Running: 1st Month of The 5k Training Plan for Time Misers

Marine Corps Marathon 2013: On my way to a PR of 2:44. Feels like forever ago.

No chafing here. 

I’m so out of shape, my thighs chafed during my last long run. Yeah. That was humbling. But you gotta start somewhere, and if you buy that, then here’s the start of a simple four month plan for the time-constrained.  We baselined some things last post: time available, setting goals, etc. so I won’t rehash. But not because they’re not important. So make sure you figure those things out before chasing a fast 5k.

CAVEAT: This plan assumes you’re healthy. Fit bill of health and all that. And that you have the sense to dial things back if injuries arise. Alright, enough said, here’s the plan:

1) Enter the next 5k you can find and race your ass off. Even if you’re coming off the couch, it will tell you exactly how long you were there. Race again, once a month. Try to space the races out 3-4 weeks. Note your improvements.

2) Month 1 Quality Workouts (aka “speed work” or “sprints” if you’re an endurance noob) will consist of one of the following. A) 400m repeats, preferably on the track. First week, six repeats with 45s rest (read: light jog) at current 5k pace (not a sprint obviously.) Second week, eight repeats. Third week, ten. Fourth week, twelve. If you miss a week, don’t skip forward. B) One week, 20:00 tempo (add about 15-20s to your 5k pace per mile, should be hard but not killer). Next week, hills of 30s/45s/60s duration with a walk down recovery. Do four sets, and try to extend the distance you cover each set. What that means is that the 30s you run on the last set should cover more ground than on the one prior. Same for the 45 and 60s repeats. *Notice I don’t tell you how to warm up or cool down. In general, warm ups should elevate your heart rate. Cool downs should decrease it. You will figure out what works for you. Some people run 3-5 miles before a track session. Some folks do some push-ups and call it good.

3) Long Run: a lot depends on how fit you start. I’m assuming you’re capable of running a 5k without walking, in 20:00-30:00 minutes. But being able to run 45:00 – 60:00 continuously would be about right for the end of the first month. If you’re coming off the couch, then maybe keep it on the low end. General rule of thumb: 10% increase in distance, per week.

4) What to do with time windfalls: mobility, strength, recovery runs. In that order. I’ll answer any questions in the comments. The focus of this first month is building your work capacity and sense of pacing. If you’re wondering about periodization, we will get to my philosophy on that later.

Running: Training Sans Time

Marine Corps Marathon 2013: On my way to a PR of 2:44. Feels like forever ago.

Marine Corps Marathon 2013: On my way to a PR of 2:44. Feels like forever ago.

In the past fifteen months, I’ve had my first child, begun writing again, entered a three year Master’s program, moved, deployed, begun home renovations and continued plugging away at work. I’ve come to the realization that when I used to say that I was busy, what I really meant was that I was “busy frittering away free time.” Time is now a precious commodity.

This is not a challenge unique only to me and my wife. The demands on time, with children or otherwise, are many. It’s safe to say we’re all in some kind of pinch. And the brutal irony of fitness is that gains accumulated over months of training begin to disappear in as little as three days. Which isn’t to say that taking three days off is going to kill your fitness. It just means that the body is always in search of homeostasis. Demand from it, and it will respond. Take that demand away, and it will respond in kind.

When time becomes scarce, we have to make choices regarding training, and it all begins with an honest evaluation of the time you have available to train. Once you do that, here’s what I recommend as a bare-bones, time-constrained training approach:

1) Three runs a week is the absolute minimum. Two of them should be some kind of speed work (intervals, hills, tempo, threshold) and one should be a long run. Some coaches recommend that the long run also include some kind of speed work as well, and in fact, that’s a great way to get more bang for the buck. Scheduling this is on you, but ensure you have at least a day to rest in between the running days. If you have time for more than three runs, you need to add in the following order: core/strength work, mobility/flexibility, and then some additional easy runs to aid recovery and build capacity.

2) Set goals and establish racing milestones.Races are great fitness benchmarks, as well as opportunities to identify our weaknesses. I recommend a training cycle of no less than four months before your goal race, with one race per month beforehand.

3) Have a training schedule: it’s hard to know where you’re going and if you’re going to arrive unless you know how you’re going to get there. Having a weekly schedule will allow you to control your training, make tweaks, and balance time as required. Next week, I’m going to put out a minimalist 5k training schedule that you can use, but there are also a host of other free resources available online, as well as a scad of training books available. All can provide complete training programs.

Let’s face it – few of us can run on four hours of sleep like Dean Karnazes. So it’s important to take an honest evaluation of your time and goals, and come up with a plan from which to vary as necessary. Sure, it’s entirely possible that you might achieve your goals through simply by going out and running, maybe even running hard once or twice. But unless you’re quite literally coming off the couch, that’s a low probability outcome. And odds are good that you’re actually spending more time doing something you didn’t need to do, when you could have achieved the same result with less time doing what you ought to do.

Race Report: Bear Paw 5k

When I wake, the first thought on my mind is the weather. It finally started clearing a bit yesterday, although I still managed to find some patches of rain to run through during my afternoon commute. I peek outside – ain’t sunny, but it ain’t raining either. I’ll take it. For breakfast, I change things up. This time it’s two hard boiled eggs, some cereal with whole milk, and half a banana. Plus coffee, of course. After breakfast, I do a little light mobility work on the rumble roller, just to get things moving. The race starts at 10:30, which is great for me. The later, the better, if you ask me. At around 8:50, we load up and head out to Eagle River. At one point during the drive, Jen asks if I’d like to talk about the race. I tell her no, which some people might take as rude, but it Jen know the deal. I’m in my head now, gaming the angles and contingencies. My plan? Go out strong through the first mile, somewhere around 5:15-20. Work whoever is around me and let them pull me along through the second mile, hopefully hitting 2 miles around10:40. From there, maintain or step it up, and I should be in the 16:30s.

