The title of this post may elude to the possibility I have actually ran a perfect 10k. Unfortunately I have not and today was another example of poor pacing but luckily sheer stubbornness , as always, got me over the line. As the Rottnest Marathon is two weeks away I decided discretion was the better part of valour and avoided the Fremantle half but instead ‘downgraded’ to the 10k instead. I have ran the Fremantle half on numerous occasions , including last year where I was leading the event with 3k to go before being cruel overtaken by two runners to finish 3rd. (I actually felt great just before I was cast aside by two quicker runners and was working on my victory speech. Probably why I was taken by surprise, that and I had nothing left in the tank for a sprint finish, c’mon people I was 49 , at that age we’re glad to be near the front , no mater at the front leading….it was nice to dream , albeit briefly, of Fremantle glory.) So back to the 10k.
After my last race where I was completely cooked by k2 in a 7.5k race, mainly due to my friend Zac and his blistering start, I decided this time I would go out and run myself into the race, maybe even a negative split. Of course this went out the window as soon as we started and yet again I was running with Zac, although this time he was running the half . This was my plan, surely if Zac was running the half I could keep up with him for 10k. Nice in theory but unbeknown to me young Zac was going to run a blinder and this included the first 2k @ 3.19k/min pace. So yet again I was cooked early in the event, thanks Zac, again ! I was actually able to sustain a good pace to 5k which I hit in sub 17minutes, actually quite respectable. The second half of a 10k is a painful experience and this one didn’t fail to deliver. I managed to hold onto 2nd place (Roberto Busi, our local gun-runner, was running a tempo 10k and finish in just over 32 minutes, oh to be that good. He is Italian , if that helps?) until mid way through the last kilometre where I was caught and passed, so third it was and a good time 34:35. Actually , for me, a very good time, my second fastest ever, so very happy.
I credit the time to my Nike Vaporflys 4% shoes, people these really are that good. If you are serious about your running you need to buy a pair, we all have two kidneys and really only need one; you’ll probably be faster without the weight of the second kidney and you get to sell it for Nike Vaporflys 4%; which will also increase your pace; people it really is a win-win situation. Apparently there is a market for quite a few organ parts that are saleable, without doing long term damage, I’ll let you google it but it you can’t afford the $350AUS fee for the shoes then it’s off to the surgeon’s table you go, quick smart, before everybody buys a pair and we all lose the advantage off being an early adopter.
Of course I am joking about the kidney thing, there are other easier methods, maybe a go fund me page ? ( https://www.gofundme.com ) or ask a friendly Nigerian to send a cry for help email to half the worlds population, somebody will probably bite ? Of course all of this doesn’t help with the Nike Vaporfly 4% harder to find than the Tasmanian Devil. Nike seem to have got the supply and demand just right, i.e. no supply and massive demand, equals nice profit margin for Nike. I can’t imagine they cost that much to produce and I’m sure the labour used by our caring multinational will be paid minimum wage , at best, bless ’em. Anyway I digress again, this post is about running a perfect 10k not Nike and it’s morals.
So to run a perfect 10k you need to start at a pace just below what you think your average pace , overall, should be. Hold that for the first 2-3k and then accelerate up to your overall pace for the next 5k before a finish ‘spurt’ above your overall average to make up for the slow start. How easy is that to actually achieve, nigh on impossible. You’ll go off at your 5k pace and then at 5k realise the error of your ways and lock yourself in the pain box in the foetal position enjoying the ride for the last 4-5k and trust me people that doesn’t sound like a lot but in the pain box time can sometimes feel like its stand still. ( I wonder if it hurts more with two kidneys or one ? )
Ways to improve, read this post and learn by my mistakes, something I never do and also run more 10k’s, it really does help if you run the race more often, funny that ? Today I was 15 seconds off my all time PB set last year and as it’s only my second 10k of the year so I am pleased with the time but maybe not the pacing ; although I never really blew-up but my last kilometre was 3:32 compared to my first of 3:19, they should be closer than that for a perfect pace.
Funnily enough another running friend of mine , Clement, had his appendix out last year and never ran so well afterwards. He is well into his fifties and ran a 73 minute half at a World Masters event, taking out his age group by minutes. Clement swears blind his appendix ruptured but after his form post-operation I’m not so sure, maybe I’ll get back to my google search, if only I had some ovaries……
At the weekend I entered the City Beach Cup 7.5k at , surprising enough, City beach, Perth. I have never ran a 7.5k race before and it obviously sits between a 5k and a 10k so pace is a difficult thing to dial in . Do you run it fast your 5k pace and then hang on for the last 2.5k , which doesn’t sound a lot but trust me when your legs are gone running another 2.5k is not fun! Alternatively do you run at 10k pace and then finish strong ? Add into the mix this was my first “fast” race since my calf injury in March this year and I was entering a world of unknown. In these situations setting a game plan pace is important because you need to make sure you give yourself the best chance of getting a goal time. I have talked about this before but even us ‘older’ runners can get carried away with youthful enthusiasm at the start of a race, which always ends badly.
Truth be told I was entering this race as part of the West Australian Marathon Club age group category competition, where the best 8 clubs runs are taken into account and the fastest winner of each age group is presented a trophy at the end of the year. I had ran 4 races before my injury so needed 4 more to have a chance. This was number 5 with my next 3 planned for later in the year. The criteria is your average pace over the 8 races, then race distances and finally head-to-head if two runners cannot be separated. Because this was one of the smaller distances it stands to reason I could get a good average pace. This race was thus more about a fast finish rather than any thoughts of a top 3 finish. All this changed of course on the start line….
As with all clubs runs we tend to know our main ‘rivals’ who we complete against over the year, as well as the ‘top gun’ runners who disappear into the distance as soon as the race starts. For some reason when scanning the front of the line-up on Sunday there was only two other runners who I would consider quicker than me. My running buddy Zac who has progressed so quickly this year , and continues to (oh to be in my twenties again when ever race is a PB and training seems so effortless.) , would run unchallenged to victory by well over a minute, and another runner I have had many good battles with over the years , Rob, who would prove too strong in this race. Bar these two it looked like there was a chance of a medal, which as I’m now 50 is an opportunity I always think will be my last. With this in my mind when the gun went off I went off like a scolded cat chasing Zac and all thoughts of pacing discarded instantly. I’m not even sure I had a game plan, just run fast for as long as possible and see what happens. This was to prove my undoing as the first kilometre sailed past in 3mins 13seconds, way , way to quick. It was a Scotty to Kirk moment with the famous ‘She’s going to blow’ quote ringing in my ears as the second kilometre came up in 3mins 40seconds. In my defence there was a slight hill but not enough to justify a 30 second delta compared to the first kilometre. This was me blowing up in spectacular fashion.
So onto kilometre 3 which was luckily a downhill section because I was hanging on for dear life. Zac and Rob started to move away and I prayed there was no one close behind me or my podium goal would have evaporated. I managed to ‘steady the boat’ so to speak and dig in for a few kilometres before finding a second wind, in the broadest sense of the word, and finishing in a semi-respectable sub 27 minutes (26:51). Funnily enough this was the goal before the races but the manner I achieved it could have been better executed. I had turned what was to be a pacing race, to get a run on the board, into a suicidal start and a very painful last 15 minutes with ‘engine close to blowing a head gasket’, not ideal.
What did I learn ? 7.5k is a long way when you are finished after 1k. What should have been an enjoyable pacing run turned into a ‘near death‘ experience by ignoring all I preach on this blog, not for the first time of course. I have mentioned this on many occasions about ‘old dogs and new tricks’ and it seems it still rings true. On the bright side the calf survived the beating and I managed to grab another podium, which I know will be harder and harder to achieve , so all-in-all a great day.
