So, you have been thinking it would be nice to go under 30 minutes, 25 minutes, or the magical under 20 minutes for your 5K? There is a tried and true system to get those times down – speed work. For many that conjures up visions of grueling track workouts leaving you spread out on the ground, or heaving toward it. But, it does not have to be like that at all. Locally, Okefenokee Track and Cycling Club (OTCC) members have been doing Tuesday night speed work for over 10 years. Vast improvements are the norm.
First, it is recommended you build a base. This means different things for each runner. But, for most before venturing into speed work, build up a base or foundation of miles you can run and still carry on a conversation. One time weekly when you do your long run, increase your mileage distance gradually. A good rule is not more than 10% per week. This makes the body adapt to more stress and strengthens the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and heart. You don’t want to start speed work and immediately have an injury. Some can handle speed work with long runs up to 5 miles, others it might mean 10. Progress slowly, within your limits, and test yourself. Without poling the current ones attending the sessions, I would expect most are doing a weekly long run of 7-10 miles during the warm months. This goes up when cooler temperatures hit, and longer races are on the calendar.
Now you are ready to get serious. During cooler months, we hit the track. We always start with at least a 1 mile warm up, with strides throw in to get the heart and legs ready to go. Workouts are usually various ½ lap, full lap, 2 laps, etc., with easy portions in between. Sometimes we run seconds, such as 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy or 60 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy. Nearby we run the “poles” which are light poles on adjacent roads. It consists of hard to first pole, easy to second, etc. until we reach the half-mile marker. Or 2 poles hard, 1 pole easy, etc.
In the hotter months, we run the streets near the Y for shade, and some hill work. This consists of running blocks, such as one block hard, one block easy, or two blocks hard, one block easy. And also seconds like we do on the track. We always end with a 1 mile cooldown, just to cool the engine down to a normal heartbeat. The workouts can be intense, so the “easy” are important recovery times. During this we run slowly or walk to recover and be ready for the faster pace coming up. If you want to check your progress, do a 1 mile time trial weekly if possible. If you are doing speed work on Tuesday, Friday is a good day. Use the same course, and run it hard, faster than your current 5K pace, but not out of control. Log it in, and watch the times go down.
Volumes are written about speed work. If you decide to go it alone, the Internet has many excellent programs. Currently, our group ages range from 14 to 70. We have all kind of racers, from 5Kers to Ultra people. You will fit in, we promise. There is no professional or formally educated coach. But, this stuff works. Just ask any regular. Most see their times drop dramatically, and yours will too. Give it a try.