Want to Run a Sub-20 5k

by Jamie Chandler
(Alpharetta, GA, USA)

want to run a sub-20 5k

This next fall will be my last season of High School Cross-Country. I have been on Varsity the past two years, but this past season, my PR fell from a 20:11 5K to a 20:30. I was very upset but am now determined to break 20 minutes this next season. I know that this summer I need to train hard and prepare my body, but I am unsure how I should go about it.

My track season is almost over and then I will take a break, but after this I will have about 13 weeks. Basically, I want to get faster but not get injured.

If you have any suggestions, that would be AWESOME!

Answer by Dominique:

Hey there, Jamie! Thanks for reaching out with your question. I can totally understand your aspirations of reaching the magical sub-20 and I'm eager to help you map out a plan that should help you shave off those critical seconds you are aiming for next season.

Let's break this down into several different areas to focus on:

1. Value the Different Types of Running Workouts
2. Building or Increasing Your Base
3. The Importance of Goal Pace Workouts

Value the Different Types of Running Workouts

want to run a sub-20 5k
First things first: each variety of running brings unique benefits to the table. When training for a big race, it's important to mix different types of running workouts into your schedule to keep your training as dynamic and effective as possible. Here's a quick rundown:

1. Easy runs: These are training runs with an intensity that allows you to hold a conversation while running. Despite being relaxed, these allow your body to better adapt to running, improve recovery, and build your cardiovascular fitness.

2. Tempo runs: These are moderately hard runs performed at a steady pace. They help to improve your 'lactate threshold', which effectively makes your body more efficient at running fast for longer durations. Also check out the Tempo Running page.

3. Interval runs: These are high-intensity, shorter runs with periods of rest. They boost speed and cardiovascular capacity, helping you to run faster. Also check out the Interval Running page.

4. Long runs: These are runs longer than all your other runs in a given week. They build stamina and improve cardiovascular fitness.

5. Strides: These are short "sprints" often done at the end of an easy run. They help your running economy and help you maintain speed in your legs. Also check out the Running Strides page.

All these types of runs should form part of a balanced running program. But your main focus should be on increasing your mileage through easy runs.

I don't know how much support and guidance you get through your coach at school and how well they balance your running program with a mix of running. But the best running programs contain lots of easy running and a sprinkling of faster work such as tempo runs and intervals.

So, let's talk about the easy running a bit more and why it is so important.

Building or Increasing Your Base

want to run a sub-20 5k
Building your base involves gradually increasing mileage over a period of time. This is all about developing your endurance, strengthening your muscles, and enhancing your body's ability to utilize oxygen efficiently.

When you establish a stronger base, you're essentially provisioning your body with the capacity to run faster and for longer periods without getting worn out. It's like preparing the foundation before constructing a house: the stronger your foundation, the more resilient the house.

A prevalent way to establishing a firm running base is to emphasize steady, slow-paced mileage increases performed over an extended period. It's a comprehensive and proven method for safely building stamina and endurance without causing physical harm.

I am often amazed (eventhough I should not be) about how much progress I make off a period of increasing my mileage. Suddenly running fast is that little bit easier. While I haven't done any fast work. Simply a product of building more endurance. And through that, being able to go fast for longer.

It's key to remember that overdoing your mileage can lead to injuries, so take care to increase your mileage gradually. Imagine your training plan as a ladder. Each run is a step, and you only climb to the next step when you’re comfortable where you are. Patience is critical here. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Also check out the Increasing Mileage Safely page.

The Importance of Goal Pace Workouts

want to run a sub-20 5k
Lastly, know the importance of goal-pace workouts. These are essentially workouts done at the pace you want to run during your race. Incorporating these into your training plan can be extremely beneficial as they condition your body to become accustomed to that particular pace. They also serve as a useful reality check. Doing this makes sure that, come race day, your desired pace feels natural.

You can start with a workout like 12 x 400m at goal pace, but then move to more and more specific goal pace workouts closer to your goal race.

Also check out the Goal Pace page.

And there you have it, Jamie. By incorporating a mix of running workouts, gradually building a strong base, and incorporating goal-pace workouts, you have all the stepping stones you need to smash that 20-minute goal.

The journey might demand dedication and sweat, but the joy of crossing the finish line in under 20 minutes will be all worth it.

Remember, especially when you set your sights on this one goal... Enjoy the process. Keep your running consistent. Build your mileage. Become a better runner. And let that 5k goal time be the result of that work, rather than staring yourself blind on the time alone.

Best of luck and best wishes,

5k running tips

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