Smoking Your 5k Race: How To Do It

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(This is a quick post to show you how to improve your physical performance with proper planning.  First you should read: Warrior Sit Up Challenge: What’s Your Score?)

Lots of people make running a 5k one of their first fitness goals. That’s totally cool.

What’s UNcool is how they go out training for it.  (Even if you hate running, keep reading: There’s a big fitness lesson here)

There are 2 things people do: They go and run as far as they can every time or else they pick a route and try to run it a little faster every time.

The big problem with this is that your body will perform the way you train it to perform.  This is the SAID principle, which stands for “Specific Adaptation To Imposed Demand”

Let’s say you timed yourself on your first day of training, to get a benchmark on your 5k time, and finished the 3.1 miles in 35 minutes.  This is just over 11 minutes per mile.

If you go and run as far as you can every time you run, you keep about the same pace (maybe a little faster) and increase your distance.  The mistaken idea here is that if you can run 7 miles at your normal pace, you’ll be able to REALLY smoke running only 3 miles on race day.

Wrong.  You focused on the wrong thing.  You trained your body to run at 11 minutes per mile and guess what happens on race day?  You run at 11 minutes per mile.  Maybe a bit faster, but not much.

Scenario 2: You picked a 3 mile course around your neighborhood and tried to run it faster and faster.  This is a bit better since it is a little more specific to your goal.  But still, what kind of plan is “trying to run faster”?

I was talking to a woman who did exactly this.  She ran as fast as she could around a 3 mile course on the west side of Carson City.  In 4 months of training she cut 7 minutes off of 5k time: from 36 minutes to 29 minutes.  (She also gained 9 pounds on a whole wheat, low fat diet.  That’s another story though :))

Now, cutting seven minutes off her time is nothing to sneeze at.  Her big problem is that she was hoping to run it in 18 flat.  Whoops.

Let me show you the basic outline of what she could have done to get down to that 18.  Did you read my simple plan for improving your Warrior Sit Up Score?  (Here’s the link: Warrior Challenge)

It consisted of a plan that used diminishing rest periods to up your warrior ranking.  The same idea works for any athletic endeavor that has a time or distance limit.  Biking, rowing, running, swimming, anything.

An 18 minute 5k is about 6 minutes per mile.  A basic diminishing rest plan would look something like this:

Week 1: 6 minute mile, walk 6 minutes.  Repeat 3x.

Week 2: 6 minute mile, walk 5 minutes.  Repeat 3x.

Week 3: 6 minute mile, walk 4 minutes.  Repeat 3x.

Week 4: 6 minute mile, walk 3 minutes.  Repeat 3x.

See, she is training her body to bust out 6 minute miles.  And every one of those miles is QUALITY.  No dragging, slogging, heaving, painful jogging.

Where is speed going to come from if you don’t train for it?

So to take our example of a 5k to the next level, lets look a little deeper.

To do your best at the 5k we need to increase your running speed.  For this the best method is sprint repeats.

The woman in our example above should find a flat area (like the track at Carson Middle School).  Then she should warm up and mark off an area about 50 yards.

Her sprint repeat workout would look like this:

Sprint 50 yards, jog back.  Repeat 4x.  Rest 1 minute.  This is one set.

Do 3 sets and rest for an extra minute (2 min total)


Total time: ~ 20 minutes

A workout like this improves your ability to totally rock a distance race by increasing your ability to go hard.

How does this work?  Well, if you can run a 5 minute mile, running a 6 minute mile is pretty darn easy.

By combining the two training methods above, anyone will be able to kick butt in any type of race.

Here’s a sample effective training week:

Monday: Sprint repeats, bodyweight circuits for metabolic training

Tuesday: Diminishing rest repeats, Sledgehammer and Sandbag for conditioning

Wednesday: 45 minute walk (active rest)

Thursday: Sprint repeats on hill, lots of foam roller work

Friday: Diminishing rest repeats, bodyweight circuits

Saturday: Hiking with friends

Compare the above fun and super-effective plan above with the plan most beginning runners follow:

Monday: Run as far as possible

Tuesday: Run as far as possible

Wednesday: Run as far as possible

Thursday: Run as far as possible

Friday: Run as far as possible

Saturday: Drag through a ten mile run.

Which is more effective?  Which will keep you healthy?  Which will have you making a great showing on race day?

The important take home message for today is that you NEED a training plan if you want to succeed at anything physical.

Want to lose weight?  You need a weight loss plan.

Want to get healthier?  You need a health plan.

Want to look better?  You need a plan.

How do you get a plan?  There are 2 choices:

a) Read stack of books and research abstracts, interview people who have done it, and test on yourself.

b) Find someone who has done all of that and will tailor a plan for you.

Your choice :)

4 Responses to “Smoking Your 5k Race: How To Do It”

  1. laurie Says:

    I’ve been trying to run my three mile route faster and faster for the past few months to bring my 5k down. I can run it comfortably in the mid 23 minutes. However, I walk/ jog the 2 miles back and try to do one fast mile and end up only doing it in about 7:14-7:30 which is about what I am averaging in the whole 3 miles. So you are saying a better method to bring the 5k down is to do 3 one-mile intervals? Will this actually pay off in a 5k? What if I just get used to running one mile distances? I would rather try and get my mile down to the 6:40s.

    Really I just want to get my 5k down to a 22 minute 5k. I’m about to turn 40 and have a race coming up two days before my fortieth birthday and really don’t want to run it in 24 minutes.

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