If you are like many runners you may be frustrated at racing 5K distances and never being able to run them faster. You may even find your 10K pace is not much different then your 5K pace even though you are running twice the distance. Have you plateaued? Possibly, but more likely your body has become comfortable running at a certain speed. The more you run that speed the more programmed it becomes.
Running 4 miles after work at a slow steady pace 3-4 times/wk is beneficial, however, it also programs your body to that slow pace. If you want to race faster you need to run faster to reprogram your body. You will also get the added benefit of working on race form. .
The following workout was designed to help runners improve their race times in a simple program that gradually builds in difficulty and endurance. This works best for runners comfortable running 3 miles or more and is meant for sprint triathlons.You should worry more about the concept of the workout than the numbers in the boxes. The rationale behind this program appears after the workout; read it if you are curious or interested. Most of you will just want the nuts and bolts and here they are.
1. Find a track or accurately measure a 200-400m circuit.
2. Calculate your minute or seconds/200m pace of your 5K time (preferably a true 5K-not your 5K run split which will be slower). If you know how to do this skip to step three.
Equation: 5K time/25=min or seconds per 200m splits.
The first thing to do is convert the seconds in your 5K time into fractions of minutes. Divide the seconds by 60 and then add them to your minutes. For example: a 24:47 5K would be 47/60=0.783. Then 24.783/25=0.99132. If you get a whole number it represents minutes, the decimal remainder is fractions of a minute that must be multiplied by 60 to get seconds so 0.99132 x 60=59.47 sec or 59 seconds for a 200m split or 1/2 of the track (one straight away and a turn).
3. You need to determine a pace that is faster then your usual 5K. For example, if a runner has a 31 min 5K, she’s running 10min miles. Her goal is to run in less then 30 minutes, maybe 29:30. That’s a 9:31 mile or 1:11 per 200m split - the number used for calculating run times. In the example from #2 above, the runner (whose pace is just about 8:00min/mile) may want to run 52s splits. That equates to a 21:40 5K or 6:59 mile. That's a pretty big increase and one that may not be attainable. However, if she feels good and gets through the 12 weeks her goal will be met.
This is one example of setting up a pacing workout to be done twice a week, preferably 3 times so you can add '3rd day repeats' to your mileage. These runs replace your more common slow runs. It will feel easy at first. Let it. This gives your body a chance to recover from your season and gets it use to running at a new pace. If it is extremely difficult to complete a workout, then you have chosen too fast a pace or you may need 200m rests. Just keep the rests the same throughout the weeks. Rest = walking, usually 1-1:30 min but can be slower for beginners and a little faster for experienced runners.
The 2+800m means run that weeks runs, take a 100m rest after the second run and add an additional 800m. That may be confusing but it helps keep the workout easier for the average runner. Remember, it should seem easy at first and then get harder.
As an additional disclaimer, could this be too much for you? Yes. If you experience pain or discomfort, stop. However, most people can do this. Most runner's first race mile is faster then their average pace so they can already run the split times without difficulty. It's the longer runs that get hard. For true beginners, athletes returning to the sport or individuals that are wanting to increase their pace significantly I recommend spreading the workout over 4-6 months with shorter increases between weeks, no more then 200m. Don't be concerned about six months because these become your weekly runs. Just remember to keep the total distance below 5K but at your pace. Check your time every 200-400m.
That's the basic framework. Looks like many other workouts on the track except you run the same pace over 12 weeks. Easy at first but should gradually become a tougher workout. And yes, the track can become boring and is not for everyone. Get out once a week for a scenic, easy run if you have time. I have several commitments and I need more bang for my buck. Keeping the pace helps alleviate the boredom of track running because I'm checking splits every 200-400m. How much your form changes is dependent on the difference in your goal pace and current training pace. You may be surprised to feel you are learning to run again as the pace increases and your stride has to change.
Here's some of the rationale behind this program:
Your central nervous system (CNS) needs to control many joints and muscles in a coordinated fashion. There are multiple "degrees of freedom" (the joints and muscles) used during running - it's not just your legs...think arms, head posture, body lean, etc. Your CNS controls these by synergistic patterns so these degrees of freedom work together for the same end result.
Running is simple on the outside but complex on the inside. Thousands of contractions and coordinated movements take place without our having to think about them. Our mind and body programs the movements into patterns and uses these motor patterns to simplify things. Think of throwing a ball. Your dominant hand does it without much thought and does it well. Now throw with your non-dominant hand. Takes some thought, and even though you know what to do, it’s going to look ugly. But practice and you will develop the motor pattern to throw better.
The same can happen with running. Many recreational runners get into a rut and can add miles but not speed. Intervals help, but if only done on occasion and you continue with slow running , you will tend to run slow.
"The speed and force that can be generated within a specific program are however, limited. For example, if speed is increased in an underarm throwing pattern, the relative timing of various muscles can change and a new program is used as the individual begins to use a 'windmill' pattern as a windup for the throw. A similar switch from one pattern to another can be seen when speed of walking increases to a point where a switch to a running pattern occurs. These examples represent shifts from one program to another." 1
So, what I refer to as form may actually be another motor pattern emerging to coordinate a faster pace. The take home message: we are not talking simply about increasing speed. With an increase in speed your joints and muscles need to work together differently; how much different depends on the difference in speed.
Now you're set and remember this should not be hard. It should become challenging as the distances increase. Change the increases as you need and determine the amount of rest you need but keep the rest the same throughout the program. If you can already run 3 miles then 100m should be plenty of rest. If you can't continue a workout you have likely chosen too fast a pace.
There are thousands of running programs that will improve your running and not everyone receives the same benefits. This program was developed to help increase speed, learn pacing (a great benefit), improve form and get your body used to running a certain pace. If you like, use the third day for long slow runs or sprint workouts as the season nears. My wife and I use the basic framework as mentioned and cycle through it for at least two cycles-increasing our pace for the second cycle. For the second cycle we stick with the outline until we hit the eighth week, then we change the third day on the track to sprint drills and usually add a fourth day of easy distance. Good luck with the workout.
1 VanSant, Ann. Motor Control, Motor Learning, and Motor Development. In: Motor Control and Physical Therapy. P. C. Montgomery and B. H. Connolly, eds. Hixson, TN: Chattanooga Group, Inc, 1991. p17.