As I start to write this, I quickly run into the problem that someone trying to break 30 minutes in a 5K has almost nothing in common with someone trying to break 13.
I'm going to break the 5K into parts, using some subtle physical cues of stride rate and breathing rhythms, things most runners never consider, as they're important mostly for the final 10 minutes of a race. Marathoners (excepting world class) need not worry about cutting a minute from the end of their race, but the final 10 minutes of a 5K is much of the race.
The first thing to consider in a 5K is the start. Most runners get into the habit of easing into their runs, using the first mile or two to warm up. They then do the same thing for long races. However, if one takes 10 minutes to warm up in a 5K, much of the race gets wasted; it's important to get to the start line ready to run hard as soon as the gun goes off. One can cut 10% from one's finish time just by warming up first.
For the first few steps of the race, one is accelerating to race pace. A 15 minute 5K runner may take as much as 100 meters to get there, but slower runners only have a few steps to do it - it's what's known as a "bang" start. It takes the heart and lungs a few seconds to catch up to the body's sudden increase in speed and in these seconds, one is running completely anaerobically, using energy stored as adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate. Training can extend the length of time one can run this way from about 4 seconds to about 15 (20, if training to race world class sprints) - I'm going to write about this as "phosphate training."
Phosphate training also allows one to make a sudden move in tactical races (for those racing for trophies) and is used in the final seconds of a race, as one can regenerate one's stores of creatine phosphate rather quickly. When one's running as hard as one can as one approaches the finish line, sometimes seeing the clock read a few seconds under one's goal or having someone try to pass right at the finish will cause a surge of adrenaline and one can speed up even as one feels completely drained; phosphate training can teach one to rely on this for the few last seconds of a race.
Sixth paragraph and I haven't reached the subject yet! Next up, I'm going to try to explain how to divide the race into stages. Training then becomes specific to improving each of those stages individually.
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