5K Training – How long is long enough?

Here is an inquiry from an experienced runner: If you don’t need Endurance – how much long stuff do you need? After decades of racing events from the 10k up to the marathon, I am now focusing almost exclusively on 5ks.  So the question is how long should my long / endurance runs be?  I enjoy doing hills, intervals, and tempo runs, and use all three to try to reduce my race time. What I’m struggling with is how long runs lead to improved performance in such a short race, and the optimal distance and pace.

This is a really good question. The answer depends on a runner’s background in part. A novice runner will want and need to keep in some long runs periodically to add to aerobic conditioning in general even though the longer workout is not extremely race-specific. Once you have a sound background in running – as you do – then you have far more flexibility in your “long run” distance as well as your total miles per week.

The direct answer is that I would recommend going for an 8-10 mile run every 2-3 weeks. As the season gets closer to your “big” race (usually a championship race for instance) then drop the long run entirely. A 6 mile run will suffice as your attention will then shift dramatically to very high intensity quality runs and rest days.

I will add to this answer by also addressing something in your list of current workouts. Remember that for the most part (other than novices), you do not get faster by running slower. Therefore, if your focus is 5K then your quality runs need to be at your 5K goal pace (GP) or faster. Of course you have some easy days for recovery and balance in training as well as the occasional long run mentioned above.

A tempo run by definition is approximately 15K race pace or about a one-hour all out race pace. That means about 10k mile pace plus a few seconds. This is a good “quality” workout for anyone racing an hour or longer. It does not enhance conditioning for shorter races very well. Why? Because it’s not fast enough to enhance speed nor is it slow enough to be a recovery run. Therefore for track specialists (800 through 5000/5K) this is a poor investment of your training energy.

The solution is to replace tempo runs with higher quality track workouts or hill repeats or with a recovery run. Then it serves a specific purpose to your training goal.

Do not misinterpret what I’m saying. It is not that tempo runs are not good workouts. They are. But, they are best used for the longer race preparation not shorter.

One final note: The older and more experienced the athlete the more their training should focus on high quality workouts. They will enhance conditioning and racing more with faster paces than more miles. It only makes sense. General physiological adaptations (heart, lungs, blood vessels, muscles) have already occurred. The key now is to enhance the other physiological factors (enzymes, muscles ability to use energy & oxygen) which are better enhanced through faster NOT slower running.

The bottom line is that now that you are focusing on the 5K you need less distance runs, more quality runs, more rest and recovery days and more race specific targeted workouts.

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About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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5 Responses to 5K Training – How long is long enough?

  1. John M says:

    I would vouch for the efficacy of the shorter faster workouts Dean talks about. I made some changes to my running programme following ideas I picked up here, notably using the Billat 30/30 intervals (repeats of 30 seconds at vVO2Max pace, 30 seconds easy recovery) over a few weeks. At the age of 50 I wasn’t really expecting any new PRs at the shorter distances (5K, 10K), but 3 weeks ago I ran 37:47 in a 10K, knocking 38 seconds off my previous PR. So, it definitely works! (Unfortunately my hopes for a new PR in a marathon this last weekend were dashed by coming down with a nasty cold last week. I still went ahead and ran, but had to pull out at mile 18 before I did myself some serious damage – very disappointing).

  2. Dean Hebert says:

    John,
    Right on… Billat has done great research on this topic along with Heikki Rusko. 30-30s is a great workout and what is the bonus – it is portable, you don’t have to have a track to do it!
    Congrats on your PR.

    • John M says:

      I would add another 3 things going for it. It doesn’t take long to do, so you get great bang for your buck. It also doesn’t really take it out of you – you don’t have to subject yourself to the kind of misery you do with more traditional interval sessions, because 30 seconds is such a short period, any discomfort is short lived. And it doesn’t leave you that beaten up either. I wouldn’t have believed it could be so effective if I hadn’t had that result to validate it. I’m going to try out the 3 minute version some time, but I seem to recall reading somewhere that the shorter intervals are better for older runners (although I don’t think it said why).

  3. I pretty much agree too. Not sure that the 30 sec intervals will work too well once you get below 25 mins. I focussed on 1 min intervals too much to get my time down to sub-20 mins. OK every bit helps as you say but the best intervals are 1k intervals at target race pace IMHO. I do do the 1 minute ones from time to time to make sure I can still go fast! (Faster than I could ever run in a 5k race!)

  4. Race Leader says:

    Reblogged this on the5krunner and commented:
    Some good stuff here from Coach Dean on the types of running you should and should not do for 5k. Note you need to read towards the end as he discusses age issues at the end.

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