How I'm training to run a faster 5k

#fitness 4 min.

There are two main running events in Vilnius: Vilnius Half-Marathon in May and Vilnius Marathon in September. Over the years I’ve tried 21k, 10k, and 5k distances. I never had any goals in mind, apart from just completing the race at my best effort.

Last year I ran 5k in 23:53. It’s a pretty decent time, considering I was running just once a week in addition to two weekly gym sessions.

This spring I decided to try something I’ve never done before - train for a specific event and goal. So here it goes: on May 25th, I want to run 5k in 20 minutes.

First I googled some training plans and quickly found that most of them expect me to train 4-6 days a week, which is simply a no-go at this point in my life. The most I can do is three workouts a week, which no serious plan accommodates.

So I decided to create my own plan, based on the multiple samples and common sense.

Workout A: long run

Slow run for at least 2x your target time. For me, that means 40 minutes, but I occasionally go longer. The effort here should be 5-6 out of 10, which is surprisingly difficult to maintain. A smartwatch with a heart rate tracker can be very helpful here. If you happen to have a Polar H10 or can borrow one - even better. Just try to keep your heart rate within Zone 2.

If you don’t have a smartwatch, just try your best to keep a conversational pace. It’s almost always slower than you think.

This is my favorite, because it’s a relaxing run entirely within your comfort zone. If I was not training for a specific goal, I’d probably just do these for fun.

Workout B: intervals

8 intervals of 1 min. max effort, followed by 2 min. rest. The purpose here is to work on your speed, technique, and muscle strength. I might increase the number of intervals or shorten rest time, but for now, even 8 intervals of this beat me up pretty well. A smartwatch is not necessary here, but it helps keep track of your intervals so you can focus on recovery and technique. I recommend keeping the effort at 9 for the first few intervals, then ramping up to 10.

Workout C: 5k

Running 5k at a constant pace. Start at the 5:00 target pace and decrease by 5 seconds every week. The purpose of this workout is to practice race day pace and mindset. Also simply to see if we’re progressing.

I dread this workout the most because it requires full attention and determination.

Your starting pace will be different. Set something realistic, or even a bit below that.

A smartwatch can help a lot - just set the target pace so it will vibrate if you get below it.

Your effort should be 7-9 out of 10 during this workout. Start on the lower side for the first couple of kilometers, then slowly ramp up.

A common mistake is starting way too fast, and then burning out way too soon. Realize that maintaining the same pace will get progressively harder with each minute. Enjoy those early kilometers, let your body warm up, and get into the rhythm. Then just do your best to hang on to your target pace.

What might go wrong?

In the spirit of pre-mortem, let’s consider why I might fail to reach my target of 5k in 20 minutes:

What’s next?

I’m publishing this mostly as a commitment device. 3 weeks in and it’s already getting a bit boring, but I still wanna see it through. I will update this post once I reach my goal, fail miserably, or land anywhere in between. Stay tuned.

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Est. 2011