What should have been the right approach? If I had ran the first kilometre at 3min 30-40seconds I would have been better placed to attach the hill rather than crumble into a mess , I could then have used the down hill third kilometre to prepare for the second half of the race and finish strong, compared to finishing like a weak kitten with a cold ! What could have been ? Will I learn from this experience, probably not. I have plans of a park run 5k this weekend and already I’m thinking start slow, finish strong, make the last 2k your fastest, accelerate into the finish etc. All great ideas but when that starter pistol goes off its all forgotten like a Donald Trump tweet and it’s ‘on for young and old.’ I know I’ll get to the first kilometre in sub 3 mins 20 seconds red-lining all the way with legs and lungs about to explode , faced with 4 more kilometres that will testing and a finish that will be as painful as always. Would I have it any other way ? Probably not, I understand Proper Pacing prevents poor performance but sometimes a Steve Prefontaine approach is best.
There are certain races that a runner learns to love over time as they are filled with golden memories. For me , as I race so often and in the same place (Western Australia) I have a few of these. They would include the Rottnest Island Marathon (you really need to click on this link, Rottnest is just one of the most beautiful places on earth. http://www.rottnestisland.com/ I’ve ran ‘Rotto’ 10 times and have loved every minute. ), the Perth Marathon, the 6 inch trail ultra ( http://www.6inchtrailmarathon.com/ ) and the Chevron sponsored City to Surf Marathon.
This morning after a bumper week of training last week , for a weekly total of 13k, I entered the City to Surf Marathon for the 9th time. This race to me is special for a number of reasons. It was the first marathon I first broke sub 3 hours in 2009 in it’s inaugural year. I have ran two of my fastest marathon times on the course (2013 my current PB of 2hrs 41 min 14 seconds and last year 2hrs 41min 41seconds) , finished top 10 on numerous occasions but best of all won $6,000 once as the first Australian (even with my English dulcet tones) to finish. I am also one of the last 26 runners to have ran all the previous 8 iterations of this race. (see below)
As I have mentioned before runners love numbers, be it your PB time, number of marathons ran, average pace, distance, VO2 max, cadence, numbers of runs a week etc. the list is endless but one of the biggest numbers runners love is ‘streaks’. To be involved at the beginning of a major city marathon, even better in your home town, is priceless and a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is why, even with a calf tear less than 8 weeks, out I am determined to run the ninth Perth City to Surf. (I say ‘run‘ , it may end up being a lot less than that by the time I get to ‘heartbreak hill’ at the 40k mark?)
I worked with Chevron from 2007-2015 and during that time suspected I was being kept on as the ‘poster boy’ for the event as I always seemed to be the first Chevron marathon finisher and normally attracted a bit of media attention. Most of that was mainly aimed at the ‘look at the old guy finishing the marathon in a semi-reasonable time’ angle more than anything else. Not many balding, bearded, mid-life (I hope?) runners at the front of the pack so might as well interview this one ? I have been lucky enough to make the papers, local TV and even You Tube on occasion, much to my kids disgust. Apparently watching your dad on the TV doing press-ups after finishing a marathon is not cool. Actually I seem to have this issue with anything I do funnily enough. (and you can imagine how the Elliptigo is going down at the moment in my house ? http://www.elliptigo.com )
There was also the time in 2013 I was nearly ‘first woman’ after running with the lead woman the whole race and then , in the sprint for the line, I was forced to slow so she could take the tape. The beard would have probably given the game away if I had crossed ahead of her and took the tape. At the time I was working for Chevron and reasoned my contract would come under some pressure if I was seen on local TV barging past the first woman in an effort to save a few seconds. Truth be told this was actually my PB run and I still maintain this act of chivalry cost me a few seconds, whether I could justify it cost me 1 minute and 15 seconds for a sub 2:40 is difficult.
Other notable events over the years is one of my favourite photos of Jon barking orders at me in 2010 about 10k into the race. My Garmin watch had died at the start so mentally I was shot before the first step. My plan was to stay with Jon and this group to he finish and grab another sub3. It was about this time I gave up and got dropped like a bad habit. I ended up running alone for the next 30k and finishing in 3hours and 3 minutes. With a fully functioning Garmin I’m convinced I could have gone under 3 hours. Jon was moving into his prime at the time and I was no match for his endurance or speed. Also note this was before the ‘speed beard’ was added to my arsenal and I don’t think I’ve ran over 3 hours with the beard ? (for female readers I would recommend growing a speed beard or any beard really, probably not going to help you attract a ‘life partner’, or maybe…? ) Also notice it was about this time Skins first came out and me and Jon were convinced of their magical properties. I even wore a pair to a 10k once ! We both decided that if the Africans didn’t wear them then we wouldn’t either in the end. Still good for injury prevention on training runs and recovery of course. ( I still remember the first time Karen encountered me wearing skins to bed , for recovery purposes you understand, it was a once only event, I think she nearly died laughing.)
Even got to meet the great Steve Moneghetti at one of the photo shoots for the event when he was the ambassador in 2014. There is a slight resemble, feature wise, as he is also blessed like myself, just needs a beard of course but when it comes to running performances he in a different league, actually a different planet. A genuine nice guy though which is something you find with most good long distance runners. I reckon it is because they’ve been through the same pain we have albeit probably harder , longer and faster; and they are better people for it. This goes for all long distance runners, as a whole they are normally nice people.
There was also the time Mike ran the course and at half way ‘blew his hammy’, he then couldn’t remember his Wife’s mobile number so had to wait until she returned to the family home before calling her and asking to be picked up. Unfortunately for Mike his Wife was the wrong side of road closures and it took her over three hours to get to him. He could have limped to the finish quicker and at least got a finishing medal and probably saved an hour or two hanging around. There was some good karma last year when I got him a free entry and he ran , with very little training, and got his medal he missed from his last failed attempt. The marathon god giveth’ and the marathon god taketh; away.
I have so many more City to Surf stories but will save them for a rainy day when I have run out of things to talk about, assuming that is possible as with each passing day running you are blessed with new experiences, adventures and memories. This is why we run and this is why we are what we are…
Well after yesterdays post it was time to practice what I preach and run a controlled 10k , win my age group, finish high up the field and not get ‘chicked’. Four objectives to achieve, well I managed two, which is nearly a famous song by Meatloaf; or was that 2 out of 3 ? The ‘run a controlled race’ went out the window in the first 3k with a tailwind and runners to chase. Of the four objectives this was always going to be the hardest to achieve. I am well known for sprinting from the start quicker than Usain Bolt and paying the price down the line. Today was not going to be a change from the status quo. In my defence there was a tailwind and I had erred on the side of caution and put on my new racing shoes of choice, the Saucony A6’s . These boys are light and new so there was an extra spring in my step. Add to this a 3 day break from running due to circumstances beyond my control and it all added up to a suicide pace first 3k, feeling ‘on top of the world‘.
Unfortunately as I explained yesterday when you go out at your 5k pace things start to fall apart at 5k, the tank has been emptied and your halfway through the race. Today we had the added bonus of the wind moving from a tailwind , encouraging you to run faster and caressing you forward, into a headwind with an attitude, joy ! Chuck in the ‘O’ I’ve done it again feeling’ and it was time to assume the position in the pain box a few kilometres earlier than planned. Then at 7k things started to get very ugly when Linda Spence, remember I mentioned Linda yesterday, cruised past me with another runner both looking very relaxed. I hung on for as long as I could but I was now in the ‘I’m never going to run a 10k again’ mode. (Remember yesterday I mentioned I go through this conversation with myself around the same time every 10k I run !) So that was 2 objectives out of the window and I was going to have to work very hard to fulfil the remaining two.
The headwind was brutal for the last few kilometres but I managed to hold my position in the field and even managed to pass a couple of runners towards the end of the race. I found my second wind, which again I mentioned yesterday when the central governor is switched off with the finish line in sight, and set of in pursuit of Linda. I’m not sure is she was just teasing me but I managed to close within 10 seconds and finish one place behind her for second female (and first female with a beard?). Age group victory and finish high hip the field , tick. Not sure how high but I suspect I may have sneaked into the top 10. Finishing time of 35:13 which is a bridges course PB but as they change the course every year not sure it counts. Last year we ran the opposite direction and I managed 35:50 so progress of sorts, I think.
