Running Your Fastest 5K

The days are getting longer, temperatures are on the rise, and the summer 5K season is just around the corner. For many, after parties (read: libations) and an emphasis on simply maintaining some fitness take precedence over actually accomplishing running goals.

Runners often take these summer 5Ks less seriously than the half and full marathons they run the rest of the year. It’s as if they just need to keep themselves busy until ramping up the long runs again in the fall. However, not taking the shorter races seriously hinders your development as a runner. It might sound less impressive to your non-runner friends to say you’re training for a 5K, but dedicating part of the year specifically to 5K training can actually make you better at the longer stuff. The trick is train correctly to get the most you can out of the short races.

There are two things I stress to runners interested in both running a fast 5K and also using the 5K to develop as a stronger, more efficient athlete. First, completely abandon the longer races during 5K season. Don’t think about the fall. Often runners don’t want to lose their long run fitness during the summer, so they sort of quasi marathon or half marathon train to be prepared for the fall buildup. Besides throwing in a cookie cutter speed workout here or there, their training week remains largely the same as the rest of the year.

That is not how to train for a 5K. Likewise, it’s not the most effective way to train for a marathon. Go all in on the 5K for a period of time, and I promise it’s far easier to get that long stamina back than it is to get the speed back you lost pounding those slow miles into your legs “keeping your mileage up.”

The second thing I suggest is to mix it up. Everyday you run during 5K season, do something different. They don’t have to be difficult things, but each day should have a purpose. Runners who like to turn their brains off and just run easy because it requires little thought or creativity struggle with this. Sheer mileage isn’t as important, and you can afford some shorter, more interesting runs. Keep your long run day in place but try shortening it and speeding it up a bit. Or do a tempo run with a long warm up and cool down rather than just running the same pace for the entire run.

Most runners are familiar with the idea of having a track workout day each week, but it’s the days not on the track or doing a long run that can really help you out. Throw in something fun like a short descending pace tempo run or some uphill sprints. My favorite thing to do is incorporate ten 30 second or 1 minute intervals into an easy run with a 1 minute rest. Little things like this don’t tire you out as much as a full workout, but they do wonders for form and efficiency. Basically, have a goal everyday other than just simply getting in mileage, and you might surprise yourself with a faster 5K.

Do you have questions about getting started or finding a plan to work for you? Stop in and talk to anyone on our staff. We’ll be happy to help!

Andrew Chumney began working in specialty running in January of 2007. At Fleet Feet Memphis, he is sharing his passions for running with our training groups. If you’ve come to our Thursday night speed workouts or the Saturday morning long run, you’ve definitely benefitted from Andrew’s expertise.

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