Running: Month 4 of the 5k Training Plan

The final month of your training is all about fine-tuning. You’ve got a good base of running under your belt – probably 200+ miles, dozens of quality sessions, and a good sense of race pacing. That’s a decent list of accomplishments so far, and a good reminder that good training is about accumulation. One workout will never decide the fate of a season. But a season’s worth of workouts certainly will.

1) Intervals. Week 1: 3 x 1600m(1 mile) at goal 5k race pace with 3:00 rest. Week 2. 3 x 1600m at goal pace with 2:30 rest. Week 3: 3 x 1600m at goal pace with 2:00 rest. Why the decrease in rest? Couple of reasons. One is to evaluate your ability to maintain that pace as rest decreases. It’s a technique Roger Bannister used to break 4:00 for the mile, and certainly good enough for us. Another reason is that it will help attenuate you to race-day demands, at the pace you intend to run. Not to say it’s going to suck, but it certainly might. And you never want to save the suffering for race day. Week 4: Race week. Take it easy. 6 x 400m at goal pace with plenty of rest, no less than three days out.

2) Long Runs + Tempo Work. This month we combine the two, in a little Matt Fitzgerald technique for late-season adaptation.  I won’t get into the science because a) I don’t fully grasp it as a Humanities major and b) it’s probably more than you care to know. Weeks 1 and 2: 80-90 minutes, with the last three miles at tempo pace. Week 3: 80-90 minutes

3) Race Week: Ensure you do the intervals prescribed above. There’s this dumb idea engrained in our heads that week of a race, you should rest completely. As in no running. Call it “peaking,” “tapering,” whatever. It’s bollocks. For 5k, there’s really no such thing as a true taper like there is in a marathon. In fact, taking complete rest is counterproductive because after a few days, your body will begin to discard the gains you’ve made over the past four months. If you’ve ever taken a week easy before a race, then shown up to the line with flat legs, it’s likely because you haven’t stimulated your system enough the week of the race. Enough said on that. Day before the race, do a short run and finish with a couple of easy wind sprints.

Show up  to your goal race, and kick some ass. Race with confidence in your training, and leave nothing on the course.

Running: Second Month of the 5k Training Plan for Time Misers

Not an approved 5k training workout.

Not an approved 5k training workout.

In the second month, we’re going to build on what you got done the first month. To recap: at this point, you should have one race under your belt to indicate your current fitness levels, your long run should be around 60 min, and you should have developed some sense of pacing through your 400m repeats. This month is all about building around the capacity you’ve built so far, and the next four weeks will look this:

1) 800m (that’s a half mile for you imperial types) repeats. Just like the 400s, the track is the best place to develop pacing, but you can simply find a flat stretch of ground somewhere as well. Week 1: 4-6 x 800 w/1:30 rest at current 5k pace. Shoot for six, but if your pace falls off significantly after four, then cut it off there. Week 2: 6 x 800 w/ 1:30 rest at current 5k pace. Week 3: 6-8 x 800m w/ 1:30 rest at current 5k pace. Week 4: same as Week 3.

2) Tempo runs. Just like last week, add 15-20s to your 5k mile pace. Week 1: 25:00 tempo. Week 2: 30:00 tempo, but slow it down by about five seconds per mile. Week 3: Same as Week 2. Week 4: 35:00 tempo, pace slowed by 5-7s per mile.

3) Long runs. Week 1: Take ten minutes off your Month 1, Week 4 long run. Week 2: 65 minutes. Week 3: 70 minutes. Week 4: 75 minutes.

4) Try to find a race somewhere around the second week of the month – that will have given you six weeks of training to absorb and adapt to training. If you run faster than your last race, that’s your new 5k training pace. If you run slower, go with the faster time as your 5k benchmark — you probably had a rough day, or conditions were less than ideal.

5) RACE WEEK CAVEAT: Take it easy. If it’s a weekend race, just do one speed session, preferably 8 x 400m at goal 5k pace with equal rest. If you can, tack a few miles on after the 5k and count the total distance as your long run for the week.

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.