The Daft 5k January Challenge

Surely 2021 will be better than 2020? Let’s check with a daft challenge.

I’ve been talking about improving my 5k time for a while; years even. How long has Parkrun been a thing? God I’m getting old. With all the happenings in 2020, our race-focused training plans (i.e. we just run races!) had been ruled out and left us a bit of a loss. Thankfully we’ve had some virtual races to focus on, but these were all distance-related. With a new and hopefully better year upon us, I feel the need for some speed!    

So here is the challenge: we run a 5km time trial on the 1st January which will give us a target to beat. We then have one month to improve on this time as much as possible, using whatever methods, substances (ahem…legal) or training plans we can get our hands on. The next time trial will be on the 31st January. Alex: en garde!!!   

Opening Gambit

Alex: 

Having spent most of the holiday period sat watching Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman doing ludicrous challenges across the world in various directions it’s only fitting that I perhaps accept this seemingly more sensible challenge put forward by Jamie.  

Aiming to get the first time in the books as early as possible I hit the road straight after getting up on New Year’s Day – a spritely 11:14am.  I believe that pushing my boundaries in this fashion will eventually allow me to take part in some of the events that require participants to start at 3am.  

With temperatures hovering around freezing, and having had a lacklustre workout schedule since clocking a time of 22:51 at the end of June, I took off without much hope of achieving anything near that. A proper warmup would probably have been a good idea, however my primarily aim was just getting back home to the warm by 12:00. 

In the spirit of the challenge, I set out to do my best, running at a fairly chirpy pace for someone who was, moments before, curled up in a more horizontal position. About 600m in I realised that this was a stupid challenge and running is a thoroughly daft past-time, however held my resolve to continue to log an appropriate starting time. 

About halfway I realised my pacing was dropping to above 5min/km and the likelihood of getting below 25mins was slipping out of reach. The uncomfortable sensation of cold air in my lungs and legs that hadn’t been asked to move this quickly for 6 months was starting to grate on my resolve. Looking to still give my best I pushed and managed to make back some time – feeling thoroughly sick at the end of a 100m ‘sprint’ to the finish. My last-ditch attempt to make up some time paid off and I clocked in an opening time of 25:03.  

Jamie: 

After Alex’s sterling performance, the pressure was on. To add to my joy, it started raining sleet just as I popped my head out the door. I employed a different strategy to Alex, adding in a warm-up, but this was with the sneaky intention of starting on top of a hill (sorry Alex!). This paid off initially and I clocked a speedy 4:37 first km, but things went downhill swiftly (or slowly?) from here. Three of the remaining kms were slower than the previous one by 15-20 seconds as I did the dictionary definition of going out too quickly. My last km was 5:32… I eventually managed to gasp to a 25:13 5km time with first honours going to Alex. Curses!! 

That aside, there are definitely things to improve on. I feel like a warm-up is a must: one shouldn’t go at race pace for a 5km from a cold start. However, the first km was obviously too quick and I suffered as a result. Starting at 5-minute pace would have given me a bit more in the tank at the end and would have made for a more pleasant experience.        

The Master Plan

Alex: 

I probably should have looked into this before running the first run, but I guess it doesn’t matter. Anyway, in the spirit of laziness I am simply googling “workouts to improve 5k time” and the suggested link is from Runner’s World – “Run a Faster 5K With These 5 Fun Interval Workouts” posted in September. This seems promising in that (1) Runners World is a pretty decent publication  (2) the word ‘Fun’ is in the title and (3) There are only 5 of them and I have a poor attention span. Seems like a winner on the first search term hit – huzzah! 

I did also have a look at the Garmin Connect ‘Coach’ plans – but these all expected 2-3months of time to work their magic. The one I tried back at the start of lockdown was pretty good – and highlighted some of the great workout features of my Garmin 245, but Jamie’s challenge does not allow for such an extended period of training. 

Right, so the RW article gives us 3 types of workout to work with: intervals, tempo and progressive endurance. 

Intervals 

 The article recommends transitioning through a few interval workouts (1-minute, 2-minute and 1-2-3). As I’m short on time I’ll skip any 1-minute intervals and just dive straight to the 2-minute ones as… well… I have no real basis for this but longer must be better – eh? I’ll also do a 1-2-3 session once a week as well. 

Tempo 

Chuck one of these in a week midweek – boom. I guess I’d aim to hit a red-zone tempo of around 4:45-5:15. 

Progressive Endurance 

Rather than doing any progressive endurance training – I’ll tack on a 5k at the end of each training session at an easy pace. 

Overall 

So, this looks like 3xRuns a week – all of them have been certified as ‘Fun’ by Runners’ World, which is good enough for me! (although, to be fair I have modified them slightly, so any lack of ‘fun-ness’ will be my own doing I suppose).

I’ll aim to supplement this training with some core work and maybe some bike training – for a total of 5-6 workouts a week. This should mean that I have a rest day or two each week– hurray! 

Jamie: 

My top end 5k PB is 22:15, but this was technically my 5km split during a 10km race. My quickest official 5km time is around 24 minutes at our local Parkrun, so these two figures will be my base and outperforming targets. Easy right? So we have one month to work some magic. I feel relatively confident that I can take a minute off my benchmark time with some focused training, with two potential risks: I overtrain and don’t rest enough; and that I don’t apply the right intensity during my speed work. A fine line to balance and I’ll likely have to rejig my strategy as we progress (or perhaps when I get broken!). 

The principles will be similar to Alex’s plan, but most of my running will be easy. The core of each week will be: 

  • 4 easy runs c6:30km pace of varying distance 
  • 1 tempo run at around 5:20 to 5:30 
  • 1 speed specific workout (swapped out for a hill run session on one week) 
  • 1 longish bike ride 
  • 1 recovery bike session  
  • 1 HIIT bike ride at varying intensity 
  • 1 core strength workout 
  • 1 session focused on stretching     

It’s important to note that I gradually built up to 5-6 runs a week over a few months, so I’m not doing this from a standing start. The last week will be tapered with a couple of easy runs and a final tempo run. 

This seems a lot to pack in, but the only really intense workouts will be the speed/ hill run and the bike HIIT. For the rest I’ll be aiming for a low heart rate. It will be interesting to see if this works at all. Perhaps I’ll get to the end of this training having missed out on more speed work? 

We shall see…

Author: Jamie Jones

I kind of like running. Sometimes. I definitely like gaming!

5 thoughts on “The Daft 5k January Challenge”

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