So another learning experience and what did I learn. ? As always the 10k really starts at around the 6k mark. This is where you can either maintain your pace or even step up to the finish. In this case it was ‘hang on and survive‘ (the normal for me.) but the conditions played a part in that. (Did I mention it was also quite warm ?) The tailwind, new shoes and rest pre-race lulled me into a false sense of security and this explains the 3k pace, of course at 5k I was done but I did manage to handgun and not lose too many positions in the final part of the race. This was probably due to my ‘pig headed refusal to quit’ rather than training but I suppose this is the one benefit of age, you have resilience as well. I’ve attached the Strava ‘tale of the tape‘ below and as the caption explains the tailwind and headwind played a part in the splits, it wasn’t that bad really ? Although there really is no defence for the first 3k but as the title of this post suggests , ‘old dogs and new tricks‘ are a hard thing to master.
Finally the highlight of the day I suppose, on the way home we managed to sneak into a new Yelo ( http://yelocornerstore.com.au ) at Subiaco. Same format so it was coffee and muffins all around. In the picture you have Mark Conway who ran a huge PB of just over 37 minutes. Mark is on a Matt Fitzgerald plan and it is working big time (in Matt we trust! http://mattfitzgerald.org ). He is at the stage in his running career where every race is a PB and it really is a wondrous stage of any runners career. Next to Mark C. is another Mark, Mark Lommers who is training for the Boston Marathon and will certainly run his first sub 3 marathon. Again Mark is in that stage where every run is faster than the last and every race a PB. Even Mike, next in line in the photo, is chasing PB’s and we have high hopes he will break the West Australian Marathon Club ( http://www.wamc.org.au ) age group record, 55-60 , for the upcoming Perth Marathon. Then you have me who is just trying not to slow down and that is enough. Four runners at different stages of their careers united over quality coffee and muffins. It really is a thing of beauty and this goes back to one of my posts earlier about the social side of running. On the way back from the presentations (remember I did manage an age group win) we had Mark C. in so much pain laughing he had to stop running. This continued for most of the cool down and onto the coffee and muffin race debriefing. This part of running is as important to me as the race itself and, truth be told, as you start to slow it becomes more important.
Right that was the bridges, more time in the pain box than I would have liked and my first ‘chicking‘ for three years but overall a success and a stepping stone for next week when I saddle up and get to race the marathon that just about destroyed me in 2014. Look out Bunbury the BK running machine is on its way and this time it’s personal…..
In Western Australia there are a number of iconic events in the West Australian Marathon Club calendar that attract a large field of the states best runners. ( http://www.wamc.org.au ) Tomorrow is one of them, the bridges 10k. (There is a 5k but c’mon, when there’s a 10k option the 5k really is just an appetiser, and not a very good one at that, maybe a pumpkin soup compared to the Surf ‘n’ turf main course.) The bridges, and the name suggest runs alongside the Swan River in Perth and crosses the river twice via two bridges, giving you a point to point loop course. Flat the whole way bar the rise on the Narrows Bridge it is built for a good time and a run that I run probably 20-30 times a year minimum.
Last year, as this year probably, my main objective is not to get ‘chicked’ (beaten by a woman) as Linda Spencer, a Zatopek runner in her time, runs this race and at her best will beat me hands down. Last year I ran with Linda for the first two kilometres at a pace far faster than I wanted to go but luckily she dropped off and I managed to sneak in before her. We’ll see what transpires this year ? Truth be told there are a number of women runners in Perth who are making great improvements under various coaches and my days of finishing ahead of them are numbered. As always I will go down fighting and, while I still can, keep them honest.
A 10k is a good indicator race before a marathon which I happen to be running next week. I go by the ‘mile a day to recover’ rule and being the 10k is about 6 miles I should be recovered by next Sunday for the Bunbury Marathon. ( http://bunburyrunnersclub.org/3-waters-marathon/ ) I certainly need to be at my best as this marathon destroyed me in 2014 and put me in a running slump that lasted well over a year. This was in stark contrast to the previous year when I won the event. (My one and only marathon victory and one I will cherish to the end….) My plans for Bunbury will be to initially try and keep my average sub 4min/k and finish sub 2hrs 48mins but if the conditions are ideal I may be persuaded, on the day. to go a tad quicker. It is really a starter race to the main course ,which is Perth in June this year. Bunbury is known for bad conditions ranging from winds to heat to humidity, the three things all marathon runners try to avoid. I’ll talk more on ‘bunners’ in a post later in the week as I move in taper mode, this will at least give me more time to spend blogging.
Right back to the Bridges 10k. I’ve said on just about every time I’ve ran t’his 10k will be my last’. It is a race that can put you in the pain box early if you go out too fast and unlike a half or a marathon doesn’t really give you enough time to work into it. A 5k is all about speed and worst case scenario you’re only go to blow up with maximum 3k to go (and that take’s some doing to blow so early !!) , in the 10k if things goes awry early you can be looking at a true 5k pain train and believe me 5k is a long way when you have nothing left in the tank. It also asks some serious questions at around the 6-8k mark and you need to dig deep to answer these before finding that finishing burst for the last kilometre. (Why doesn’t that ‘burst’ happen at 5k ? All down to the central governor I suppose?) So many people ran a 10k at 5k pace, which is find for 5k of course but then they wonder why the wheels have fallen off and there’s still 5k to go.? Funny that.
So how do you run a 10k successfully ? I think the best advice is to run a lot of them, like all things practice makes perfect. Last year I think I ran five 10k races with each one easier (relatively speaking.) than the last. I even managed a couple of sub 35 minute efforts, which was always the dream, so was happy to tick that one off. My advice would be to start at slower than your 5k pace and then build into it and finish strong. How easy was that to type? I am actually smiling to myself while typing this because I know tomorrow when the guns goes off I’ll be sprinting with the leaders for the first kilometre and regretting it at the second, while they continue on their merry way and smash 32 minutes, making it look easy, bless ’em. Meanwhile I’ll be staggering to 5k and opening the ‘5k to go pain box’, jump in, assume the foetal position and close the door behind me.
Tomorrow will also be , probably, the last outing for my weapon of choice lately, the Adidas Takumi Sen 3 racing shoe. These bad boys have got me through three marathons, numerous half marathons, 10k’s and a load of park runs. Over 400km currently (thankyou http://www.strava.com ) but they are now well past their sell by date. The shoe is expensive (and if anybody finds them on special please email me!) but like all things in life you get what you pay for and these are worth 2-3 minutes over a marathon compared to the normal training shoes like the Asics Kayano. (I consider the Kayano more of a boot than a running shoe truth be told. I use to wear these shoes believing all the marketing hype about protecting your foot with their magic gel, about a kilogram of the stuff ! and raising the heel so much you’re virtually tipping over. Not for me people but as with all things running it is personal and this shoe may be right for you but I’m a less is more , when it comes to runners and wear those bad boys down to the bitter end before changing. We were built to run without shoes so, to me , all the shoe does is protesct you from the nasty objects on the concrete. )
Right that’s if for Saturday, I’ll be back tomorrow and post the race details ,which will of course involve lots of questioning myself, time in the pain box and maybe even me getting chicked. Wouldn’t have it any other way…. as you were.
This weekend I ran one of my favourites half marathons, the Darlington half. Favourite for a number of reasons but the main one being the finish. The first half is 11k uphill initially and, being a point to point , there is a 10k downhill for the return. (For the more intelligent amongst you there is a small loop section which explains why its not a 50/50 split between up and down.) So if you get to the turn around with something left in the tank the final 10k is normally the quickest. It really is built for the holy grail of running , the negative split, often talked about but rarely achieved. At Darlington to positive split is actually harder than a negative split with gravity as your co-pilot you are normally caressed home. This year we even had a head wind up the hill to make sure it was negative splits all around !
