Good work! You’re a beginner and you’ve just reached your first goal: you’ve completed your first 5K. It’s been a milestone in the back of your mind ever since you pulled yourself off the couch, made the decision to improve your physical condition and chose running as the avenue to health.
Along the way you’ve discovered the joy of running, the feeling of freedom that comes with hitting the streets and jogging along a tree-lined path. You’ve seen improvements in your breathing, felt your muscles get stronger and maybe even met a few friends along the way.
And now you’ve caught the “bug”, the “running bug” that has changed the activity from one that you forced yourself to perform, to one that you can’t wait to do! Yeah, finally breaking the 5K barrier was great, but now you’re actually recording the times of your run, looking for slight improvements and hoping to shave a few seconds off the time of your last run.
You want to get faster.
It’s natural to want to improve in a new activity. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve never been a speed demon when it comes to picking them up and putting them down. And you may even be at the age where people have a tendency to decline in performance rather than improve.
But it can be done. Not only is it possible, it’s not that hard for a person to shave several seconds or even minutes off of your 5K time despite your age or physical limitations. And you can do it pretty fast too! No, you may not blaze to the front of the pack in your next race, but you can improve your personal best time with a few simple proven training exercises.
There are four good ways to improve your time in the 5K. They are:
- Variation training
- Track work
- Running longer distances
As the name might suggest, variation training involves running for short periods of time at different distances and tempos, with the goal of improving your endurance and speed using a variation of speed and distance. During the course of a week, you run various distances and speeds on different days and usually finish with a longer run at the end of the week. The combination of these run variations will result in an easier 5K and it will condition your body to work at its peak.
A typical variation training session might involve rest on Monday, a 5K run on Tuesday, a tempo run on Wednesday (focused on improving speed), another 5K run on Thursday, rest on Friday, a 5K on Saturday and a longer 4 mile run on Sunday. This training schedule can last a month and while it’s primarily designed to lead up to an actual 5K race, it can still serve as an excellent way to improve your speed at that distance.
Yes, we know, it’s a funny word (stop giggling), but fartleks are serious business when it comes to improving your racing speed. The word “fartlek” is Swedish for “speed play” and it’s anything but play. Fartleks involve jogging and sprinting in the same run session. A typical fartlek session might last as much as an hour and consist of a 15-minute warm up, followed by a two-minute sprint, then a two-and-a-half minute jog, followed by a three-minute sprint, then a two-and-a-half minute jog, followed by a four minute sprint, then a two-and-a-half minute jog. The pattern is then repeated, but in reverse order (a four minute sprint, two-and-a-half minute job, three minute sprint and so on) until the session is complete. Look, a 4 minute sprint is no joke; there aren’t many people who can actually sprint for 4 minutes straight. Fartlek exercises are interval training at its best! But here’s the big point. It’s the concept of the Fartlek that is most important, not the details. So, if you don’t feel like keeping time during a fartlek, you can simply pick out objects along the road and race to one then jog to the other. It’s the variation and sudden bursts of energy that are important with fartleks and increasing your overall speed.
Before running any interval session, be sure to warm up for at least 15 minutes. The sudden bursts of speed can be brutal to cold muscles. Also, a good cool-down session for at least the same amount of time is also recommended.
If you’re hoping to increase your speed in the 5K, it only makes sense to incorporate speed training into your routine. So it helps to hit the track at least once a week (if possible) to work speed training into your running routine. The reason a “track” is important is because it’s a smooth, flat surface and it’s easy to know and keep track (haha!) of, the distance you’ve run. Now, speed training at the track –a series of sprints and rest periods – may sounds a little like fartleks but it involves a higher intensity sprint following by walking. A good speed training session could consist of a 100 meter sprint at near-full intensity followed by a brief cool-down (say, a 50-100 meter walk) and then another 100 meter near full-intensity sprint. This pattern is then repeated a number of times, depending on the length of the race for which the runner is training. Since a track is 400 meters, you would sprint the straights and walk the corners. For a 5K, a track work session of 16 x 100 (4 times around) with a brief rest in the middle should be sufficient. The speed work will train your body to run more efficiently at your regular race pace. Try it once and see how it feels… you might really like this one!
Running longer distances
The idea of running longer distances than a 5K to improve your speed in a 5K should be a simple concept to understand. By running a longer distance in training than the actual distance you hope to complete in a race, you make the shorter distance easier to run. Just like in the movie “Rocky” when his trainer Mickey says, “You want to go ten rounds? Then, ya gotta train ten thousand rounds!” Now this theory doesn’t necessarily hold for long runs like marathons or half marathons, where training rarely, if ever, involves running the actual distance of the race. But for shorter distances, such as a 5K and 10k, extending your training run can actually help you run that distance faster… and it makes a 5k seem short after you’ve done it a few times. So try to increase the distance of your run one day a week for four weeks. For instance, you can run 3.5 miles instead of the standard 3.1 the first week, increase it to 3.9 miles the next week, then 4.3 miles the next. On the fourth week, cut back to your usual 5K distance. Don’t try to “kill it” on these runs; go at a slow to moderate pace. This helps to build the endurance you’ll need to run the 5K at a higher level than before. Also, save these long runs for the end of the week and be sure to schedule a rest for the following day.
A little something extra
Getting faster at any distance is a matter of knowing that progress will come if you are consistent. It’s a matter of keeping yourself motivated, putting the time in and staying focused on the goal. And sometimes that’s a hard thing to do because, if you are anything like me, you’re impatient and want the progress to come fast! For me, music is vital to my run. If I don’t have the right music, suited to my state of mind at the time of the run, it’s much harder to get an effective run in.
Also recovery and performance supplements can make a huge difference too. Products like TestoXterone and RX5 by Red X Labs can make the progress come about faster because they were designed to improve endurance performance and recovery time. Testoxterone specifically will improve your blood O2 levels, which is awesome when you are getting into any endurance activity. More O2 means more endurance! Every once in a while I’ll down a pre-workout supplement like Evolve or Jack3d can give me the edge I need to get my run in as well. Shoot, sometimes all I need is a cup of java and I am good to go. But that’s not always enough.
With your newfound passion for running, you may try to convince yourself to push harder than you should to get faster. And it might be difficult but ignore that “voice” and improve your speed in the 5k the most efficient way. But remember, variety is the spice of life and finding variety through specific training techniques such as variation training, fartleks, track speedwork and distance running, you can keep yourself motivated and focused to achieve a new personal best in the 5K.
Now, go run and feed your need for speed!