5K And 10K By The Numbers

Good news: during the next year, you're going to run PBs at 5K and 10K.

That's right: you're going to race faster and you're going to enjoy the entire training and racing experience more than ever. That's because you're going to train by the numbers.

Everyone knows that the way to race faster is simple: run some of your training miles faster than your normal steady pace. But exactly how much faster? For how long? And how often? Is there a magic formula for all this? Well, actually there is.

The Big Picture

First, you need to set a goal time for your 5K or 10K. Then you simply need to follow the 12-week customised training programme, created by Oregon-based coach Bob Williams, to hit your target.

And the training certainly won't kill you. "Too many runners – especially those with full-time jobs, families and busy schedules – actually train too hard,” says Williams, a coach of 35 years and an aggressive advocate of the 'least effort to gain maximum benefit' credo pioneered by legendary coach Bill Bowerman. "Train smarter, not harder – that's the bottom line of my 'by the numbers' (BTN) system.”

Translation: very doable overall mileage, two hard days a week, no more, and one medium day. And even on the hard days, you shouldn't drain yourself completely. "They're really medium-hard days,” says Williams. And the other four days? "A really easy two to four miles on two days, and either no session or some light cross-training on the other two."

If you think that this doesn't sound like enough, remember that you don't train to train, you train to race. "When you finish a training session,” says Williams, "you ought to feel energised, not exhausted, and confident that you could do more. A little of the right kind of training goes a long way in making you ready to race."

To do the 'right kind of training' Williams alludes to, all you need are the following schedules.

How to Use the Schedules

The training schedules each include training paces that correspond to three different goal times. In the 5K schedule, for example, the sessions are geared to goal times of 18, 22 and 26 minutes.

This is important: if your goal time falls somewhere between – or completely above or below – our selected goal times, simply look at the schedule and extrapolate to determine the paces that correspond to your goal time. Keep in mind that the only work-outs you'll need to modify are those on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All the other runs listed in the schedule will work regardless of your goal time. But before you begin any of these schedules, remember: Choose a realistic goal time If you plan to shoot for, say, a sub-40:00 10K, you should already have run – or be capable of running – this distance in the low-40s.

The BTN schedules are only a guide Feel free to adjust the pace up or down depending on how you feel. Also, says Williams, there's nothing wrong with finishing a session early if you just can't manage it that day. "Don't push your body when it mutters 'no more'. There's always the next day or week."Drink up Take a bottle of your favourite energy drink with you when you're training, and take sips between intervals to keep blood glucose (and energy levels) high.

Lighten up Use light (and more flexible) racing flats or lightweight trainers for all interval training. They'll help you run faster.

Warm up Unless otherwise specified, begin each Tuesday and Thursday session with a relaxed warm-up of 1.5 to three miles, and follow the intervals with a steady run of two miles at first, increasing to as many as four miles – whatever is comfortable.

Recover fully between repetitions "You should feel refreshed before you start the next repetition,” Williams advises (actually, he demands it). "Usually, this is a little longer than you think you should wait. Generally, jog about the same time as it takes you to run the repetition – and walk the last 50 metres of the recovery before starting the next effort.” If you're using a heart-rate monitor, don't start the next rep until your heart rate drops to 120 (men) or 130 (women).

Check your progress If you struggle to maintain pace during a specific session, or your heart rate doesn't drop to desired levels, repeat it the next week. Move on only when you can comfortably handle a given workload. If you find yourself struggling or not recovering between core sessions, then re-evaluate your goal time. It's probably too fast.

Sprinkle in supplemental speed By the third week, add some 100m strides at the end of each interval session (except when 100m repetitions are a formal part of the session). Work up to 6 x 100m three or four times a week during the last four weeks. "Start with two easy, two medium and two medium-hard. Nothing faster than 5K pace,” Williams warns, "and walk to full recovery after each."

And here are the schedules...

What's a VDOT anyway?

The underpinnings of Bob Williams's BTN programme are the oxygen power tables developed by running coach Jack Daniels. For every race distance, Daniels has calculated the aerobic power necessary to run a specific time. This capacity is expressed in a 'VDOT' number determined by exhaustive human-performance lab studies and a mathematical formula that – trust me – you don't need to know.

What happens next is simple. Williams's BTN takes any goal race time, then uses three key distances – five miles, five kilometres and one mile – with the same VDOT to determine the minutes-per-mile pace at which you need to train during stamina-building longer repetitions (800-1600 metres) and shorter, faster repetitions (200-400 metres). These speed sessions – normally two per week – form the principal parts in our 5K and 10K schedules.