To run your best ever 5K race in record time, you need to be smart about how you train, eat and work out in the weeks before. We grilled the professionals on how it's done.
This week as temperatures hit rock bottom, and the first Christmas party invites start trickling in, chances are a run in the park is not up there on your list of stuff to do. But a new study suggests that a 30 minute run in the cold right now, is likely to be the best work out you’ve had all year.
A recent trial at St Mary’s University, Twickenham found that there are huge benefits to running outdoors when temperatures drop. In trials, subjects were able to work significantly harder for longer at 8C (the average November day) than they were at 22.3C (the average July one). Why? Because they lost almost 40 percent less sweat and put 6% less strain on the heart than they would if running in the heat, making it feel easier.
Regularly running 5K in your local park is a great and totally achievable way to get fit, strong and toned by Christmas. And signing up for a race is the perfect motivator.
But how do you go about running 5K well? And what can you do to boost your time? We asked top trainer Alex Adams, Director of Education at elite gym Performancepro. Here he reveals the insider tips he gives his clients.
The build up
DO: Perfect your technique
Over the course of a distance race, having improved running technique can have a huge benefit on your times and endurance. By developing your form, you’ll waste less energy and better handle the impact forces through your joints. Look to run tall with your torso upright and your head in a neutral position looking straight forwards. Drive your elbows backwards as you run, with your hands finishing by your hips. Keep your cadence (steps per minute) high throughout the run. There is not an ideal cadence for everyone but 180 is a good benchmark to aim for. Your feet should land underneath your centre of mass rather than out in front of your body.
DON’T: Do the same thing every time
Change it up. Varying your running programme using shorter intervals and different rest periods is vital to up your speed and fitness. If you struggle to run the full 5km at first, break it down into ‘run-walk-run’ intervals. Once more accomplished you can improve your speed, using short fast intervals, ensuring adequate rest between each to allow full speed each time. Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, certain people will benefit more from very short sprints (100-400m), and others can make use of longer medium paced intervals (500m-1km). For the shorter sprints keep rest periods longer than work periods. Longer intervals should have equal or less rest than work periods.
DO: Build strength
5km is a fairly short race in the scheme of things and the shorter the race, the more influence strength has on speed. Improving your lower body strength has been shown to effectively increase running speed and reduce the likelihood of injury. You’re your focus squats, lunges, step ups and deadlifts to boost performance. Don’t forget to work your trunk (core) for strength-endurance with moves such as planks side planks and ‘supermans’. Yes you can google most exercises online or on Youtube to get an idea of what they look like. But be sure to get professional advice from a local gym with anything new before you try it to ensure you’re using good technique and don’t risk injury.
Pre-race running tips
DON’T excessively carb load
5k is a relatively short distance in the endurance world. There should be enough energy-fuel stored in your body from eating normally to run that kind of duration. Therefore loading up with lots of carbs in days before and having high glycogen stores in the body will not be of benefit, and could even negatively impact your performance.
DO snack beforehand
To be sure you don’t feel bloated and sluggish during a run, have a light meal 2-3 hours before a race and avoid energy drinks and gels. Brown toast with jam, a bagel with peanut butter or a bowl of porridge with some honey are all good options.
DO: Race regularly
Whilst training alone of course has its benefits, running an organised event presents a great opportunity to improve your 5k time. The element of competition and the rush of adrenaline will motivate you to run at your fastest. Parkrun is an ideal event as they offer a free timed 5k race every Saturday morning at multiple venues throughout the UK. They welcome runners of all abilities and it’s extremely easy to register.