Preparing for the First Race of Spring

Preparing for the First Race of Spring

In Like a Lion

by Fatima Ahmad

Preparing for the First Race of Spring

Winter will soon be over and the spring racing season is only a few weeks away. If you have taken time off from running or have backed off from higher intensity workouts, it is time to start cranking up your training. There is a risk, though, of increasing your training more quickly than your body can handle.

Below is an eight-week training program to prepare you for the first 5K or 10K of spring. The program assumes that you have been running three to five times per week, with a longest run of six to eight miles. How much training your body can positively adapt to depends on a variety of factors, so it is unlikely that this program will be perfect for you. The principles used in increasing the various components of training, however, apply to everyone.

Mileage and long runs: If you cut your running back substantially over the winter, one of your first priorities is to re-establish your endurance by increasing your mileage and long runs. This program provides upper limits so you do not increase your mileage too quickly. The recommended increments in mileage are relatively ambitious, however, and are based on the assumption that you are increasing to a level that you have previously been able to manage without injury. During week 8, you should reduce your mileage by about 30 to 40 percent to recover for your race.

The longest run of the week increases from eight miles to 12 miles, which is excellent preparation for races up to 10K (for the 5K it is reasonable to hold your long runs to 10 miles).

Tempo runs: A tempo run is a sustained effort at approximately your 15K race pace, which is usually three to five percent slower than 10K race pace or about 80 to 92 percent of maximal heart rate. Warm up for at least 15 minutes before your tempo runs, so you are ready to run at the correct intensity. Tempo runs are very effective at improving your lactate threshold pace, which is an important determinant of the pace you can maintain in races of 5K or longer. The concentration required also develops mental toughness.

During week 7, there is a 3K time trial for those racing 5K the following week, and a 5K time trial for those racing 10K. The time trial should be done all-out to help prepare you for the effort and concentration needed in your first race.

VO2 max intervals: Improving VO2 max (i.e., maximal aerobic capacity) leads to improvements in race performances over 5K and 10K. The most effective running intensity to improve your VO2 max is approximately 95 to 100 percent of your current VO2 max, which is about 3K to 5K race pace or 93 to 98 percent of maximal heart rate. Warm up for at least 15 minutes before your interval sessions. The intervals vary in length from 600 to 1200m, with a recovery jog between hard efforts.

Striders: Striders (accelerations of about 100 meters) improve running technique, increase stride rate and stride length, and, therefore, improve speed. Before starting your striders, warm up thoroughly: at least 15 minutes of easy running and 10 minutes of flexibility exercises. The key to striders is to accelerate smoothly up to full speed, then hold your maximal speed for about 50 meters. You can rest as much as you like between striders because the objective is to improve leg turnover and technique rather than to work your cardiovascular system. During your striders, concentrate on maintaining good running form and staying relaxed.

Other runs: The main purpose of your other runs during the week is to improve your general aerobic fitness. Avoid doing these runs too hard, as they may interfere with your recovery for your next hard workout. Aerobic cross-training, such as cycling, swimming, or deep water running, is another excellent way to improve your aerobic fitness and enhance your recovery.

Two-time Olympian Pete Pfitzinger is an exercise physiologist.


WeekLong RunTempo RunsVO2 Max IntervalsStridersMileage Increase
18 milesn/an/a8 x 100mUp to 10 %
29 miles3 milesn/a10 x 100mUp  to 10%
310 miles4 miles4x800m (2 min. recovery jogn/aNo change
410 milesn/a4x1K (2 min. recovery jog2 sets of 8x100mUp to 10%
511 miles4 miles5x1K (2 min. recovery jog12 x 100mUp to 10%
612 miles5 miles7x600m (90 sec. recovery jog)12 x 100mNo change
710 miles3K time trial if racing 5K
5K time trail if racing 10K
5x1K if racing 5K, 5 x 1200 if racing 10K (2 min. recovery jog)12 x 100mNo change
88 milesn/a6x600m (90 sec. recovery jog)8 x 100mTaper 30-40%



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