Q: I’m new to running and just completed my first 5K last week. I typically run three times per week for 2-3 miles and include a core strength and yoga class twice per week. I never thought I would be asking this but do you think I can improve my speed and still continue to run three times per week? I don’t want to win the race, just run a little faster and keep the variety of activities too. ~Jessica
Congratulations on running your first 5K! I think you would be surprised to read that if we all got together for a girls weekend, you would fit right in. Most runners these days don’t just run. We follow a well-rounded program including a variety of activities like yoga, swimming, and cycling. It not only keeps things fresh, it can help improve your running performance as well.
Yes, you can improve your 5K-finish time on three runs per week, especially since you are new to the sport. The key is to make every run purposeful. You can easily do this by making a few simple changes to your running schedule over the next six weeks.
Run longer. Dedicate one run per week to building endurance. This will allow you to run longer more easily. If you can run 5 miles at an easy effort, you can push hard for 3.1 miles. The key is to run at a conversational pace (where you can talk) and build the longer distance run slowly. Start with 3.5 miles for your first endurance run and add a half-mile every week (3.5 miles for two weeks, 4 miles for two weeks…) until you reach a total of 5 miles and hold it there. Most runners schedule this run on the weekend when you have more time.
Run faster. This is where is starts to get really fun. If you run faster in training, you’ll run faster on race day. Speed training is like accessorizing your Saturday night outfit. You don’t want to over-do it as a little goes a long way. Dedicate your mid-week run to improving speed with the following; warm up walking a few minutes, then easy running for 10 minutes. Run 2 minutes at a comfortably hard effort (you can hear your vigorous breathing, but you’re not gasping for air). Follow with 2 minutes of easy paced walking or running until you catch your breath. Repeat this 2×2 minute hard/easy interval workout four times (16 minutes) and run easy for 10 minutes to cool down. Add one 2-minute repeat every other week until you reach a total of six.
Run easy. If you run fast or long every time you can break down your body. An easy running day allows your body time to adapt to the demands of the endurance and speed runs and is a vital ingredient to your race day success. Stick with running 2 miles at an easy effort and add a half-mile (2miles for two weeks, 2.5 miles for two weeks…) every other week until you reach 3 miles and hold.
Alternate running days. Run every other day and fill in with the cross-training activities you enjoy. Your body and mind will have more time to recover, allowing you to run stronger in the next running workout.
Run Outside. Treadmills are a convenient way to run, however there is a significant difference between running on a treadmill and running outdoors. To better prepare yourself for the 5K, aim to run at least two of your three workouts outdoors. For safety, transition one run outside every other week.
Taper your training. Tapering your mileage the week before the race is a great way to show up with a fresh set of legs and a clear mind to focus. Cut your long run to 3.5 miles, and run two easy paced 2-3 mile runs the week of the race. Give yourself a day of complete rest the day before the race and make sure to warm up with 5 minutes of easy paced running right before the gun goes off on race day.