Reflections on my 5k Training Block and Time Trial

Back in November, I was excited to start a new 5k training block. You can read about it here.

This weekend, the time finally came for my 5k time trial. Now that I’m done with the training block, I wanted to take some time to reflect on how things went.

Where I Started in November

First, it would be helpful to think back to where I started.

I had just gotten back into running in April, and I took the summer to build up my mileage. Without having done any real workouts, I did a few time trials in the fall to establish my baseline – 5k in 24:37, 10k in 50:22, and a half marathon in 1:57.

Throughout the fall, I averaged around 30 miles per week with a peak of 35 miles. After I recovered from my half marathon, I did a mile time trial to get a benchmark for my 5k training. I ran that mile in 6:41.

My goals going into the training block were to both to set a new PR and to get used to running hard at this volume (~30-35mpw). I planned on taking it easy for a week or two and then rolling into a half marathon training plan ending in April.

As for a time, my primary target was 22:XX and my stretch goal was 21:XX.

Progress Over Interval Workouts

I already wrote a post about my progress in repetition workouts.

In the middle of the training block, I transitioned into “interval” workouts, in Jack Daniels parlance. I initially envisioned these as 800m repeats, but I decided to progress throughout the training block to 1000m repeats.

The first two weeks, I ran 5x800m intervals with a 3 minute recovery jog. In the third week, I increased this to 6x800m intervals with 3 minutes recovery. Over the next three weeks, I ran 5x1000m – starting with 3 minute recovery, then 2:30 recovery, and finally 2:00 recovery.

In the first workout, I averaged 7:05/mi pace. That felt pretty easy, and increased the pace the next workout to an average of 6:54/mi. That was harder, but it still felt do-able. In the third workout, I started out around 6:55/mi and then slowed down some. My overall average pace for the workout was 7:00/mi. I was beginning to think that 7:00/mi might be an achievable pace for the time trial.

When I transitioned to the longer intervals, I was able to maintain the pace. The fourth workout, I averaged 7:02/mi pace. The next week, I kicked it up a notch, thinking I might be able to do better. Despite the shorter recovery intervals, I managed to average a 6:48/mi pace. I was pleased with the outcome, but looking back I probably pushed myself too hard.

In the final workout, with the 2 minute recovery jogs, I felt a bit slow. But I still managed a 7:01/mi average pace.

Over the course of the six workouts, my pace varied a bit, but it was in the range of 6:50 to 7:05. The increase in total volume (from 4000m to 5000m) and interval length (from 800m to 1000m), combined with the shortening of the recovery jog (from 3 minutes to 2 minutes), progressed the intensity of the workouts. Maintaining the pace in these conditions suggests that my fitness was improving, and a 7:00/mi pace was possible in the time trial.

Incidentally, I set a new personal best in the 5k during these workouts. Even with the recovery periods, I managed to run a 5k in about 23:45 during the later workouts.

Progress over Threshold Workouts

Over the course of the training block, I was happy with my progress in the repetition and interval workouts. My repetition pace improved significantly and I seemed to find a groove with my interval pace. I was on course to meet my goal.

In order to finish in time to start training for my half, I had to abbreviate the training block a bit. Ideally, I would have had twelve weeks. Instead, I had only nine. In the end, this meant I didn’t have as many threshold workouts to develop my endurance. I only ran three threshold workouts before it was time for my time trial.

Threshold pace is also a much trickier pace to find. It’s moderately hard, but if you’re doing it right you won’t notice that it’s too hard until 10 or 15 minutes into the run. And at that point, it’s possible you’ve gone out too fast.

In the first workout, I averaged a 7:46 pace. A few splits were quicker and slower, but I was in the range of 7:30 to 8:00/mi the entire time. The full run was 30 minutes.

For some reason, I got it in my head that I could handle a faster pace. In retrospect, I should have stuck with 7:40-7:45. But in the next workout, I pushed the pace to around 7:35. I managed to average 7:35/mi over the course of the 30 minute run, and my first 3.5 miles were pretty consistent. But the final half mile I dropped down to 7:55/mi.

In the final workout, I thought I could hit 7:30/mi. Considering the fact that I started to flag at 7:35, this wasn’t a good idea. The first two miles were good – 7:30-7:35 – but then I noticed I was starting to feel very tired. My pace slackened over the next two miles. I also had a problem with my watch, and I accidentally programmed the workout for 35 minutes instead of 30. My final mile was at about 8:05/mi pace, and my overall pace for the workout was 7:48/mi.

