My last post just went to show that I can overcomplicate anything. Training for a 5K, if one's running considerably longer than 20 minutes (and less than a third of all runners will ever break 20), is rather simple. The method is the same for advanced runners at the beginning of a training cycle.
There are two varieties of beginning 5K runner. Like many high school boys I've coached, some runners are all-or-nothing; they won't run a step unless they're being watched, but will run as fast as they possibly can when they do run, just to show what they can do. These runners generally benefit from doing more miles in training and being more consistent, though it is tricky answering the question, "Why should I run for 6 miles, if my race is only 3? Do you have marathoners run 50?" The other type is the opposite of that, the "more must be better" type. These runners are usually the type that go to races to run somewhere new and to socialize, rather than to race; they are also the type that, planning to run 5 fast miles, run 10 slow ones and finish with a handful of wildflowers and a shiny rock they found.
I have been both of those types.
I set a weekly goal of minutes run for all runners, the number varying with the length of race being trained for, but not by expected finish time. For the 5K, I have my runners try to average 50 minutes per day, never running less than 30 (unless it's a total rest day) and never more than 90 and this holds for all runners who race no more than once per week (competitive track 5K's often have preliminary rounds). This turns out to be less mileage than most coaches advise for running a 5K, but I don't break training into different periods with more mileage early and a low-mileage taper.
On the other hand, I think most people do their training runs too slowly when training for a 5K. If you're running an average of 50 minutes per day, then the number of miles you're doing will tell what 5K goal time you might achieve. 20 miles = 43:45, 25 = 34:30, 30 = 28:15, 35 = 24:00, 40 = 20:45, 45 = 18:15, 50 = 16:30, 55 = 14:45, 60 = 13:26. The point is that 5 miles per week is a big deal, especially for slower runners.
The way I like to set up a week is to have a long run on Sunday of 75-90 minutes, with the rest of the time divided however one wants through the other days. The only other thing to add at this point is one fast run each week, which I put on Saturdays, as that's commonly when 5K races are held (this also ensures that the Sunday run is not done too fast, as the previous day's run causes some residual tiredness). It's possible for advanced 5K runners, those doing 50 miles per week or more, to race 5K's several weeks in a row - and at 70 miles per week (requiring two-a-day workouts), almost indefinitely - but that's not how I'd have a runner start. I prefer to have beginners at the 5K try to get used to running very fast compared to what they're accustomed to doing, after a brief warm-up, running a pace they're sure they can't run for an entire 5K and running that pace to the point where they feel compelled to slow, then finishing 3 miles or 5K at whatever pace they can manage. Some runners will find it useful to measure the progress of these runs, by seeing at what point they have to stop running hard (and what pace they ran to that point) and measuring their time for the total distance; some may also find benefit by using a heart rate monitor in this workout to track an effort level for the workout, though just noting how it felt is usually enough.
Sunday Night Musings
5 days ago