Learn the true art of a fast 5k - Women's Running

Learn the true art of a fast 5K

Author: Chris Macdonald

Read Time:   |  July 17, 2014

Learn the true art of a fast 5K

5K is a totally achievable and positive race distance that, once conquered, can provide a platform for longer events. However, I want to look at the 5K in isolation, as an individual racing goal, rather than as a race distance used in preparation for other events. It’s time to give training for the 5K the respect and glory it deserves.

Running a fast 5K or 5K PB is hard work and painful, but is also incredibly rewarding. You have to be prepared to push the body into an uncomfortable zone, take a risk and learn the true art of racing people around you. It’s the ultimate race – fast and furious – but fun to train for, as the need for running at a variety of paces throughout the week as part of some interesting sessions becomes key.

Practice makes perfect

For the experienced runner, the 5K offers a chance to focus on building your VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake), pace and speed in training, working anaerobically – these are all areas often sidelined when training for a half or full marathon, where most work is totally aerobic. It’s time to build up your VO2 max and really strengthen the heart, to deal with the demands of a faster 5K.

Training sessions where you run blocks or reps at either target 5K race pace or at speeds faster than this are vital. Remember, if you haven’t practised the paces in training, then how will you possibly do it on race day itself? This is when running with a group or at a club can really help, as you will find faster sessions on offer and get a huge amount of support and motivation by training with others.

Examples are:

  • 5 x 1K at your goal race pace (with 60- to 75-second jog recoveries)
  • 2K @ threshold (with 2-3 minute jog recovery) + 3 x 800m @ 5K pace (with 75- to 90-second jog recoveries) + 4 x 400m a fraction quicker than 5K pace (with 45- to 60-second jog recoveries)

Race that 5K – get positive!

Racing just over three miles doesn’t sound that hard, but the pace and effort you run at will hurt as you operate higher than threshold and nearer to your VO2 max for most or the later stages of the race. It becomes a battle of focus and belief, as you work against the fatigue, oxygen debt and gremlins that challenge the mind. Your legs will feel sore and heavy in the final kilometres and you need to prepare the body for this moment. Breaking the race down into each kilometre is sensible, so you attack each one individually.

It’s also time to mentally gather yourself – remember your best training session and how it went. Put yourself back there so you’re mentally in a good place. Visualise how you felt when you were running. Think like a coiled spring – you certainly want to sustain a hard push, but ideally subtly and gradually wind the effort up.

Concentrate on good posture, feeling tall, light and with a slight forward lean, propelling you into each stride. Focus on the second half of the race and promise yourself you are going to do everything you can to maintain pace or get faster by hunting down the vests in front of you, overtaking them and then moving onto the next one. Small targets, bite-sized goals and never losing concentration are key. Every time your mind tells you it’s too tough, push the thought to one side and focus on the next small goal ahead. When you get to that last 400m, it’s time to attack the final section of the race with everything you have left.

Be bold

There are two typical 5K starters – the runner who bombs off at a rate of knots, a pace that will never be sustained, and then the runner who starts far too conservatively, desperately trying to conserve energy (something one grows used to when racing longer distances).

The most successful 5K start is being daring enough to begin at a bold pace – a pace you know is testing but /can/ be sustained. This ability to understand how the effort and pace /feels/ only comes from practicing in training. Remember, you can afford to take a risk and learnfrom the 5K race itself, as the beautiful thing about this distance is you can recover quickly and can try another one a couple of weeks down the line!

Be bold, be brave, believe in your training and remember there is only one problem with the comfort zone… miracles don’t happen there. So, step outside the box and run your fastest ever 5K this year!

Want your say? Email us at [email protected] or talk to us in the comment thread below – we will do our best to get back to you soon.

Chris Macdonald

Editor-at-Large, Women's Running

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