Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 31 Oct 2000 08:21:15 -0500

Faster Five

(from RC 328)

My mail runs heavily in opposite directions this season. I hear from marathon trainers panicking because their race is a month or so away and their long runs haven't gone as the schedule says they should.

I hear even more often from 5-K racers who want to run faster. Three of them wrote in as many days.

TIM isn't experienced enough to know how good he already is. "I've been running for four months," he said, "and I'm up to 15 miles a week with no speedwork except for races. My 5-K time has come down from 21 minutes to 18:25."

He wants to improve and is willing to double his mileage, plus add speedwork "as soon as I get over my iliotibial-band injury." He asked, "Is there any way to know how fast I will be able to run in the future or how long it will take me to peak?"

I told him he should be thrilled with his progress. Sub-six-minute mile pace on little experience and limited training is most impressive.

Doubling his training mileage won't necessarily make him faster. It might help, but adding faster sessions will help much more.

I suggested adding at least one workout a week (and no more than two) in which he runs at 5-K race pace or faster. This can take several forms -- from intervals to a single mile at race pace, to a race or time trial shorter than 5-K.

It's impossible to say how much Tim can improve and for how long. His age, 35, and light training tell me he has lots of time yet to drop -- if he can keep the injury bug from biting.

STEVE would like to break 20 minutes for 5-K again. He did it before, but has been stuck lately at a slower pace. Like Tim above, Steve runs 15 miles a week (at eight to nine minutes a mile in his case) with no interval workouts.

I assured him that if he broke 20 once, he can do it again. The single quickest way to up his speed, I told him, is to race one and two miles, or 1500 and 3000 meters. They're the best "training" for the 5-K but can be hard to find.

Steve wrote back to say, "The only mile or two-mile runs in my area are fun-runs before 5-K's and 10-K's, and these are usually run only by children. Would running time trials on a local track with a friend of mine, who is faster than I am, also work to improve speed?"

It's much better to run with your friend than to go solo, I said. In addition, I recommended that Steve add a fast mile to one of his runs each week. This is NOT a time-trial or race, but a paced effort.

After warming up, run the mile a little faster (no more than 10 seconds faster) than current 5-K race pace. It should seem quick but not all-out or exhausting.

LEE is a 21:30 5-K runner who hopes to break 20. With that in mind he has added speedwork, and it troubles him.

"I have experienced a lot of chest/lung pain," he wrote. "Is this from trying to go too fast, too soon, or am I doing something wrong?"

He added that "it is very frustrating to me to see all the world-class runners running 400s in the 40s, while I'm stuck in the 80s and 90s. What is a realistic timeline to run a sub-70-second 400?"

I urged him to forget what the world-class sprinters do. Their efforts have nothing to do with his.

Lee is almost surely pushing for paces faster than he needs to go now, or might ever go in a 5-K. His current 21:30 works out to 104 seconds per 400, and his 20-minute goal pace is 96 seconds per lap. Little is gained by going faster than about 90.


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