So back to the race. We drove to the start in Jon’s new BMW and this certainly set the tone for a fast start. Jon is certainly a young man on a mission behind the wheel of a weapon of mass destruction that is his 330d . Please note I do not advocate speeding but if you do indulge it might as well be in a German sports car. So to the start line. The Darlington half starts downhill for the first 100 or so metres and then it’s 11k up, in different degrees of ‘hard’; i.e. hard, very hard, very very hard and this is surely classed as a wall hard !! As always I started way to fast and found myself sitting in 4th place after the first kilometre with another runner who I knew. We settled into the hill climbing part of the half and a stiff headwind, which meant we took turns at the front. Truth be told I think Chris took more time at the front than me but I played the ‘I’m 50 and so, being older, am entitled to sit behind you longer’ card. I’m not sure if this is proper running etiquette but in my mind it worked and I was more than happy to take it a read this was the way. Darlington is always a struggle initially as you race up a 10k hill. You feel you should be running faster than you actually are (according to your Garmin or GPS watch. Sometimes technology can be a curse!) but know you need to save something for the return journey. There is more ‘pacing‘ involved with Darlington as the race really is two different races in one; one a 10k slog uphill and then a ‘run as fast as you can without falling over‘ return 10k. The 1k in between these two races is flat and serves as a divide between the two seperate terrains.
Myself and Chris ran past the half-way cone (well I think it’s about 11k?) together and then started on the 1k in-between flat part of the course, pre-downhill. This also gives you an opportunity to see who is behind you without looking around (as we all know a cardinal sin in racing is looking behind you, never, never do this !) I noted that there was a group of 3-4 runners who were closer than I would have liked and all would be gunning for me on the downhill section, joy, just what you need when you’re knackered and still have 10k to run. (albeit downhill) I up’d the pace in a desperate attempt to put some distance between me and the chasing pack and started on the downhill section with a ‘spring in my step‘ as gravity and the tail wind combined to push me forward. The next 5-6k’s were eventful only in my continued effort to pull back 3rd place, a young man I could see was slightly slowing giving me renewed hope of a top 3 finish. (My best Darlington finish was 5th in 2014 and this becomes important with 2k to go…)
Unfortunately the faster I ran I was still unable to bridge the gap to 3rd and about 18k into the race I resigned myself to a 4th place finish as Chris had dropped off a tad, probably a by product of dragging a 50 year old up the hill earlier. This was going to come back and bite me as, at 19k, I heard footsteps behind me and my friend Luke went past after checking all was good. Luke, being probably 25 years younger than me , was cruising home and had left his dash for the line as late as possible. I moved back to 5th place, which given the race so far, I would have been happy with. Alas, not to be, another runner probably half my age (and then some) went past me with less than 1k to go and down to 6th I tumbled. All in all a 1:19:16 and 6th place was a reasonable hit out for the day. it was my second fastest finishing time on my 6th Darlington half.
What did I learn from the race ? Yet again I struggled at the 5-10k part of the race and felt better for the second half. Not sure if this was gravity and tail wind assisted but it was certainly less painful than the 16k race a few weeks earlier. I still feel I am struggling a bit with my form at the moment but I’m managing to hang on to some respectable times. I have 3 weeks to my next race which is a 10k so this will give me some focus to concentrate on shorter, faster training runs and maybe drop the odd double day; what will I do with all my free time I wonder ?
On a side note Darlington was also witness to a World Record as young Tom Alexander ran 1:24:22. You may wonder why it was a World Record, well Tom is 10 years old. ! He beat the current World Record by nearly a minute running a notoriously slow course . I personally reckon it is at least 2 minutes slower than a flat course, thus young Tom has it in him, on a flat course, to probably put 3 minutes on the 10 year old WR . Now that is impressive. As well as worried about being ‘chicked’ I know need to worry about being beaten by a 10 year old, life as a runner can be a stressful one.
So it was back with the boys this afternoon on the 10k recovery. Mike and Jon enjoy this run as they seem to recover better than me. I struggle to keep up with them as they discuss the race and I hang off the back cursing getting old and recovering like a 90 year old. I personally put this down to leaving very little in the tank after a race where as I sometimes think Jon enjoys the social side of racing a bit too much. Mike was chastising him for striking up conversations with strangers while racing and must admit this is not something I have ever down myself. Give Jon his due he did finish like Usain Bolt but I feel this had more to do with the free breakfast , including muffins, rather than the finishing time. Priorities Jon, priorities !! Once we dragged Jon away from the free breakfast it was back to his BMW and his best Lewis Hamilton impression on the way home. I did feel sorry for Mike in the back trying to eat his croissants and fruit as we went round corners faster that the space shuttle reentering orbit ! Oh well, that’s racing……
I have been quiet the last couple of weeks as I digest the findings from my last WAMC (West Australian Marathon Club) race where I worked very hard for a podium finish. The race itself was harder than expected and although I was happy with the end result it has certainly left me ‘scarred’, and this explains the lack of posts.
As runners we all run for different reasons, some for health, some wellness, some to escape life and others to embrace life. For me it has always been about racing myself and trying to better my best time, always looking to be my best or even beat my best. Over the years I have been very successful at this and ran many PB’s . This though has come at a cost and truth be told it has always been one I have been more than willing to pay. Each year I have increased my weekly distance and still ran the hard sessions when needed. It was always worth the extra effort as the PB’s kept coming and I even started to grab some podium spots as I hit my late forties. I had successfully moved from the middle of the pack to the front and this is an addiction that is stronger than any illegal drug. (Please note I assuming this to be true as being a dedicated runner my only vice is pancakes and muffins !.) Last year was perhaps my best ever as I left the forties and moved into my fifties. Admittedly I put in more distance than ever before and also changed my diet but the results came and they were better than I ever could have imagined.
Thus 2017 I started off on the same foot (excuse the pun) and kept up the double days and hard sessions assuming this PB trajectory would continue. The first hint of trouble was a 5k race at the beginning of the year where I ran over 17 minutes for the first time in a year. I put this down to the conditions and a tough training week pre-race. Looking at my training log I had ran the same race 3 years ago and go the same time so it wasn’t a complete disaster, or was it? Next was the ADU 100K, my first 100k ultra. This was a complete success with a 2nd place finish and a strong race throughout. The video was even good documenting the experience, thanks to Rob’s talent rather the subject. Next came a 16k race that I had run twice previously (for two 2nd place finishes.). This race was going to be the tester for the season and I was expecting to do well and try and break my 59:59:07 time from last year. The race report can be read here :-
This race has made me question my training and I am certainly more worried about what the future holds rather than usual excited anticipation you experience at the start of a racing season. With the Darlington half this weekend I need to make sure I work on my mindset as currently I am not in the right frame of mind to ‘attack’ the course and I feel similar to the last time I ran Darlington in 2014 where I was a few minutes slower than planned. This doesn’t sound a lot but when you race as much as me a few minutes is a lifetime and I certainly spent some serious time reflecting on that 120 seconds slippage! All of a sudden runners who I would normally never see where chasing me in the closing stages and when I finished there was a procession of runners behind me, far too close for my liking; I was being dragged back to the pack.
I understand that at fifty my time at the pointy-end of the race is limited and truth be told I was actually looking forward to moving back to the pack and relaxing my arduous training load but as I mentioned before being near the front is addictive and it’s not something I am willing to give up without a fight. I need my fix of ‘success’ and last year was a good year where I over dosed on medals. I’m just not ready to go back to the pack just yet but maybe I don’t have a choice?
Point Walter was hard in many ways but what was hardest to digest was the feeling that maybe I have ‘shot my bolt’ and the downward spiral of finishing times is over. I had the same feeling in 2014, after a particularly good previous year, and was prepared for the return to the pack. Last year though I reignited my PB streak but now I feel I am again facing the prospect of slowing down. Am I ready for this, no, can I do anything about it, I’m not sure and this is the problem. I have mentioned many times the mental part of running is so important and I need to ‘toughen up’ my approach as this took quite a hit after my last race.
So we’ll see what Darlington has to offer and I am hopeful I can put in a good performance, rather than excited about chasing faster times. Even typing this I feel it is an admittance of the first stage of accepting moving back to the pack and this may be a necessary journey because if the effort required to stand still is so great it becomes undoable you would soon lose your love of racing and then for me running, as the two for me are joined. I had already resigned myself for this journey in 2014 and last year was a bonus which was unexpected , albeit hard work to achieve. Is this my second attempt at accepting my times are now set in stone and no longer beatable, we’ll see, maybe as soon as this weekend at the Darlington half?
