Q: I'm looking to bring my cross-counry 5k time under 18:00. My PR is
18:45...and I'm wondering what's a good combination of hillwork, intervals,
and longer runs that would increase my speed. Just looking for some truth
. - B.L.
A: So you wanna run sub-18 on 5k, eh? First, let me warn you: It's gonna hurt, baby, but it's a good hurt, if ya know what I mean. First, let me confess, I am not much of a 5k runner. The first one I ran was 18:44 in my second race ever back in the spring of 1995 at age 39. A year later, I ran 18:39 and then 18:22. I remember thinking at the time, sub 18:00 was out of my league, remembering all too well what 18:22 felt like. My breakthrough came following a good season of running hills and working on my track intervals. My favorite hill workout was Kong, of course. But the key for you is to find anything steep that you can do 30 minutes of climbing. I suggest scheduling one of these hill sessions at least once a week with a time goal each time you run it…and don't run it alone. Find someone to chase, preferably. Next, some track work. For this distance, 400s are probably the best to build the kind of speed you are looking for. (Purists might argue for 200s somewhere along the way, but I think you could get by with 400s). Work your way up to eight of these at faster than race pace (you are trying to hang on to 5:48s, so you want to train to make this goal pace feel "easy"). I'd try to keep all of them under 80 seconds. Walk/jog 200 meters in between for your rest. The alternative I prefer to quarters is what we call "4-3-2-1." I do this one when I am getting ready for the mile, too. I do the 1600 in about 5:25, the 1200 in under 4:00, the 800 in about 2:37 and the 400 in sub-70. This gives you two more laps, but mixes it up enough to keep your attention. Personally, I find it easier to hold pace with mixing up the interval distances, too, which is huge for my confidence. I want to come away from this workout like I hammered it. I also walk/jog 200 meters between these intervals as I would with 400s. You should also try to do this workout, or the quarters, once a week as well. Assuming you already have a decent base under you, about 4-6 weeks of this regimen and an easy week before race day, and you should be ready to attempt your goal race.
The results I had were excellent. I easily broke 18:00 with a 17:41. Later that year, I lowered it to 17:27, running that number twice. All three courses were flat and fast. Make sure you factor the course into your race and training plan.
With any luck at all, it won't be snowing at the start of the race and you won't be looking outside from the back of a pickup wondering what the heck your uncle got yourself into. And that's the Truth. - The Rage
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