more commonly known as Tempo runs. Lactate has gotten a pretty bad rap over the years. Ever feel that deep down burning sensation in your legs when you've pushed the intensity of a run? That's due to the buildup of blood lactate (a waste product of the energy production). Because you've ramped up the intensity so quickly, the body isn't able to clear it out of the blood stream fast enough, so you feel a burning sensation and you begin to fatigue and slow down. What many runners don't know is that lactate can actually be used as a source of muscle fuel. The key is pushing out that lactate threshold. In other words pushing out the point at which you feel the burn. A great way to do that is through tempo runs. These are runs in which you run about 30seconds slower than your 10K race or at about 80-90% of your Max Heart Rate. So, it's a slightly uncomfortable run, but not a run where you're completely wiped-out at the end.

Typically a tempo run begins with a slow mile and then you pick it up to your tempo pace for a certain distance and then pull it back down to a slow pace again for the last mile. For example, in a 4-mile tempo run, you’ll run a slow 1-mile warm-up, 2 miles at tempo pace, and then a slow 1-mile cool-down.

Aerobic Power Runs are another great training tactic to help build speed as well as increase your body's ability to take in more oxygen that's utilized at the muscle level for energy production. Aerobic Power Runs are typically run as intervals on a track. The intervals are fast and usually run at 90% of your Max Heart Rate. Each interval is followed by an equal distance slow interval or equal time but slow interval. For example if you run a 3:30 800m, then you'd either slow-jog or walk another 800 or you'd slow-jog or walk for 3minutes 30 seconds. Typically, I recommend the same-distance-slow-recovery-interval for someone new to intervals. For a more experienced runner, I'd recommend the same-time-slow-recovery-interval. Running at this high intensity level with recovery intervals in between, helps your body's ability to take in more oxygen, get it into the blood stream, and down to the muscle where it's used to make energy. This is referred to as your VO2Max. For some sample interval workouts [click here].

Endurance Runs (or long runs) are also beneficial to 5K runners. Usually when you think of a long run, half-marathon or marathon-runners come to mind. Long runs can also benefit shorter-distance runners due to the muscle endurance-building benefits of the long run. "Long Run" is a relative term. Someone training for a 5K doesn't need a run as long as someone training for a marathon. Where a marathon runner may build up to a 20+ mile long run, a 6-, 7-, or 8-miler will suffice as a long run for a 5K runner. These runs are to be run at an easy converational pace, usually about a minute to 1.5 minutes slower than race pace. Think endurance-building, not speed for these runs.

One more workout that I like to throw into the mix is what I call a 1-Mile Pacing Workout. This strategy is great for 5K runners as well as young cross country runners who need help with consistent pacing. This workout is similar in structure to an interval workout, but it doesn't have to be run on a track. It also is similar to a fartlek which is when a runner adds bursts of speed (a fartlek) into a regular run. Unlike these runs though, a 1-mile pacing workout will help a 5K runner do three things:

1. Learn the feel of his/her race pace.
2. Have more evenly paced splits.
3. Experience running consecutive race-pace miles.

Often, because a 5K race is so short, runners will bolt out at the start with an amazing (but unrealistic) pace that they're unable to maintain for the course of the race. Or, they'll start out too slow, only to need a miracle to get that last mile up to the pace they need to achieve the desired finish time.

The 1-mile pacing workout will help a runner achieve a more evenly-paced run which will often result in having a little left in reserve at the end, so if desired, he/she can pull out the stops during that last tenth of a mile for a fast finish.

First the runner needs to determine the desired race time goal. For an example, let's say a runner want' to achieve a 21:00 5K. His 1-mile pacing workout would look like the following.

5-10-minute warm-up jog
1-mile at a 7:00min pace
4:00min recovery run at slow pace
1-mile at a 7:00min pace
4:00min recovery run at slow pace
1-mile at a 7:00min pace
5-10-minute cool-down jog

During the next 1-mile pacing workout, the runner repeats the same workout, but decreases the recover runs to 3-minutes. During the next workout, the recover runs decreased to 2-mintues, then 1-minute, and eventually to 0 mins and the runner will be doing three consecutive 7-minute miles.

Note: If your goal is to run a 21:00 5K, but you're not yet capable of running a 7:00 mile, then your initial set of workouts should be at a pace you can run. So, maybe you begin with 8:00miles and once you can do three 8-minute miles consecutively, then you can go to a series of workouts running 7:30-minute miles and so on until you get down to the 7:00 minute pace.


gene said...

I agree with Adam, this is a great post. I will try to use these!
Thanks again....

Rachel said...

fantastic post! once marathon season is over i'd love to really train for a 5k and see what i can do! great tips, thanks!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Gene! Thanks man. Keep me posted on how the strategies work for you.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Rachel!
Thanks!Which marathon are you training for? Working on Marine Corps here. Keep me posted if you try out the 5K strategies.

anna said...

Excellent tips! And they seem easy to do. I bookmarked this article in my training folder. Thanks!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Anna!Thanks for the feedback!Let me know how the strategies work for you. Happy running!

Fruit Fly said...

This post ended up answer a lot of questions I've had and un-confusing things I was confused about. Thanks a bunch!!