As you can see from the photograph above I did manage to keep ahead of the pace at Darlington and although I dropped a few places from my start sprint I still managed a top 10 finish so maybe I can keep myself ahead of the pack for another year or two? It’ll be fun trying……
This morning I lined up for the West Australian Marathon Club ( http://www.wamc.org.au ) Point Walter 16k (10Miles), my first race as a fifty year old. I’d ran this race twice in the last three years and managed a second place finish both times (58:24 and 59:59:07 , that 07 is important as the club (and Strava) rounded it up to an hour dead !, the first time was a PB and is important for later in this post…) I had a mini taper for this one as I was determined to go faster than the 59:59:07 I ran last year and the Race Director and Club President both knew I was out to set the record straight.
So to the start, I turned up and saw my friend and training partner Ross warming up in the car park and this threw me a bit as he had earlier commented he’d be running with the lads and Ross is on fire at the moment, winning his last two events. Mentally this was a blow as I was hoping to cruise to a podium, truth be told , and seeing Ross I knew I was probably now one place down. Speaking to Ross at the start and it seemed another ‘gun runner’ was doing the 16k (there is a 5k option as well) so I moved myself one more place down the finishing list. I was now, probably best case, gunning for 3rd. Next thing alongside me my friend Zac turns up after running a 1hr15mins half the previous week (a 5 minute PB, oh to be young again!) , so much for a cruise to a podium, although I knew Zac would probably fade he has the benefit of youth, something I can no longer draw on. This was not a good start to the race and add in a hot day , it started at around 25c and rose quickly, together with a headwind for the first 4k (it is an 8k loop twice); I was mentally finished before I even started.
Once we started I found Ross and sat behind him, cocooned between the 5k runners who went off like scolded cats and a group of 16k runners who would challenge for the podium places. At the 2.5k point the 5k runners turned and the 16k race unfolded before me. The gun runner Ross spoke off was well ahead and barring injury a shoe in for the win. Ross was comfortable in 2nd and I was just behind him with young Zac hot on my heels.
I found the initial pace taxing into the wind and came up with all sorts of reasons why I could pull the pin and end the pain, which was unusual for me. Maybe this ‘tapering lark’ is not all it’s cracked up to be, either way by 4k I was in trouble. Zac went past me about this time and moved away with Ross and with him all thoughts of a medal. This added to my anguish and did nothing for my mental state which was now at its lowest. I had spent all week reading Matt Fitzgerald’s ‘How bad do you want it’, and realised about the 5k mark I didn’t want it at all ! This was the compounded by another runner cruising past me , so I had now moved to 5th and was seriously thinking of pulling out at the 8k mark. I have raced hundreds of races in my time and never DNF’d so the thought of doing so on a 16k WAMC race was never going to happen but option ‘B’ was to start a long 8k cool down, and work out valid reasons for this approach; truth be told I could think of none. (Funnily enough I was on Facebook yesterday, as I was tapering, and replied to a comment about taking days off as a sign of weakness, here I was thinking of pulling the pin on a 16k race; karma I think! )
Right, halfway in around 28:30; on track for my sub one hour target but on the inside well and truly finished. The Race Director and Club President cheered me on and informed me I was right on time but I remember thinking they were dreaming if they thought I’d be back within the hour, never going to happen. Reluctantly I moved onto the second lap and knuckled down to endure what I thought would be more of the same. The 4k headwind embraced me and my pace started to drop above the 3:3xmin/k I had targeted, only just, but enough.
Well at 9k it happened, the whole race changed in an instant. The lead ‘gun runner’, who was well ahead, was on the side of the path and obviously out of the race. Suddenly I was in 4th place and looking up ahead young Zac was now paying the price for racing the half the week before and I was catching him. Boom ! Suddenly the voice inside my head which was shouting for mercy was now shouting for medals and it was on like donkey kong for young and old !!
The headwind didn’t help me but Zac was paying the price big time and I know from past races he is not the best finisher. (He’s young and starts every race at suicide pace, it won’t be long before he finishes the race as the same pace and then he’ll be out of my league; if not already. ) Put these two things together and I knew I was with a good chance of a podium. At fifty my days of getting on, or even near, to a podium are limited and I was quite prepared to put it on the line for the last 6k to grab one more before my time is done. In about 4 minutes I had gone from pulling the pin for the first time in my career to putting my head down, finding a second wind , and rolling in the runner in front of me. This I did at the last turn around with 4k to go. With the wind behind me I was able to maintain the sub 3:40min/k average pace and even managed to get within less than 20 seconds to Ross, who at one point was just about out of sight. How did I do this ? When the lead runner pulled out and I could see Zac struggling my whole mental approach changed, and when I convinced the mind I could grab a medal the limiters were taken off and I was allowed to run quicker, with fatigue ejected to the back of my mind.
Although this was only a 16k race I had been through the ringer when it came to emotions. I was finished at 2k, pulling out at 4k, heading to a world of pain and 8k and reborn at 9k. This running really does teach you so much about yourself. If I had pulled the pin at any time during that race I would be typing such a different post, as it is I am happy that yet again I managed to pull it out of the fire and convince myself I could finish, and finish strong.
Was the book helpful, (ref: Matt Fitzgerald)? To tell you the truth probably not, it’s easy to sit on a train on the way to work reading about all the great athletes who have dug deep when faced with impossible odds and how the mind has helped them achieve their goals. When you’re in a massive hole at the start of the race you know it’s the mind telling you to stop but ignoring it, or even convincing the mind it is wrong, it not so easy. I suppose the real answer is to trust in you training, if you’ve put in the hard yards you will come good, you may not get the PB you were chasing but you will finish; never ever stop.
Overall I managed to grab that podium and even managed a 1 second PB finishing in 58mins 22seconds, a second quicker than my 2013 time but a world apart for race experiences. Three years ago I was in the form of my life and this was another PB in a long line of PB’s, those days disappeared for a few years but I have been lucky enough now to sneak a few more. Today I had to work so hard for that 1 second PB but I’ll take it and really it is worth so much more because of the mental torture I put myself through to get it. I’ve asked this question before about how many times I can keep going to the well and pulling these runs out , eventually the well will be dry , eventually ? Until then it looks like running easy PB’s is never going to happen (not that they really ever did?) for me in the future, at fifty if you want a PB you are going to have to REALLY WANT a PB. No worries, today I have the medal which whenever I look at it I will remember the pain and the pleasure I put myself through to get it. That piece of metal is worth so much more to me, to me it is memories of another run where I asked myself some serious questions and , this time, came up with all the right answers.
This weekend I’m racing the first ‘proper’ race of the year. By ‘proper’ I would say it is a good indicator race of what the season may hold. My two previous races this year have been a 5k, which I ran so I could move between the 45-50 and 50-55 age groups for the WAMC, and my first 100k ultra which was a one off and more about keeping me interested over the festive break.
On Sunday I’m racing the WAMC Point Walter 16k, a race I have ran 2nd twice in the last three years, and it is my current PR time for a 16k , set in 2014. Last year there was some conjecture with my finishing time when I ran 59:59:xx which the club rounded up to 1 hour. I was not happy ! The next three races in my calendar didn’t go to plan and although I ran close to my PR’s I felt I could have ran better. Luckily the Joondalup half a few months later kick started my season when I ran a sub 1hour 18minute half marathon time, which at the time I thought was beyond me. From this race I then went on to probably the best racing season of my career, at 49.
Expectations for Point Walter would be a quicker time then last year (minimum) and if I can get a sniff of a PR I’ll be very happy. A PR this weekend would give me some good feedback on my current training regime which at the moment is starting to take its toll. I have been running double days now since June last year and it will be good to start to build towards race preparation rather than distance. I certainly have a serious foundation at the moment if nothing else.
