Monday, December 12, 2011

After the Couch to 5k: A Recipe for Getting Faster

You walked, you ran, you did it for 10 weeks, and you finished your first 5k. Yay!

I'm not a mind reader or anything, but I bet you're thinking...."That was great! Now how do I get faster?"

Okay, so maybe I'm a mind reader.

 (By the way, if you're not interested in getting faster, check out this post here, and definitely this post on recreational running after the Couch to 5k)

When it comes to a faster 5k, there are some essential ingredients that you need to learn to cook with.

1) The Couch to 5k plan had you running less than 10 miles a week. Work to add a mile every week until you're somewhere around 15 miles. This will probably have you increasing your running days from 3 to at least 4 or 5.

2) With a goal for speed, every run should have a purpose. If you're running 4 days a week, it should look like this:


I'll elaborate.

SPEED: Might sound silly, but to run faster, you have to run faster. A great way to start is with timed interval training. Looks like this:

Start with a 5-10 minutes warmup jog
Run fast for 1 minute (a non-conversational pace)
Follow with a 2 minute easy jog (catch your breath and continue at a conversational pace)
Repeat the run/jog sequence 5 times

You can move up to 2 minute intervals with 2 minutes of rest, and you can also use measured loops--.25 miles and .5 miles. Run a loop, jog a loop, run a loop, jog a loop. Once it starts feeling easy, increase your intensity (run faster), or increase how many times you repeat the sequence.

Limit your speed work to once a week. It builds anaerobic capacity, so as a distance runner, you don't need too much of it. You mostly need aerobic work. 

TEMPO: A tempo run is the absolute best for building your aerobic capacity. Run a mile at your normal pace, run one to two miles at tempo pace, and wrap it up with a mile at your regular pace.

What's tempo pace? You can measure it two ways. If you train with a Garmin, aim to run 30-45 seconds slower than your 5k pace. Otherwise, run somewhere between a conversational and non-conversational pace. Tempo pace is too intense to chat about your favorite daytime Soaps, but not so intense that you can't turn to your friend and squeek out the words, "Holy crap (huff, huff, puff) did you see (gasp, gasp) what that lady was wearing?!"

EASY: An easy run is exactly what it sounds like, a sweet little jaunt through the park where you sniff the roses and listen to the robins. If you want to up your mileage, do it by adding in a few extra easy days. As you increase your fitness, your easy run pace will get faster.

LONG: In order to increase your aerobic endurance, it's important to run beyond 3.1 miles.Try adding .25-.5 miles onto your long run every week. Every fourth week, give yourself a break and cut your long run back by a mile. 

If your plan is to keep running 5ks, work your way up to 5 or 6 miles. You can vary the distance every week, but try to keep it over 4. Once 5 or 6 starts to feel easy, increase your intensity, or consider training for a longer event like a 10k of a Half Marathon.

3) After your easier workouts, toss in some strides. That means you'll run 50-100 meters up and down your street at your 5k race pace. Do it 3 or 4 times to help your body and brain learn what it feels like to run fast.

4) Work in some basic body weight resistance exercises and drills. Squats, walking lunges, crunches, push-ups, skips, planks, and toe raises are all good, basic movements for a runner. If you have questions about proper form, check out the Livestrong Channel on YouTube.

Does this sound complicated? Don't worry, it's not. Here's an example of a 2-week training plan:

Monday: 2 minutes fast and 2 minutes slow, 6 times
Tuesday: Easy 2 miles
Wednesday: 3 mile run with 1 mile at tempo pace
Thursday: Off
Friday: 4 miles
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Easy 2 miles
Total: 14ish miles

Monday: .25 miles fast, .25 miles slow, repeat 4 times
Tuesday: Off
Wednesday: 3.5 miles with 1.5 at tempo pace
Thursday: Off
Friday: Easy 4.25 miles
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Easy 3 miles
Total: 13.75 miles

And here's your basic math equation:

   Increased mileage
+ Runs with a purpose
+ Strides
+ Basic Strength Training
       A Faster 5k!!!!

Questions? Hit me.


  1. ooh, thanks Amy, I love when you spell it all out!(yes, I am your mom and a big fan,too) but seriously,thank you...maybe, just maybe I can get to my mileage goal....29 more miles to go by 12/31.

  2. Thanks for the easy to follow breakdown.

  3. I'm on Week 6 & already wondering what to do next - great series of posts, thanks!

  4. Amy this is super-helpful! I finished my C25k about four weeks ago and am wobbling all over the place whether to work on speed or distance, you've helped me refine my training plan. Keep posting!

  5. I like to run on my lunch break at work - it really helps keep me focused for the rest of the day. I'm 5 weeks into the C to 5K program and would love to work on speed after I finish it. (I'm hooked on running now - who knew?)

    Would it be okay to repeat the C to 5k but instead of walk/run (well jog) do jog/go faster or is that a bad idea?