Fine-Tune Your Fitness with a 5-K
From the July 2011 issue of Runner's World
Race a 5-K to reboot your routine, rev up your fitness, and have a little fun.
From the July 2011 issue of Runner's World
Whether you're an eager newbie or a serial marathoner, there are loads of reasons to register for a 5-K. "If you're a beginner, targeting the distance is a great way to gain motivation and build structure into your schedule," says Luke Humphrey, M.S., an exercise physiologist and head coach for Hanson's Coaching Services in Rochester Hills, Michigan. "For regular runners, the 5-K stokes your competitive spirit, breaks up the monotony of high-mileage training, and serves as a solid test of speed." In fact, all runners can improve their fitness—and maybe even their PRs—when training for a 5-K, says Humphrey. Here's what keeping it short and sweet can do for you.
RUN IT. . .FOR MOTIVATION
For newcomers, a tangible goal like finishing a 5-K gives purpose to your training. It's amazing how committed to your mileage you become once you've paid an entry fee, says Carol Rewick, R.D., a coach for Fleet Feet Sports' No Boundaries 5-K training program in Vacaville, California. For longtime runners who typically target longer distances or race infrequently, the short event is an opportunity to hit the refresh button on your routine and rekindle your racing chops. "Lining up against other runners instantly gets your adrenaline going and your competitive drive humming," says Humphrey.
TRAIN FOR IT: Beginners currently running twice a week for 20 to 30 minutes can aim for a 5-K that's five to six weeks away. Add another run to your schedule, do one set of 100-meter strides (fast running) during a weekly run, and tack an additional mile to your long run every week until you're up to at least five, says Blake Boldon, a RunnersConnect coach in Philadelphia. Returning racers: What are you waiting for? "If you're a fit runner, you could knock out a 5-K in two weeks, and it would feed into your training for almost any other race," says Boldon.
RUN IT. . . TO BOOST FITNESS
The intensity involved in 5-K training can boost your strength, speed, and hasten weight loss. "The anaerobic component of the workouts puts you out of breath, which teaches your body how to function at a harder effort, thereby improving your overall athleticism," says Boldon. Plus, he says, the race itself can be a useful training tool. "Your workout is going to be exponentially better in a race setting than if you run on your own."
TRAIN FOR IT: Once a week, run two to eight 200-to 800-meter repeats at goal race pace, or a speed where it's uncomfortable to talk. Between repeats, walk or jog 50 to 100 percent of the time it took to complete the effort. Do a weekly tempo run of two to six miles at 25 seconds slower per mile than goal pace. Every couple of weeks, replace your tempo with a strength workout. On the road, grass, or a bridle path, run one to three miles at 10 to 20 seconds slower per mile than race pace, says Humphrey.
RUN IT. . .TO NAIL A TIME GOAL
You're guaranteed a PR if you're running your first race. But for everyone else, the 5-K is an opportunity to nail a good-for-now time. "You don't have to race for your best finish ever—it could be your best this season, your best this year, or your best this decade," says Boldon. If your ultimate goal is a PR in a longer distance, use the 5-K to gauge how your speed is progressing. "You'll get instant feedback on your training so you can make adjustments to meet your goal," says Rewick.
TRAIN FOR IT: In pursuing a fast-for-now time, plot your races strategically to allow for sufficient recovery and buildup. After an event, run easy for a few days, then begin another three-to four-week training block before your next 5-K, using your most recent race time as a baseline. If you're training for a speedy half-or full marathon, schedule a 5-K in the beginning of your plan to establish a baseline pace for your workouts, then run another in the middle of your training to see if you're still on track, says Boldon.
RUN Better: Signing up for your first 5-K? Tell your friends and family about your race plans—the accountability will keep you on track with your workouts.
Go the Extra Mile
Prime yourself for longer events with this uber-short race
"Training for the mile will help improve your stride frequency, stride length, and overall running efficiency to bring down your 5-K times," says coach Blake Boldon, who has a 3:59.18 mile PR. Here's a primer on racing short—real short.
Twice a week at the end of easy runs, novice runners can do eight, 100-meter strides at 30 to 60 seconds per mile faster than 5-K race pace (catch your breath between strides). Once a week, experienced runners can run famed miler Roger Bannister's favorite workout—10 400-meter repeats at goal-mile pace with two minutes rest between each.
Wear your regular running shoes. For a competitive edge, try performance trainers or lightweight racing flats.
Warm up well on race day. "The mile is hard from the beginning, and if you don't ease into it, you might plunge into oxygen deprivation more quickly," says Boldon. Jog for 15 minutes, then do 10 strides. Run steady for the first half of the race, then throw it into high gear.
28% OF RESPONDENTS SAY THEY REGULARLY RUN 5-KS AS PART OF THEIR TRAINING, ACCORDING TO A RUNNERSWORLD.COM POLL.