I wasn’t pleased with that final workout. I knew I could have done better. I was feeling fatigued that week, and that may have contributed to the problem. But it was likely also an issue of targeting an overly optimistic pace. I should have stuck with 7:40-7:45 and ran even splits throughout the workout.

Results of the Time Trial

Two weeks prior to the time trial, I was beginning to feel fatigued. I’m not sure if it was the effects of a hangover from New Years Eve or the combined impact of eight weeks of training. I lightened things up in the final week going into the time trial.

My last interval workout (5x1000m) was ten days out and my last tempo run (35 minutes) was a week out. I ran a shorter long run that week (8 miles, down from a peak of twelve) and I took it extra easy on my recovery runs throughout the week. My final workout, the Wednesday before the time trial, was a set of short intervals – 5×90 seconds at 5k pace. My thinking here was that this would help me key in the pace without adding on too much fatigue.

Thursday, I went for an easy 3 mile recovery jog and I felt great. I added in a short three mile jog on Friday, which had usually been an off day, and I ended that with a few sets of strides around my 5k pace. Again, this felt good and I felt well rested going into Saturday.

I woke up and the weather was great. It had rained over night, but the rain had stopped by the time I went out. It was in the low 40’s – cool, but not as cold as it had been on a few of my workouts.

I jogged over to the reservoir and went through my warm-up routine – a mile jog, leg swings, a lunge matrix, some drills, and 3 sets of strides. I took a short walk after the strides to let me heart rate come back down and I went for a quick 2 minute run at about 5k pace. I ran this around 7:00 to 7:10/mi pace, and it felt relaxed. I figured I was ready as I would ever be, and I walked the last few hundred meters to the starting point of my loop.

I got ready, pressed the button on my watch, and took off. I sprinted the first few steps to accelerate, and after 5 or 10 paces eased into my race pace. I had gone back and forth over what time to target, but I decided to try to beat 22:00 – a 7:05/mi pace.

It became clear pretty quickly that I wasn’t quite there. I came through the first half mile at 7:08/mi and the next split at 7:12/mi. At that point, I did some quick mental math and figured I was better off trying to just stay under 23 minutes and not to crash and burn. I figured as long as I didn’t drift too far above 7:20/mi, I’d be happy with the results.

I had felt good when I started, but after the first mile I was definitely tiring. My third split was 7:20/mi and my fourth split was 7:30/mi. At that point, I knew I had a mile to go and I knew I didn’t want to get any slower so I kicked it up a notch. I managed to pick up the pace to 7:18/mi in the fifth split, but that slowed slightly to 7:25/mi in the sixth split.

With about 200 meters to go, I kicked as hard as I could. That wasn’t very hard. But that last bit I ran at a 6:37/mi pace.

I wanted to make sure I completed a full 5k, so I kept running until my watch said 3.15 miles. My clock time for the run was 22:58, but Strava and SmashPro calculated the 5k effort as 22:37. I’ll stick with the 22:37 as my PR for now.

Reflections on the Outcome and Where To Next

If you had asked me in November how I would feel about running 22:37, I would have been thrilled. I dropped two full minutes off my time in about four months. Throughout the training block, though, I think I got my hopes up a little too high. I had started to believe I could break 22 minutes in this attempt.

So while I am a little disappointed, I’m still quite happy. I know I could have done better on this effort, but I couldn’t have broken 22 minutes. I think in a real race, with some encouragement, I wouldn’t have slowed quite as much in the middle. I probably could have run 22:20 or 22:30. But at the end of the day, that’s not a huge difference.

Thinking back over my training block, I think the problem was definitely my paucity of tempo runs. If I had a few more weeks to train before the time trial, and I had done a couple more tempo runs, I would have done much better. I had the speed, and I even had a little kick left in the end. But I’m just not ready yet to hold that speed over a few miles. The first half of the race was great, but I definitely slowed down over the course of the race.

On the bright side, I’m about to spend the next few months training for a half marathon. I’ll include a few weeks of intervals at 5k and 10k pace, but a large portion of this training block will be longer intervals and lactate threshold and tempo runs at my goal half marathon pace.

I’m sure that as a result of this, I’ll be much better conditioned for a 5k effort in a few months. My goal is to run the half marathon in late April, and I’ll probably include a 10k race or time trial as a tune up a few weeks before that. If I can’t fit in a 5k before that, I’ll probably do another one in the summer or early fall. But the next time I run a 5k, I’ll definitely break 22 minutes.

The next big question is – what time should I target for my half marathon?

But for now, I’m going to focus on recovering with a week of easy running and preparing for the next training block. I’ve got it sketched out, and I’ll write a post about it in the next few days.

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