5k Specific Training: Learning from Elite Runners
In this week’s view into elite training, I’m doing something a little different. Rather then look at a couple of weeks of complete training, I have pulled out a progressive set of 5k-specific workout runs that take place over a bit less than two months’ time.
I’m a true believer that if you want to race your best, you need to do workouts that work together in a sensible progression to build your goal race.
Often we do a workout, repeat it, and then we try to run it faster. I understand this temptation—and it has its place—BUT it is not how you build a race. Instead, the idea is to run your goal race pace and steadily increase the length of time that you are running at race pace while reducing the rest. The idea is to reduce the difference between what you can already do.
Now each person is different, but experience has shown me that I need only to be able to complete a session of 6×800 with a quick 200 jog rest, and I’m ready to run that pace in a competitive track 5k; but for most people I have found 5x1k with the same 200 rest is a better predictor of 5k performance. I have worked with some athletes who are able to get near race-like efforts out of themselves in workouts who need to do 3×1600/mile at race pace with a 200 quick jog rest to be sure they will hit the time on race day, but these individuals are very rare.
These workouts were done as the main, or most important session each week, but they were not the only workouts I was doing at the time. Most weeks there would be a lighter tempo session and an under distance race (i.e., shorter then 5k). On the weeks where the Tuesday session wasn’t 5k–specific, I would do a session of faster than race pace intervals. Next week I will focus on these other training sessions, so it is enough for this article just to be aware that they were there.
This specific phase was the last cycle of a full training that started with a long base and fundamental phase during which I focused on my aerobic and muscular fitness and did only a small bit of training at 3k to 5k pace and almost no anaerobic work. Instead the focus was high mileage, a lot of tempos, and a lot of short, explosive muscular work, like short hills, strides, diagonals, and the like.
Normally I caution you not to copy these sessions directly, but this week is an exception to that rule. These are workouts that most any moderately experienced runner can do as long as you adjust the paces to fit your current fitness. Knowing what pace is achievable yet aggressive enough is a bit of an art and a science—and that can often be a big part of where a coach comes in—but the workouts themselves are very solid and doable for most runners.
Tuesday December 29, 2010
3+ warm up, 23:58, tired, few strides, 400m in 77, couple strides. 11x400m plus 1 – 600m with (100m jog rest)
67.2(31), 67.8(39), 68.3(39), 67.6(38), 67.3(39), 66.9(36), 67.9(39), 67.4(36), 66.4(36), 67.1(34), 68.2(42), 1:40.1(67.7-32.5) total of 6100m including rests in 20:53 (5:30.8, 3:25.5 pace), total of 5000m of work in 14:02.3
Windy on track, not crazy but worth a second or so per lap at least. Not great but did the same workout in similar conditions in 14:11 last year around this time so not awful. Workout really didn’t feel that hard, but I really wasn’t tough enough yet to go much harder, if that makes sense. 3+ cool down, 23:31 tot. 11
Tuesday January 12, 2011
at Tufts indoor track, 3 mile warm up, 23:03, strides, 400m in 73.2, strides, light stretching, 8x600m at goal 5k pace- sub 1:42) with 200m jog rest,
1:39.7(57.8), 1:41.3(58.8), 1:41.2(57.2), 1:41.4(1:03.6), 1:41.1(1:03.4), 1:41.7(1:06.4), 1:41.6(1;11.8), 1:40.2- 20:46 for 6200m including rest- 5:23 mile pace.