Last year I went out too quick chasing my friend Jon Higgens. Jon ran sub 57 minutes so it was a strategy fraught with danger and in the second half of the race I dropped some time due to the legs not responding to the request for more pace. Luckily I was comfortably in second place so managed to hang on for a podium finish. This year I will try and pace the race better but the old adage about teaching old dog’s new tricks perfectly sums up most runners. The moment the race starts it’s normally on for young and old and all race strategies are quickly forgotten as you chase a fellow competitor, no matter what pace or experience.
Funnily enough when I PR’d this course back in 2014 I was chasing my Steve ‘Twinkle Toes’ McKean who had conveniently forgot to tell me he was running the 5k, imagine my surprise at the initial pace and I remember thinking Steve was running well. The truth was revealed at 2.5k when Steve turned in second place for the 5k and I was let loose to continue , in the lead, for the 16k after starting at 5k pace. I actually managed to recover and run a PR so maybe this start fast and hang on strategy is the way to go. I had a similar story when I ran my first sub 35min 10k , I was running with the lead 5k runners and at the turn around just continued at that pace with one other runner. We basically flat-lined it to 5k and again I managed to hang on for my first sub 35min 10k. All thought of pacing went out the window when the gun went off and I knew I was running too quick but was determined to see how far I could go without blowing up. Luckily it was 10k and a good PR.
The moral of both of these stories is sometimes I feel you can pace yourself out of a PR. If you have a pacing strategy you will, at best, hit your goal but rarely beat it by a significant amount. The risk is of course you are in form to go faster but only realise in the latter stages of the race and by then your ability to do some serious damage to your PR time is minimal. Of course the flip side is also true where if you do go out way too quick and you’re not having a good day there is a world of pain awaiting you and no matter how short the race the ‘pain box’ is an uncomfortable place to be if you’re not expecting it. A classic quote below from Steve Profontaine sums it up nicely….
The best thing of course is to trust in you training and have a realistic time and pacing strategy prepared. Massive jumps in PR’s for me, at my stage of my running career and life in general, will be unrealistic expectations and just getting close to previous records will be a win; albeit I have a few PR’s that I might nudge this year if all goes well. New runners starting out capture PR’s every time they put on a bib and this can become addictive. Nothing beats running faster than you have ever run before and for me this is what racing is all about. Forget the runners around you, you are racing yourself and this is what makes running such an honest sport. It really is you against the clock and records set in previous races and the continual battle to get faster.
I will start a mini-taper for the race tomorrow when I will only run my morning progressive 14k giving myself the afternoon off. Friday will be a similar story with one run only. (How did two runs a day become the norm?) Saturday will be my third day off for the year, the other two days off no running was the day before the ADU 100K ultra and the day after. This taper should give me the best chance of a good time on rested (?) legs. Conditions will of course play a large part as this week has been particularly humid but as the race starts early this shouldn’t be a problem.
Racing week is a special time and normally I start thinking about the race early in the week. This one has been playing on my mind since Monday but this is a good thing as it means I am anxious, nervous and excited about the prospect. A runner needs to be on edge and only really relaxes when the gun goes off and experience takes over. Of course it is going to hurt like hell towards the end, it is a racing, but when you’re racing all you need to do is keep moving forward as fast as you can, the pressure really is off. The photo below shows the look of a runner who has really run out of fuel and is hanging on for the finish, it is to be noted on the inside I am smiling, I think?
This weekend I yet again ran a 5k the wrong way. Exploding out of the start like a rocket and hanging with the leaders for the first kilometre is always going to end badly and I was not disappointed. It quickly became an exercise in damage limitation and the final result was acceptable but with a caveat that I could have done better. I blame my training buddy Mark Lee who is probably on a par with me with the fast starts and after the first kilometre we were both set adrift as the ‘proper’ 5k runners (I say ‘proper’ by that I mean young and ‘full of beans’.) accelerated away.
Myself and Mark then maintained a gradual decline before both collapsing over the line, well I collapsed and I’m assuming Mark was probably in the same boat. Position wise a 5th place finish, beaten by runners I would expect to be beaten by at this distance, was not that bad but it was the manner of the race which was disappointing.
Started too fast and although the decline in pace was not significant it was not the way to race a 5k. Ideally you should ease into the race with the first kilometre probably not your fastest, this is saved for the finish. The second kilometre should be similar to the first, maybe a tad quicker and then you should see a progressive pace increase as you accelerate to the finish. Overall the 5k splits should be within 1-5 seconds of each other with the last a tad quicker. Easy to type but in the heat of battle so many runners forget all about pacing and ‘gun it’ from the start. The distance is not significant but when your legs are gone it doesn’t matter how long you have to finish, it’s going hurt. I consider a badly run 5k one of the most painful experiences in running, on the bright side it shouldn’t be that long before the finish comes into sight and you can always find something for that last sprint.
This last minute sprint I feel is related to the mental side of running. It’s amazing how many runners sprint for the finish when just previously they are just about jogging in a world of pain. The mental limiter has been lifted when the finish line is in sight and all of a sudden the mind lets the body go for broke confident that nothing will ‘break’ in the final few metres.
After the race on the journey home is when you start to question what has just transpired. Could I have gone out slower and finished stronger? Why do I always fall for the ‘follow Mark Lee’ race strategy? Why does a 5k hurt so much and at my age why am I still bothering to race them? Is 17:12 a good enough time, am I slowing down or was this a blip? So many questions and answering these will allow you to learn for the next time and believe me there will always be a next time.
So excuse wise I have a few. It was windy which is a two edged sword as I must admit to not being overly bothered about the conditions as I was caressed to a 3:08 min/k first kilometre. Although on the way back I was cursing the wind, and running in general truth be told, got to love the last kilometre of a 5k race when you’ve already shot your bolt. Another reason for the below par performance I am putting down to the start time. This 5k was a 6pm start and thinking back to all the races that I have run starting in the evening I have never performed that well. Spending all day stressing about the race, combined with a Yelo muffin, is normally a bad combination which ends up with me in a the pain box cursing the start time but never the muffin, funny that. I could always give up the pre-race muffin or maybe just give up the late start race, a quandary? (Not really, I’m never going to give up my Yelo muffin.) I have also been concentrating on distance as I work towards the ADU 100k this Friday evening. (There’s that evening start again but this time on steroids, it’s a midnight start! Actually is a midnight start an early start i.e. Saturday morning 0:01am or a really late start, Friday evening 11:59pm; I’m going for early start more for the mental benefit this will give me and for a 100k it’s all about mental strength.) Since the 6 inch in December I have avoided any speed work as I always give myself a few weeks to gently ease back into training. After a marathon you need to be very careful with regards picking up an injury, for me it’s a four week recovery period, avoiding pace. Wow, with all these excuses I actually ran a blinder yesterday and now feel so much better. This blogging lark is great for the confidence.
What did I take from this race? I need to run more 5k’s to better pace the distance correctly which I can do this with Saturday Park Runs. After the 4 week recovery period from the ADU I need to add more pace to my training runs as distance wise I am covered but I can feel my top end pace has suffered. Finally I need to stop chasing Mark Lee but after so many races over the years I feel this will be the hardest thing to implement, remember old dogs and new tricks is never a good combination.
An article below from Pete Magill who holds three American age-group records and is the oldest American to break 15:00 for 5K, which he did at age 47. I need to read this myself…….
The 5K is the race where runners come to meet. It’s the race where real distance runners drop down, taking a break from the usual smorgasbord of 15Ks, marathons, and 24-hour relays to snack on an event that seems nothing more than a sustained sprint. And it’s the place where middle-distance runners go up, figuring to grit their teeth and hang for three miles, then streak past all the slow-moving shufflers like cheetahs picking apart a herd of gazelle.
The 5K is where these two distinct groups of runners face off and where a third group, the 5K specialists, are likely to steal the show. Because the 5K specialist knows what neither the mileage junkie nor the speed racer seems to grasp: The 5K is a unique effort that demands a full range of physiological and psychological preparation.
And blending the correct components of that preparation takes more than marking down miles in a training log or recording splits during an interval session. It takes collecting and then putting together all the pieces of the 5K puzzle.
THE 5K PUZZLE
Zen master Yuan-tong noted, “When the task is done beforehand, then it is easy.”
