Want to Run a Faster 5k, but Slowing Down at the 2 Mile Marker

by Scott

I am 39 and have been running for about 2 years. I started running for weight loss. I went from 250 pounds to 185 pounds. Now, I am more competitive with my running. My 5k has improved from 28:28 (first time I did a 5k) to 23:15. I run the first 2 miles at about 7:15/mile pace but I wear out then slow down for the last 1.1 miles. I want to maintain my speed but just can't. I'd like some help with getting over this block.

My current training regimen is Mon, Wed, Fri is speed work where I run 6 mile pace for 1/4 mile then walk 1/4 mile and repeat for a total distance of 2 miles. Then I run 3 miles at 6:40 pace on a treadmill trying to maintain it the best I can. I resist holding onto the sides the first mile but I have to hold onto the sides for 10 sec at 1/4 miles intervals especially around the 1.5 to 2 mile part.

improving 5k
On Tues, Thurs, and Saturday (unless I have a race on Saturday) I run 5 miles straight low intensity. I rest on Sunday. I considered hitting the weights on Tues, Thur, and Sat to strengthen my legs like leg curl, toe raises, leg press, and leg extensions.

Usually my speedwork is done on the treadmill and endurance is done outside or at the indoor track at the YMCA.

What do you suggest I do differently on my training plan? Races are usually in the morning 0900 and 1000 so I don't eat the morning of the race but have pasta the evening before.

Answer by Dominique:

Hi there,
Thanks for your 5k running question.

And thanks for providing the additional information. It helps so much in trying to provide targeted advice.

I think with modifications in your running program you can become faster.

Key things I'll comment on:

1. How Fast Should Your Speedwork Be?
2. How Much Speedwork Should You Do?
3. Strength Training
4. Eating before a Race

How Fast Should Your Speedwork Be?

improving 5k
Generally speaking, your interval pace and your 5k pace should be closer together. You can check this by using the Running Pace Calculator.

I entered your time of 23:15 minutes for a 5k. Your interval running pace should be about 7:17 min / mile (4:32 min/km).

You are doing your intervals (4 if I am correct) at 6 mile pace. Then follow up with 3 miles (pretty much 5k) at 6:40 min/mile pace with short breaks when you can't hold the speed anymore.

In effect, you are racing three times per week!.

That's way too much!

Slow down your intervals and do more of them in one session. 12 x 400m (1/4 mile) with 90-120 seconds rest in between is a solid interval session. There is more about intervals you should know, particularly the value of variety; check out the interval running page.

How Much Speedwork Should You Do?

improving 5k
Now, you run six days a week. That's very, very solid. Most of your running should be at an easy pace though. A good rule of thumb to follow comes from Matt Fitzgerald - 80/20. 80% of your running should be easy. 20% should be faster.

So, on a 30 mile / week schedule, about 20% x 30 = 6 miles should be at faster speed. On a weekly basis that could include one interval session and one tempo running session. At max. A good page to check out about tempo running is here.

If I were to coach you, I'd recommend a temporary stop to intervals altogether. Let's get used to easy running more often. Let's get you to do a weekly tempo run. And let's bring some variety in you running program. Some longer runs than 5 miles, some a bit shorter.

I don't think this will happen, but it might slow you down a tiny bit to begin with. I think your body will thank you for the reduced stress after all that intense running you have been doing. You will be better rested and will likely improve immediately. However, in the long run I have no doubt that my suggested approach will see improve well beyond your current ability.

Strength Training

improving 5k
With the above, we have really addressed the big, big issue with your current running program. I just wanted to comment on the strength training part. No doubt in my mind that strength running will help your running. You'll become stronger and you'll injury-proof your body. So, yes, I'd really recommend strength training.

Eating before a Race

Eating before a race is a personal thing. I have to have breakfast every morning. I have tried fasted running and I just feel weaker than I would if I get some food into me.

If the current regime works for you, by all means continue with it. I wouldn't go overboard with the pasta before the run. Carb loading is an accepted practice for marathons. The whole thing with marathons is that they last for such a long time that you run out of glycogen. That's where feeding the body additional carbs in the days before and during the marathon becomes important. Before a 5k, not so much. If you enjoy the pasta, continue eating it. It might be a good ritual to get you into the spirit of racing. But it is not at all necessary for your 5k.

Hope that helps.
All the best.
Kind regards,

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