I really struggled on this. I was 13:28 for 4800m of work or just about 14:01 5k pace. 3 mile cool down- 24:26 tot. 10+
Tuesday January 19, 2011
At Tufts indoor track, 3 warm up- 23:48, strides, 400m in 73-didn’t feel good- few more strides, 6x800m at 5k pace with 200m jog rest
2:15.2(1:10), 2:14.8(1:07), 2:14.8(58), 2:13.5(1:03.2), 2:15.2(1:01), 2:15.0 -5800m in 18:47.5(5:12.7 mile pace/3:14.3 kilo pace)- 33 second standing and walking rest, 200m hard- 29.5- 5000m of total work in 13:58.0, 3 mile cool down- 24:54, workout felt MUCH better than last week. tot. 10
Tuesday January 26, 2011 PM
at Reggie Lewis Center, 23:57 warm up. strides, 400m in 72, strides. 12x400m and 1x200m with 100m jog rests
1:07.3(30.3), 1:07.4(29.0), 1:06.1(27.9), 1:07.0(26.4), 1:06.2(26.4), 1:07.6(29.5), 1:06.1(30.8), 1:07.8(29.1), 1:06.3(30.0), 1:07.3(30.0), 1:08.3(32.8), 1:06.1(26.4), 32.4- 6200m including rests in 19:43.7( 5:07 mile/ 3:10.9 kilo pace) 5000m of ‘effort’ in 13:55.9 – this was a hard effort with the sharp rests. 22:13 cool down tot. 11
Saturday January 30, 2011
24:01 warm up, Race BU terrier 5000m, 4th place 13:56.74- PB-
Splits 34.53, 32.85(67.38), 32.62, 32.84 (800m- 2:12.84), 33.31(1k- 2:46.15), 33.23, 33.71, 33.35(1600m- 4:26.44), 32.97, 33.43(2k-5:32.84/ 2:46.69), 33.44, 33.56, 33.31, 33.67, 34.00(3k-8:20.76/ 2:47.92), 33.56(3200m-8:54.32/ 4:27.88), 34.10, 34.53, 34.28, 33.51(4k- 11:10.84/ 2:50.08), 33.87, 33.97, 33.40, 33.39(4800m-13:25.47(4:31.15), 30.59(5k-13:56.06 hand, last K -2:45.22, last 800m-2:11.35, last 400m-63.98- all of those fastest of race) 6 mile cool down with ruben, others there for parts, 47:27 tot. 12++
What You Can Learn
Learn your pace
I don’t care what your goal race is. One thing I think is key to properly preparing yourself for your best performance at that distance is to do so much running at your goal pace that it becomes ingrained in your head.
Early on in the base phase it should be done in small doses, with lots of rest, and with a focus on feeling relaxed at the pace and being as smooth and efficient as possible at that speed and rhythm. Then, as you get closer to the specific phase, you should mix in some sessions where you run the pace when you are very tired, such as a fast last 400m or a tempo run, or a couple of reps at the end of a long run. Teach your body that it can run that pace even when it feels like crap.
Finally, as you enter into the specific phase, you want to get your body used to the muscular demands of running the full volume of the race at your goal pace. You can’t go out and run a 5k at goal pace right away by yourself. If you could, then it wouldn’t be goal pace. So you need to put some rest in. Whatever rest you need is fine; this is your starting point.
Specificity, Specificity, Specificity
If you want to get ready for a race, you need to get ready for the demands that race is going to put on you. When I was in HS I really wanted to break nine minutes in the two mile. Now I was a long way from the type of runner capable of accomplishing such a feat, but that didn’t change the fact that my goal was to break nine minutes.
Over the course of the spring of my Senior year, I repeatedly did a workout of 8x400m with either a 400 jog rest or a two minute standing rest. At the end of the winter season in which I had run a two mile best of 9:57, I could average just about 68 seconds for this workout. By the end of the spring I ran this 8×400 session at an average of 60.0. A massive session considering my middling 400m pb of 58 seconds.
Thing is, I only ran 9:47 for two miles.
I improved for sure, but only by a bit over one second a lap while I improved 8 seconds a lap in my workout.
I trained myself to run a great 8×400 workout instead of running a great two mile race. I’m not saying if I had started reducing the rest on my 8×400 at 68 instead that I would have run 9:00 to 9:10 by the end of the season. Again, there was a big gap there, but I think 9:20s was possible.
In this cycle of workouts, I started with 400s at goal 5k pace with 100 jog. I did a 600 for the last rep on this one, but sometimes I will do all 400s and another 100 jog followed by a 200 hard, kicking in to simulate finishing my race, but I was feeling strong on this day and finished with a 600.