I’ve coached hundreds of 5K runners over the past 25 years, from college All-Americans to middle-aged mortgage brokers to seniors battling osteoarthritis. And those who met their 5K race goal arrived at the start line properly trained in every aspect of the 5K. They had completed their “task” beforehand.
Surprisingly, most runners don’t practice this simple concept. Volume enthusiasts assume that big numbers in training logs ensure success in a race that is only 3.1 miles long. Interval warriors pound out 5K-pace repetitions, convinced that all they’ll have to do is connect the dots come race day. Both groups arrive at the start line with their task unfinished. Both are missing pieces of the 5K puzzle.
In a puzzle, we start with lots of little pieces, then match those pieces to build small islands (in a landscape puzzle, these islands might be patches of blue sky or a cluster of redwoods), which we then bring together to complete the puzzle.
For our 5K puzzle, we assemble pieces to create these six islands:.
- Stride Efficiency
- Aerobic Endurance
- 5K-Specific Endurance
- Intermediate Fast-Twitch Endurance
- Versatile Race Pace Efficiency
- Post-Run Recovery & Injury Prevention
On race day, we join these islands to complete our 5K puzzle. Voila! Our task is done beforehand.
THE PIECES OF OUR PUZZLE
There is an ancient Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So does our training program…
1) STRIDE EFFICIENCY
It all begins with our stride. Stride efficiency is the single most important element of our future training and racing success. An efficient stride allows us to meet the demands of training without falling prey to injury. And a smoother, longer stride is an essential ingredient of a fast 5K. So how do we improve our stride?
If we wanted to improve as a ballet dancer, we wouldn’t throw on a CD of the Nutcracker, then twirl madly across the floor. Instead, we’d do drills to develop proper posture, correct placement, and alignment. We’d improve strength, flexibility, movement skills, and artistry. And we’d train until we could perform individual movements automatically, without having to think our way through every plié or pirouette.
It’s the same with running. If we want to improve our running stride, we don’t dash madly through the streets, across a park, or around a track. Instead, we begin by developing the parts — the individual actions that make up our stride. And we do this using two methods:
Technique drills involve variations of movements such as skipping, bounding, and marching. These drills are designed to promote muscle fiber recruitment, improve nervous system function, increase strength, and correct muscle and form imbalances. Click here to see some key drills demonstrated.
Short hill repeats are 40-to 60-meter sprints up reasonably steep hills. Our effort level should be slightly less than an “all-out” sprint — but just slightly. Also, remember that this workout is designed to challenge our legs, not our lungs. Our legs should feel momentary fatigue as we recruit their full range of muscle fiber, but we should recover quickly. Don’t make the mistake of turning this stride-efficiency workout into a fitness session. After each repetition, we walk back down the hill, wait until a full two to three minutes have passed, and then sprint up the hill again. Eight to 10 reps will do the trick.
Of the two workouts, technique drills are better for improving stride. But short hill reps will do in a pinch. A half dozen sessions of either during the first 8-12 weeks of your 5K training (no more than one session per week) should provide 100 percent benefit. Naturally, each session should include a proper warm-up and cool-down.
I tell my athletes, “Run first, train later.” When we focus on mechanics at the outset of our program, we set the stage for better overall training in the weeks and months to come.
2) AEROBIC ENDURANCE
This is just a fancy way of saying, “Run long and run often.” But understand that long is about duration, not distance. Our bodies are not odometers. Our legs don’t know a mile from a kilometer. Or a kilometer from a run to the park and back. Runners who focus on “mileage” miss the point of aerobic endurance training. The point is to keep our bodies working at a moderate level of exertion for a sustained period of time — not distance.
Think about it. Let’s say we decide that 50 miles per week is the optimal volume for 5K training. It would take a 30:00 5K runner approximately twice as long to complete that training as a 15:00 5K runner. Do we really believe that slower runners should train for twice as long as faster runners?
Instead, we focus on time. Whatever our ability, we’ll gain similar benefits from 60 minutes of lower-intensity running (65-75 percent VO2 max). Or from 90 minutes. Or from 30.
Long also refers to an accumulation of volume. “Volume” is not a single long run, a single week of high mileage, or even a single season of training. It is a long-term, consistent amassing of lower-intensity, aerobic conditioning.
For our purposes, there are three types of aerobic distance runs:
- Short: up to 40 minutes in duration. Short runs aid recovery from hard workouts and add to our overall volume.
- Medium: 1 1/2 to 2 times the duration of our short run. Medium runs are “normal” distance runs and provide the bulk of our volume.
- Long: up to (approximately) twice the duration of our medium run. Long runs build capillary density, increase mitochondria (our body’s cellular power plants), improve stride efficiency, burn fat, expand glycogen stores, and do all kinds of other wonderful stuff.
For the beginner, there might not be much difference among short, medium, and long runs. Don’t worry about it. Just make sure to increase the duration of aerobic runs gradually, focusing first on the medium and long runs.
3) 5K-SPECIFIC ENDURANCE
The 5K race demands a unique mix of aerobically and anaerobically generated energy. The only way to prepare our bodies for this demand is to train at 5K effort. We do this by running repetitions. This is the place where most of us make our biggest mistake: We base the pace for our repetitions on the fitness we’d like to have rather than on the fitness we already possess.
If our goal is a 20:00 5K, we want to run repetitions at 20:00 5K pace right now. We want to skip ahead to the glorious conclusion of our training program. Only one problem: We aren’t in shape to run goal pace yet.
Remember, we don’t run repetitions to practice running faster. We run repetitions to improve the physiological systems that will allow us to run faster in the future. To accomplish this goal, we train 5K “effort” rather than 5K “pace.” As our fitness improves, our pace will improve. But our perceived effort will remain the same, allowing us to become well-versed in the effort level we’ll use in the race itself.
To avoid the trap of training by pace, we go off-track for our workouts, running on the trails or the road. This eliminates the temptation to check split times during our reps. It also allows us to practice adjusting for race-day variables: weather, terrain, our fatigue level, etc. The ability to adjust for variables is essential to race-day success.
Some runners bristle at leaving the security of the track. Let’s face it, there’s comfort in a perfect 400m oval and the equally perfect splits we can record while running around it. But that’s the problem. Road 5Ks are not perfect ovals. We won’t record perfect splits as we dodge runners, climb hills, and make 180-degree turns. Our goal is to become efficient at the race we’re training to run, and training on trails and the road is the best way to make that happen.
5K-specific workouts should be run once a week. This is a typical progression of sessions. All reps are followed by three minutes of jogging unless otherwise indicated:
- 5-10 x 1 minute (2-minute recovery)
- 5 x 2 minutes
- 5 x 3 minutes
- 4 x 4 minutes
- 5 x 4 minutes
- 4 x 5 minutes
- 5 x 5 minutes
It makes no difference whether we’re 15:00 5K runners or 45:00 5K runners. Our repetitions last the same amount of time. We’re targeting specific physiological processes, not mimicking race distance.
If you’re unsure whether you’re running 5K effort, try this simple test: As you’re running, ask yourself, “Is this an effort I can maintain for an entire 5K?” Be honest. If the answer is yes, keep up the effort. If it’s no, slow down.
Still unsure about proper repetition effort? Then here’s another guideline guaranteed to keep you within the proper range: Whatever pace you run your repetitions, you should finish your last one feeling as if you could run one or two more. If you’re completely exhausted at the end of your repetition session, you ran too hard. Adjust the next week by decreasing your effort. If you’re barely winded, then increase your effort the following week.
“But how will I know if I’m on track to meet my time goal?” Many athletes set specific time goals and crave reassurance in training that they’re on track to hit that pace in a race.
Two of my athletes, K and M, fell into this camp. Both were 19:00 5K runners. Both wanted to run mid-18:00. Both balked when I explained that we’d be training off-track. They didn’t want to waste months of training only to discover that they hadn’t improved. I explained that workouts are not races, that training “race pace” on the track has little bearing on what they’d run in an actual race. I also told them that they were limiting their potential. Why train for mid-18:00? Why not train the physiological systems involved in 5K racing and see where the chips fell?
