For one brief moment, probably while endorphins were still pumping through your body after a good run, you flirted with the idea of doing a marathon. Then the endorphins disappeared and the reality of training for four months and trying to squeeze in a handful of three- to four-hour-long runs set in. Fair enough. But how about a simple 5K instead?
It’s the perfect distance: 3.1 miles require relatively little build-up, the training doesn’t take over your life, and the race is over fairly quickly. And by logging only three or four runs per week, you can be ready to toe the line of a 5K in just five weeks. Top coach Chris Carmichael (www.trainright.com) encourages all runners to try a 5K. "People run for a variety of reasons, but they get more out of it when they’re working towards something specific," he says. "And a 5K race is an attainable goal for any runner."
Plus, there’s the 'fun factor', says Jeff Galloway, coach and author of Running: Getting Started. "My favourite thing about 5K races is the atmosphere. Almost everyone there is in a good mood. How many other events in your life are like that?"
The five-week plan
In the five weeks leading up to your first 5K, most coaches agree that you need to run three or four days a week. During one of those weekly runs, you should focus on increasing the amount you can run at one time until you build to at least the race distance, or the equivalent amount of time spent running.
"I encourage runners, particularly beginners, to focus on time and effort, rather than becoming obsessed with miles and distance," says GB coach, Nick Anderson (www.fullpotential.co.uk). "Thinking in minutes is more gradual and self-paced and will help to make sure you don’t get injured by doing too much too soon."
Completing the equivalent of the 5K distance in training gives you the strength and confidence you need to finish the race. And if you increase your long run up to six miles (or twice the amount of time it should take you to cover the 5K), you’ll run with even greater strength (or speed, if that’s your thing).
Most of your running during the week should be at a comfortable pace. This is especially true for runners who simply want to finish the race. But since adding some faster training to your schedule is the best way to improve your speed and endurance, even novices should consider doing some quicker running.
"Intervals are not reserved for elites," says Carmichael. "Running three one-mile intervals with recovery in between will do more to increase your sustainable running pace than running three miles at once."
First-time racers can do some faster running one or two days a week, but these sessions don’t have to be regimented. Anderson recommends adapting one session per week to include about 10 minutes of speedwork, made up of two five-minute runs at a faster pace, each framed by five minutes of easy jogging. Once this becomes easy, try one 10-minute interval at threshold pace – this is about 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate, where you can utter a few words but not hold a conversation. Always bookend harder runs with easy warm-up and cool-down jogs.Non-subscribers can find out how to avoid one of the most common first-race pitfalls below. To read the full article - including more race-day advice and two exclusive five-week schedules - subscribe now. You'll even save 30 per cent on your annual subscription by doing so right here online.
Run like a road-racing pro by avoiding this common first-time mistake...
MISTAKE Too fast, too soon "Most first-time racers go out too fast and are miserable by the second mile," says Anderson. Even veteran runners can get caught up in the race-day enthusiasm and other faster racers.