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Run England Blog: Preparing for a summer 5K

Summer is here! For runners everywhere, this is the best time of year for training, with longer days and warmer weather making it a real delight to be outside running. Bright mornings and long evenings are such a treat and I love being able to get out for an early morning run as the day is still quiet and just beginning. If you’re thinking about taking up running, now is the time to do it!

Many people dive straight into the marathon if they want to take on a running challenge. Being a marathon specialist, of course I have to recommend the gruelling 26.2 mile journey that the marathon is! But if I’m honest, the shorter distances are a much better place to start, since they give you a chance to experience races over a more manageable distance, and you’re less likely to suffer injuries by building up your training gradually. A 5km race is the perfect distance if you’re a beginner, but it’s also great for more experienced runners who want to improve their speed. There are plenty of 5km races on during the summer, and of course the phenomenally successful parkrun is held over 5km every Saturday morning at 9am in parks everywhere.

So where to start preparing for a 5km? If you’re a beginner, gradually building up your runs to cover the 5km distance is the best way to train for a 5km, so you can be confident of covering the distance comfortably. Even if you’ve never run before, increasing your running distance in training to 5km is certainly manageable, and the NHS website’s Couch to 5K is a helpful guide for planning your training. But if you’re a regular runner, then 5km is a good distance for working on your speed.

To improve your personal best and get faster, the one type of training you really must do is speed training. By this I mean interval training, tempo runs or hill reps. In other words, anything that involves faster running and getting your heart-rate up – in a nutshell, putting yourself through pain and experiencing plenty of lactic acid! Although it hurts at the time, speed training gives your body a terrific training stimulus in various ways, which leads to adaptations in your strength and cardiovascular system, and hence the ability to run faster.

I prefer doing interval training based on time rather than distance, for example 5 x 3 minutes fast with 90 seconds recovery, or 10 x 1 minute fast, 1 minute easy. This way, you don’t have the pressure of hitting certain times for intervals of a particular distance, and as long as you are working hard, you’ll get the same training benefit. Tempo runs, by which I mean a sustained period of fast running of at least 10 minutes, are also a fantastic way of building up speed, and maintaining it over time as you might want to do in a race! Finally, hill reps – my favourite type of speed training – not only help with speed but are also great for building strength as you have to work against gravity, and improving your biomechanics. Throw in some variety with hill reps, by varying the time each hill takes (anything from 30 up to 90 seconds) and by using different gradients and surfaces (grass, road, gravel etc).

If you can improve your personal best over 5km, you’ll be well-prepared for stepping up to the longer distances such as 10km and half-marathon… and not just running or completing them, but racing them! “No pain, no gain” is a familiar turn of phrase, and it really does apply in the 5km – but there’s nothing more satisfying than putting in the hard work, and rewarding yourself by smashing your personal best!

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