K and M finally agreed. Three months later, K ran 16:40 and M ran 17:50.
There is one exception to the off-track rule. As race day approaches, some runners like to add a couple track sessions (also at 5K effort) to “sharpen” their fitness. This isn’t about testing pace. It’s about solidifying our stride efficiency at 5K effort. While adding hills and turns and uneven terrain has prepared us for actual race conditions, doing one or two training sessions on a perfectly flat surface helps to hardwire the relationship between stride efficiency and 5K-specific endurance. Two workouts I recommend for this are
- 16-20 x 400m (100m jog recovery)
- 6-8 x 1,000m (400m jog recovery)
4) INTERMEDIATE FAST-TWITCH ENDURANCE
Our best 5K effort results from a combination of stamina and speed. And it just so happens that we have a type of muscle fiber that’s perfectly suited to this task. Fast-twitch type IIa muscle fiber provides much of the “speed” associated with fast-twitch type IIx (sprinter) fiber, but it also has the capacity to function aerobically.
Bingo! This combination allows us to run faster longer — the definition of 5K racing.
The best way to train this intermediate fast-twitch fiber is to run long hill repeats. This has nothing to do with whether we’ll be racing on hills, flats, roads, or the track. Long hill repeats make us faster — period.
The first step is to find a hill that’s not too steep and not too flat. The incline should be challenging, but it shouldn’t chop our stride or require mountain climbing gear. I prefer about a 6 percent grade. This increases the workload for each stride while allowing us to maintain full range of motion.
We use our watches to time the first hill repeat of each week’s session. Let’s say our rep for that week is supposed to last 60 seconds. We stop running as soon as a minute is up. That’s our finish line. We won’t have to time the rest of our repetitions, allowing us to focus on correct effort and form. Recovery between reps is four to five minutes, including our jog back down the hill and some walking at the bottom. Less recovery won’t give us a better workout, but it will increase our risk of injury and burnout. Remember that we’re targeting a specific muscle fiber type that is recruited during a specific range of effort. Too little recovery forces us to recruit the other type of fast-twitch fiber and/or to burn through our muscle glycogen stores.
The correct effort level for each repetition varies depending on its length. As with our 5K-specific workout, the guiding principle is to finish our long hill repeat session with enough energy remaining to run one or two more reps. We want to finish with gas in the tank.
This is typical progression for long hill repeat sessions:
- 8 x 30 seconds
- 6 x 60 seconds
- 8 x 60 seconds
- 4 x 90 seconds
- 6 x 90 seconds
Long hill repeats should be run two to three times a month until we’ve accumulated six to eight sessions. My preference is to alternate hill repeats with technique drills on a weekly basis. If you’re already in fairly good shape, you can begin incorporating these reps at the outset of your 5K program. If you’re a beginner, wait three to four weeks. Never do long hill repeats the week of a race. Also, on weeks that don’t include hill reps or a race, it’s beneficial to incorporate a few hills into our long runs. This reinforces the gains we’ve made.
5) VERSATILE RACE PACE EFFICIENCY
A 5K puzzle isn’t complete without pieces obtained from training at efforts above and below our 5K goal pace.
Training faster than goal pace serves two purposes. Physiologically, it makes us efficient at paces that might be required in the race (at the start, during surges, and for our finishing kick). Psychologically, it makes our actual 5K pace feel “slow” — our race pace feels relaxed since it’s less than 100 percent of the effort we’ve trained to run.
Two faster workouts are:
- Track: 16 x 200m at 3K effort, with 200m jog recovery
- Park or Trail Fartlek: 8-10 x 30-to 90-second surges at >3K effort, with jogging recovery equal in time to each surge
3K effort isn’t meant to imply an exact pace; rather, the point is to run harder than 5K effort but not quite as hard as we’d run during a mile race.
Training slower than goal pace allows us to increase the duration of higher-intensity endurance sessions without overstressing our bodies.
Two examples of this type of workout are:
- Tempo Runs
- Progression Runs
Tempo runs are one of the great misunderstood workouts of our sport. In his seminal book, Daniels’ Running Formula, ubercoach Jack Daniels writes that “the intensity of effort associated with [tempo] running is comfortably hard. [Y]our effort should be one that you could maintain for about an hour in a race.” This is what tempo is not: a time trial. To be on the safe side, when preparing for the 5K we should tempo train at an effort approximately equal to half marathon race pace.
Because the 5K doesn’t require the sustained endurance effort of longer races, it’s OK to break tempo runs into two sections. This gives us most of the benefit while reducing the chance of overtraining. For example:
- 2 x 10 minutes, with 2-minute jog recovery
- 2 x 15 minutes, with 3-minute jog recovery
Progression runs begin at our normal distance pace, then drop 10-15 seconds per mile until we can’t go any faster (or until we reach 5K race pace). This usually occurs at between 6-9 miles. A Garmin is great for this workout, but it’s OK to guesstimate pace while using a watch to trigger each increase in effort.
Varied pace work should be introduced four to six weeks before our 5K race. Faster work can take the place of the weekly drills or hills session. Slower than goal pace work can substitute for the 5K effort repetitions. Always make sure to subtract one hard workout from your weekly schedule before adding one of these.
6) POST-RUN RECOVERY & INJURY PREVENTION
One of the biggest mistakes we runners make is to call it quits on our workout once the running part is finished. We figure we’ve done the work, so what can it hurt to skip the stretching, injury prevention exercises, and icing?
Answer: It can hurt a lot.
Running depletes muscle glycogen, generates minispasms in our muscles, triggers inflammation, and leaves us dehydrated. The most important 15 minutes of our workout is the time we spend post-run counteracting these effects. In order, we need to incorporate:
- Glycogen replacement and rehydration
- Injury-prevention exercises
Glycogen replacement and rehydration is easy. We simply consume 300-500 calories of carbohydrates, washing them down with lots of water. Bagels, bananas, and sports bars are great sources of carbs. Or choose chocolate milk or a sports drink to get a combination of carbs and fluids.
Static stretching has gotten a bad reputation in recent years. Done before running, it can reduce strength and even cause injury. Post-run is a different story, however, as stretching releases pesky muscle spasms that can lead to pain and inflammation.
Injury-prevention exercises are geared toward preventing and rehabilitating conditions like plantar fasciitis and iliotibial band syndrome. Towel toe curls and foot orbits can reverse many cases of plantar fasciitis, while a revised hurdler’s stretch can sometimes erase iliotibial band pain in the space of a minute. These exercises and stretches should be incorporated into our post-run routine on a daily basis. Click here to watch a video of a good post-run routine.
Icing is the silver bullet that makes our sport possible. We need to ice each and every sore spot that could potentially progress to injury. And we need to begin our icing within 15 minutes after completing our run. This is truly a case of a stitch in time saving nine.
COMPLETING THE PUZZLE
Finally, race day arrives. We step to the start line injury free. The gun goes off, and we immediately fall into a pace that matches the 5K effort we’ve been practicing for weeks. Our stride is effortless as we blend aerobic endurance with speed and strength gained from the hills. We make adjustments in our effort level based upon feedback from our bodies, a method we rehearsed during all those repetitions on the roads and trails. And when finally the finish banner comes into view, we call upon our fartlek-trained fast-twitch muscles to carry us to the finish line, then cross at the exact moment we reach 100 percent effort.
There’s no part of the race for which we’re not prepared. There are no surprises awaiting us. We completed our task before race day. We assembled all the pieces of our puzzle. Our race is no longer a test. It’s show and tell. It’s graduation. It’s a foregone conclusion. It’s a celebration.
Best of all, the race itself now adds to our overall fitness, locking our puzzle pieces into place. We can look forward to improved 5K performances in our next races. And as an added bonus, the same training that’s prepared us for the 5K has also prepared us for races like the 10K — even the marathon! That’s right. Since we’ve focused on improving the essential aspects of training — from stride efficiency to muscle fiber recruitment to aerobic endurance — rather than simply adding miles to our training logs, we’ve emerged as better overall runners: fitter, faster, and more efficient.