A super nerdy technical examination on how to run a faster 5 km

On Sunday I ran the Chilly Chase here in Vancouver. I was happy with my time of 28:48 considering that I’ve ran about 10 times in the past two years. Although I am always active most of that activity revolves around weight training, yoga, and cycling. 28:48 is ok- but I want more! I want to put my knowledge of the human body to the test and be my own guinea pig!

Since the race I have decided I want to do a 25-minute 5 km race. This will be the fastest I will have ever ran it, but I think it is possible with the right type of training. In this blog I will share with you 5 things I plan on doing to run a faster 5 km race based on what I learned in school, and have learned from other elite runners.  We will see if they work out for me!!!

Now, if you are reading this and running 5 km is already a challenge then just remember- keep at it, stay consistent, and run regularly, that’s all you really need to know! Start with a run walk program consisting of 5 -10 minutes running followed by 1 minute walking (or less than that if that’s where you are at with it!). Try to run 3-4 days a week and eventually your hard work will pay off.  You will be at that 5 k race in no time!

If you are looking to go faster, here they are: 5 Tips to improve a 5 km time:

  1.  Run more 🙂 Seems so simple right?! But it’s the advice I need to give myself. If you want to be a better cyclist you have to cycle more. Want to be a better hockey or tennis player? You have to play your spots more. If I want to run faster I have to run more often, and longer than my 5 km race. My plan is to run minimum 2 times a week, maximum 3 using a few different templates for my runs (read below).

 

2)  Increase your anaerobic threshold. What the heck is your anaerobic threshold? When we do cardio-based activities we either use oxygen to fuel the activity (aerobic) or we don’t use oxygen (anaerobic). The anaerobic threshold can be generally defined as the time during activity when the lactic acid (a by product of using the anaerobic energy system) builds up and eventually has to put a halt to your activity. If you were doing a maximal running test and I kept making you run faster and harder as it went along eventually your body would reach a point where it can’t use oxygen to complete the activity. At this point you begin to use other sources of energy, and these sources create lactic acid as a byproduct. So eventually after running faster and harder these by products would add up and you would have to stop running, aka your anaerobic threshold.

So basically you want to improve your anaerobic threshold, your ability to run faster without hitting that build up point that makes you stop! A well trained runner is going to be able to run easier at a faster pace then an untrained runner because they have a higher anaerobic threshold, and can run using oxygen at a greater speed (making it more sustainable).  To train yourself to raise this threshold you want to run intervals to super charge the aerobic mitochondrial enzymges that will keep you under the threshold longer. Usually done once a week, interval training of all kinds can be a fantastic way to improve your run time no matter which distance you are running. Interval training basically means alternate running at a faster pace then your race pace, follow by a slower pace. Interval training can look a variety of ways.

Here are some examples:

  1.  Run 1 minute near your max running speed, then recover for 1 minute. Repeat 10 times.

2.  Run 30 seconds at an all out sprint. Recover 1 full minute. Repeat.  (Any numerical combinations work).

3.  You can also get playful and do pyramids: Run 200 m, 400 m, 800 m, 400 m, then 200 m. All the while keeping yourself up at your threshold.

4.  Hill training is also another really great way to improve your anaerobic threshold.

3) Improve your VO2 max. More technical terms here for you 🙂 Vo2 max, Maximal oxygen uptake, or maximal aerobic capacity is how much oxygen you can use during maximal activity. Like I mentioned in the last paragraph the less oxygen you are able to use, the more lactic acid builds up, putting an end to your activity. If you can continue to use a great amount of oxygen even at high levels of exhaustive activity then technically you are able to keep that up longer, making you more aerobically fit.

A higher Vo2 max means you can run for longer before hitting that point where you don’t have enough oxygen, and have to use your anaerobic energy system. The higher you increase your ability to stay out of your anaerobic energy systems, and run using your aerobic (oxygen) energy systems the longer you can endure and activity. A person with a lower VO2 max is either going to have to run slower, or not run as long as someone whose VO2 max is higher, allowing them to use oxygen to run faster and longer.

Vo2 can be defined simply as the amount of blood your heart can output (how much blood it pumps in each beat X how many times it can beat in a period of time) multiplied by the amount of oxygen that can be transferred and utilized by the muscle tissue. So to increase your Vo2 max you need to build a stronger heart, and improve the efficiency of oxygen exchange in your muscle tissues. To increase your Vo2 max you basically need to adapt your body to run longer and more efficiently, this basically means running more often and doing it longer. The more you do ‘base level’ runs, long slow distance runs, the more you are training your enzymes and muscle cells to utilize oxygen better. So even if you are training for a 5k you are going to run much more than 5 km more regularly. (And remember raising your anaerobic threshold will raise your VO2 max as well).  I found this really great ‘rough’ depiction of what your VO2 max is:

screenshot2014-03-05at24339pm

Found here:  

http://breakingmuscle.com/endurance-sports/training-to-increase-your-vo2-max

screenshot2014-03-05at24302pm

My VO2 max currently is technically in the low end of average for my age.  Whereas before I’ve ran a half marathon in 2 hours, which would put my in the mid end range (when I was doing more cardio based activities).  Needless to say I want to do a 25 minute 5 k race, which would give me a 38 vo2 max, and the higher end of my age range!  YEAH 🙂  That’s where I want to be to be leading as a good model of overall fitness 🙂

4)  Shorten my stride length. In terms of endurance sports there is a bit of a sweet spot between force production and velocity. With both cycling and running it is more economically advantageous to run with a faster running or cycling cadence rather than trying to running with stronger pedal strokes or running steps.   I plan on exploring this concept a little further and putting a shorter candence run into a test!

5)  Improve my ‘weak spots’ and overall general strength. Runners need strong legs, strong core, strong glutes, well functioning calves and foot muscles. I will be ensuring I do light and more intense exercises for all these muscle groups. I will continue to strength train two times a week, paying special attention to some of my ‘hot spot’ areas. For example I have some muscles in my lower leg and hip that tend to not cooperate with the rest of the body. They will need some extra attention and focus to keep me running well. (Every body has them so it’s important to figure out where you may be leaking force, or causing injury).  In the end I need to ditch a few of the strength training sessions I do currently a week, and replace them for more running based activities.  It is still very important to be strong though!!

6)  YOGA! DO yoga 1-2 times a week to focus on staying injury free, mobile and flexible. An injury means time off training, which can be greatly detrimental in the grand scheme of things. Avoid time off- do yoga!

 

So to put it all into perspective here are 5 ways to run a faster 5 k:

  • Run more often- 2-4 days a week.
  • DO interval training to increase your anaerobic threshold one day a week
  • Run long slow distances longer than your race distance to build up your VO2 max one day a week.
  • Improve your running form and cadence.
  • Strength train the lower body and core 1-2 days a week. Focus on muscles that you are especially weak in.
  • Do yoga to prevent injuries and maintain flexibility.

 

PS- consistency is key. Find yourself a nice running program online and stick to it 🙂

 

Hope that helped!!!!!

 

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