Last month I ran a 5k. It wasn’t too difficult as I’ve been running 3 miles a few times a week for several months now. I pushed myself, and I was excited to see how I’ve improved since my last 5k in October 2016.
When we got the times… OH THE HORROR! I was 30 seconds SLOWER than my last 5k run! How is that even possible?!
After a ruined day and a “What am I even doing in life?!” conversation with my husband, he helped me come up with an action plan to focus on specifically increasing my speed. I swore in to the Air Force last week, and at any time in the next year I could be called up for officer training. That means a PT test in which running is 60% of the score. This is how I work toward that for the running portion.
Below I thought I’d share the weekly schedule I’ll be running to in order to improve my time for another 5k and ultimately for the 1.5 mile Air Force PT test. Of course, other branches have other distance requirements, but this basic schedule will still increase speed. I’ve got ways to customize it for yourself based on your training time and goals below.
Disclaimer: This schedule will work best for shorter distance runs (1.5 mi, 5k, etc.) rather than half or full marathons. It also assumes you can run your full goal distance but you just want to increase your speed.
To customize this basic schedule, see how many weeks you have between now and your race or test date. Using the tips for each kind of run below, gradually increase your work as you get closer to the goal date.
Tempo runs are when you run for your goal race time at the same speed. You’re shooting for a speed that will put your heart rate in the 140-160 bpm range and no more than that. For the amount of time, you’ll run for as long as your race or test goal time is. (My next 5k goal time is 3 miles in 24 minutes, so my tempo runs are 24 minutes long.) Next, walk and let your heart rate go back down and repeat two more times. Don’t try to speed up at the end like at a race; just work on a consistent pace. As you train over the weeks, you’ll notice your speed increasing. Your body will get more efficient, and you’ll be able to run faster while staying in that 140-160 bpm heart rate range. You’ll learn the “feel” of your pace, so when you can’t use any gadgets during your PT test you’ll know you’re still going fast enough.
This is when you run your full goal distance (like on Tuesday on the schedule). Try to run it as if you’re running for your test or race, and it will be your weekly benchmark. It will also help your muscles and cardiovascular system get used to running longer. As you train, you’ll naturally get faster at this. Push yourself and run your best!
There are several things you can do for speed work, and the main idea is to practice sprinting for short distances. This builds your fast-twitch muscles and builds stronger, bigger muscle rather than endurance-lean-muscle that will help you with speed. Here are some things you can try:
- Run 100 or 200 meter sprints
- Run a quarter of a mile at your final goal pace. (Or see how close you can get to it.) This helps you get used to how your goal pace feels. Rest a bit and repeat 2-3 more times.
- Play soccer, ultimate frisbee, or some other sprint-heavy sport
Rest/Long Slow Distance
Be sure to take a day to chill. If your joints and muscles are feeling achey and tired, rest without guilt on some day in the week. If you’re feeling okay, you can try a long slow distance run. There’s not much to this besides running a distance that is challenging for you without worrying about time or speed. Go slow and don’t push yourself too hard; just finish.
Here’s an example of what my chart looks like in training for a 5k one month from now:
- Use an app or other fitness tracker to track your times and distances for the various types of runs. Write them in the chart to keep yourself on track and watch your progress!
- Lifting weights will also help your speed. Lift heavy for 3-5 reps to build stronger leg muscle. More reps with lighter weight will make for leaner muscle that is good for endurance runs but not necessarily for speed. (Compare the leg muscles of sprinters and marathon runners as an example.) Both are good; they just achieve different goals.
- Of course, it’s important to eat nutritious foods when you train for running. Eat stuff that’s healthy for your body, and be sure to include carbs to give you energy while running and protein to help your muscles recover and build after.
Do you have any running events you’re training for right now? Do you have strategies to help you reach your goals?