16:30s? What makes you think you can run that fast?

My best this year is 17:33, and my road PR is a modest 16:50something, back when I was 27. It would be a huge SB (season best) and a big PR. But then I think of my last track session, where I floated 5:20 pace intervals like it was nothing. Or how chill my tempo runs have felt at 5:45 pace.

Why not?

Warming up confirms what I’ve been told about the course. It is flat and fast by just about any standard. There are a few inclines, but some good long gradual downhills as well. I run into Jake Moe, one of the guys from my track club, and jog a bit with him. He’s run under 15 for 5k, so I don’t expect to see him until the finish. He points out where he thinks the mile markers are, and I try to correlate them to what I’ve been playing in my head over the past week. Every run for the past couple of days, I’ve tried to run the race in my head. Not so much visualizing the course, but my mental dialogue and perception of feeling. I have a big problem with pre-loading negative thoughts of failure and disappointment, so I’ve been focusing on breaking the race up by each mile, and gaming how I might feel, what I need to do, and develop positive mental strategies. Sometimes it helps to have a positive phrase like “Come and Get It.” Sometimes it’s an image, and the past couple of days I’ve thought of an imaginary “+” symbol floating lightly in front of me through my race, pulling me through rough spots. It might sound silly, but elites hire coaches whose sole focus is the mental game, and these are just some of the techniques employed by those coaches.

I warmup over the entire course – no surprises. I feel loose and limber, not hurried or rushed. I’ve literally missed the start of races before, so it’s nice to be here with plenty of time to spare. I swap into my Asics Piranhas (which will be retired after today), kiss Jen, and scratch Rider. It’s time to line up.

The start is a little crowded with kids, which always annoys me. But luckily, I’m not afraid to move some people out of the way by backing my shorty shorts up on some folks. They make room. I line up next to a girl who can’t be more than 12, and spends every moment before the start of the race shaking her head and talking to herself, saying things like, “Oh no,” and “Uh, oh…” and “I can’t believe this…” Pretty funny stuff. Here, I’m about 20 years her senior, have hundreds of races under my belt, and I feel the exact same way.

I do some drills and strides off the line, and then wait for the start. It’s a moment I dread and relish at the same time. Half of me wishes for a stay of execution: “Just kidding folks, no race today!” But the other half is a slingshot ready to do this. The starter gives us a countdown.


I lean over, ready to release.


I am still.


Get it.


And like that, we’re off. We make the first turn into a gradual downhill, and the lead pack is making steady progress away from me. I’m surrounded by other runners, which is exactly what I want – to be pulled along. But I’m also trying to do the math, and if the lead pack is going to run around 15:00, I’ve got no business being in their neck of the woods come Mile 1. So I try to just keep it even and somewhat under control. But I know I’m going fast, just based on my legs. I actually feel the pace in my hamstrings, which isn’t what I’d expect if I’m running 5:15. I’m half tempted to check my GPS but damn that thing. Just race.

Sure enough, I crest a small hill where Jake surmised Mile 1 to be, and I see 4:56 on my watch. Ouch! What’s weird is that it feels fast, but I’m not in oxygen debt. Sure, I’m working, but I’m still spending my money wisely. I want to hit that line and trade in my last penny, and it feels like I’m doing it right. Still, to be safe, I dial it back just a hair. At this point, I’m in 9th or 10th place, the leaders are streaking ahead, and a second chase group is in front of me about 20m. Moving along, I marvel at just how far 20m feels when you’re racing. Then, I am surprised by the sound of someone catching up to me, then passing me. I recognize the moment with a sense of deja vu. Sit back, or go? I go for it, attaching an imaginary line from his waist to mine. Yep, I feel it, but it works. I hang on. And, I’m closing on the second chase pack. Come and get it…

I spend the next mile+ closing the gap, passing a guy who is running shirtless. I know we’re well past two miles at this point. And then something awful happens. I get a little bit of drainage in the back of my throat, and it triggers a slight heave. Then another. Then, it’s too much. I’m gonna puke. I try to stumble a few more steps, then bend over the bushes, salivating and heaving. Shirtless Guy passes me and asks if I’m ok. Yes, I’m fine. I’m busy dry heaving away my PR, if you don’t mind.

I gather myself and I calculate I’ve lost 10-15s, and I’ve got less than a half mile to go. Somehow, I just know it’s still possible.

So I stand up, wipe my mouth, and commence to hammering. Somehow the nausea fades, and when I hit the last turn, I can see the finish. Ahead, the leaders are seconds from breaking the tape. My watch says 15:00. I’ve got less than 2:00 to cover the next 600m. I tell myself I can do this, but I have to throw down.

I muster everything I’ve got and pull together the semblance of a sprint. I can feel the nausea rising again as I drive my knees and arms. In my head, I’m Usain Bolt. In real life, I’m sure I’m a slow motion train wreck.

With a hundred meters to go, I’m closing on Shirtless Runner, but I don’t think I’m going to catch him. Who cares. Gotta slow that clock down.

I look up just before I cross the line and see 16:4-. I give a little fist pump, then collapse and dry heave on my knees. It’s been a long time coming.