Couch to 5K classes are common place in practically every town and city in Ireland. A similar Fit 4 Life programme runs in the Republic. Some of the Couch programmes may last as little as six weeks but better ones go on for maybe ten to twelve.
Many people have been introduced to running in this manner in recent years and have benefited from the improvement in health and sometimes mental wellbeing that come with exercise.
But what do you do when you have conquered the 3.1 miles distance and put your photo on Facebook wearing that treasured tee-shirt? A lot of people move immediately on to 10K, half-marathon or even the full 26.2 mile distance. But is that a wise decision given the lack of background work done by many? Why not improve at 5K before moving up?
Races over this distance are short but intense. They are perfect for anyone who wants to take part in local races or a parkrun near their home. One of the benefits of racing 5K is that you recover quickly. You can get up and go to your work the following morning without have to go down the stairs backwards as is the case after a half or full marathon.
If you want success that you have a plan. The internet is full of 5K training plans or you can draw up your own with the assistance of a qualified coach. Any plan will have to take into account your own running background, your circumstances and what you hope to achieve. Without a plan you will not achieve your máximum.
In a race of 5000 metres, the energy requirement is met largely by the aerobic system (90-95%). For that reason, it would be unwise to fill your training programme with intense training and speedwork. Slow, easy running has a part to play in all training programmes and 5K is no different.
The combination of easy running combined with a measure of intense training and adequate rest will help you achieve that desired personal best.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU TRAIN
Like all distances, this is the 64 million dollar question and always difficult to answer. For a start, a runner of 20 and one of 50 are very different creatures. Similarly, there is a gulf in training capacity between someone who has run all their life and a person who has just got into running through a couch to 5K programme.
A distinction has to be drawn between a runner who wishes to be competitive and one who simply wants to improve their time. There is no stock answer. However with training on 4-5 times per week, it is possible to achieve your goal without affecting your work or family life. On the other hand some people run well on just two sessions per week.
WHEN TO MOVE UP TO 10K
The natural progression is to move up to 10K – unfortunately five-milers (8K) races are not as common as once they were in the past. Again, the time for this move varies from runner to runner depending on individual circumstances such as background, experience and objectives. Probably the best time is when you feel you can run a 5K without it being a huge effort for your body.
If you are still finishing 5Ks in a physically distressed state and you cannot train the next day, perhaps you should not contemplate a race of a longer distance for the present. You could also think about your 5K time and if you are not breaking 35 minutes, it might be an indicator to stick to the shorter efforts until you do