Some folks like to do a bit more then the full race distance, say 6k. I’m totally okay with that, but my body has trouble handling track work so I stick to the minimum for myself. If you start with this session and you can’t do it with 100 rests and have to mix in a few 200 or a 400 or whatever, that is fine. The point is to cover the volume of work at the set pace. The rest is what it is; this is your starting point.
Progressing the Workout
You have done your first session. You know where you are, and now you need to start getting to where you want to be.
First you should not go back to another specific session for at least a week. Ideally I like 12 to 14 days so you can fully absorb the last session. Even on one week if you try a similar workout, you often do poorly because you are still tired in the specific systems that you need for that session from the last session; you haven’t absorbed enough of the training effect from the first session yet to overcome that fatigue and produce an improved workout.
A poorer workout doesn’t do much for your training and is very disheartening. A week out is a great place for a 3k or 10k workout, something close to specific but not quite there. In marathon prep I often do a specific workout each week, but I change the type so that direct comparisons aren’t as easy and the exact fatigue is a bit different.
I’m a believer that the single most important variable of any interval workout is the rest. This is what defines the workout more then any other thing. On a specific workout for 3k to 10k racing I believe that rest must be jogging or running. Not standing. We tend to adapt to standing rest way too well and become able to make great gains in our interval performance while seeing little gain in our race performance. This is the complete opposite of what we want to see. I worked with a runner who could do 12x400m with 30 to 45 second standing rests in 75 seconds. That is a 15:30 5k pace but her best 5k was right around 18 minutes. The disconnect was huge.
For these workouts specifically, the jog was at what I would call a slow training pace. Not a shuffle jog but a slow training pace. This should be your recovery day pace but not as fast as your steady day training pace. At times, I like to do longer rests but run them at a light tempo pace or even as fast as marathon pace, but that is mostly a compromise for younger runners who I want to keep aerobically focused year round for the best long term development for athletes trying to run a series of faster 5ks leading up to a goal half marathon.
You’ll notice I did jump up to 200m rests after the 400s, then kept the rests at 200 after that. There is a huge difference at 5k pace between 400s and 600s so that is a very big jump.In a 400 rep only the last 100m or so is really tough; in the 600 the last 300 is pretty tough—that is three times as long. Compare this to jumping up from 600 to 800, where you go from 300 being tough to 500 being tough. You can also do a cycle where you do, say, 1ks all the way from the start and simply reduce the rest. Start with 5-6x1k at goal pace with three minutess standing rest in the late base and the go to three-minute jog rest, 2:30 jog rest, working down to a one-minute jog rest or a bit less, and you should be ready to rock and roll. This is a great option for someone who has a decent amount of speed and finds they are pretty comfortable at their 5k goal pace but they just can’t seem to hold it to the finish.
The Last Workout:
You’ll notice a few days before the goal race I went back to the 12×400 with the 100 jog. I didn’t run the reps any faster. My rests were still 100m, but I was able, without really trying, to run them at a noticeably quicker pace. Now the couple of seconds quicker per 100 didn’t feel all that much different in terms of the rhythm of the workout, but it makes a huge difference in terms of the aerobic requirements of the session.
In my first 12×400 session I averaged 5:30 mile pace with the recovery jogs included; during this session, I averaged 5:07 pace! The focus of this workout is a little pace rehearsal and to focus on staying comfortable at pace. It isn’t nearly as hard as the other sessions, which often are all out by the last couple of reps. This session you tend to feel at the end like you’re just getting to the point where it is becoming a workout, as though you are three quarters of the way through a hard session or something like that.
It isn’t easy, but it isn’t a killer either, though if you push the rest pace so much that it becomes very hard that is okay. The volume is low enough, and at four days out, it is far enough from your race that it shouldn’t leave you flat for race day. What it does do is put a nice little polish on your comfort at speed and prime your body and mind for the rhythm you need to find on race day.
Next week I’ll show you two complete weeks of training from this same period and talk about the other workouts and training that are key to getting your best 5k race performance. But As always, I would love to answer any questions you have. Remember, no question is too simple or too complicated, I love talking training!