Posted by: Dean Hebert | September 30, 2008

Training: Improving 5K times through both quality and quantity

Coach Dean Hebert

Coach Dean Hebert

This inquiry comes from a reader who is a 17 year-old male runner. He writes:

I want to hear some advice on how i should go about achieving an 18 minute (flat) 3 miler. Currently this past week I did 13 miles in total with Tue – Long Run 6 miles @9:22/mile; Thur – Easy Run 2 Miles @ 9:22/mile; Sat – Warm up 5 miles 3 x 800 intervals @ 3:31/mile.

Though this week I’m taking off as my legs feel beat up and would like to listen to my body. I’m guessing at my best i could probably run 3 miles between 22-23 minutes, maybe less. Should I continue just increasing my mileage or should I go for a different approach.

An 18 minute three-mile is a very good time. It is not just jogging around or a time that someone simply trying to “get in shape” would run. Given that, this kind of time requires dedication, consistency and persistence. And this will not be reached overnight.

Given your current condition, this should be a long term goal. Without knowing lots more about you it’s difficult to say how long it might take to reach this goal. I can advise you to be patient with your progress.

Contrary to old fashioned training systems, you should simultaneously continue with your quality runs (intervals) while increasing your mileage. It is not a case of “either/or.” This will enhance your condition and speed up your overall development. This is one of the important parts of what you are asking. Yes, increase mileage. Yes, increase frequency of runs. Yes, increase quality miles (interval totals). And yes, increase the pace on specific workouts.

At this point, you have to gain some general aerobic conditioning; running-specific strength; and speed. I can state this pretty definitively since you are fatigued/sore after modest running; your mileage is low for optimal physiological improvements; and you aren’t running your goal race pace at all. You are on the right track (pun intended) doing those 800s. You are right to get that one longer run in (6 miles).

Gradually build up to running 4-5 times a week and increase your mileage (gradually!) to 25-30 miles per week. I would see this as a minimum to be where you want to be. I have many runners running between 20-30 miles per week who can run sub-18 for three miles. Even so, none of them got there overnight.

You will need to incorporate some “goal” paced workouts. That means, if you want to run 18 for three miles – that is 6:00 mile pace. Introduce in small increments some intervals at that pace. You can start with just a few 400s at 1:30/400 for instance with a 1:00 rest between. Over time, increase these to 12, 16 and even 20×400. You’ll also need to increase the distance of the interval along the line so now you maintain 3:00 pace for some 800s for instance. You’ll want to incorporate some faster than goal paced intervals as well.

Want to know your current potential for 3 miles without racing that full distance?
Run a mile and a half on a track for time… all out. You can then use Horwill’s formula to estimate your current potential. Add four seconds per 400 each time you double the distance. (Example: If you run 9:00 for 1.5 miles which is an average of 1:30/lap; add :04 per lap and that will be your average pace for 3 miles; 1:34/lap X 12 = 18:48. My experience in using this formula is that novice runners will be slightly slower yet than this.).

Short of creating a complete personally designed program, you at least get the idea of how to progress. Now make a few adjustments and keep it going. Log your workouts to keep yourself on track and motivated. You will see the progress.

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News


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