One of my ‘stretch’ goals this year was to try and improve my 5K PB (personal best) time. The problem with this goal and where I live, is that it’s actually really hilly and difficult to find a flat stretch of road. (I actually love getting elevation work in usually!)
A few weeks ago I ran a 6x800m interval session, and realised I had run a 20 minute 5K even with 200m recovery jogs. It got me thinking – I hadn’t tried to improve my 5K PB I had achieved two years back which was just under 20 minutes at around roughly 19:45.
The interval session was up and down the flattest stretch of road we have nearby us. It only provides a flat-ish section of about 1km which means you need to keep doubling back on yourself which loses precious time if you were to try for a PB goal.
A quick search online revealed that the nearest town to us (10 minutes away) had an athletics track. The athletics track I found is exactly 400m around, well surfaced, and has floodlights for the night. Even better, it’s pan flat. Perfect for an attempt on my 5K PB.
After some scrambling around local club websites I found that I could book a session at the track via an App. It didn’t take long to book in an hour for the early evening and head down for a ‘track session’.
The last time I was on any sort of athletics track (guessing here) was about 25-30 years ago at school. The grassy track of my early years being a stark contrast to this fancy track I found myself on now.
At the track
Starting off, I ran 5 laps at a nice easy pace to warm-up. As I circled around to finish the 5th lap, I started a new activity on my watch, and put some speed down.
The night was a little bit windy, in one direction (parallel with one long edge of the track). The first 200m felt fine, but as soon as I hit the wind on the return leg I could tell my pace was too quick. Backing off slightly, I realised I would need manage a slightly quicker pace on the track’s first 200m, and a slightly slower pace on the return 200m as I faced into the wind.
My Garmin pace heatmap illustrates this quite nicely!
Aside from the wind difference, I also shot off a little too quick for the first lap. I settled into a good average for the remaining laps. With 400-600m left to go, I realised I was going to be close to 19 minutes total. A nice improvement to my previous 19:45 best, but it would be even better to go sub-19 minute.
I put in what extra effort I could muster and managed to finish the 5km in 18:53. Almost a minute off my previous 5K PB! Immediately following the effort, I got a feeling of elation. Of course one aspect was that I managed to do it in just under 19 minutes, but most of the elation was probably that I no longer had to push at that pace! I was done for.
Happy with the effort, I forced myself to run some cool down laps. I still had some time remaining in my track session.
Interval sessions definitely help with this kind of distance. They can improve your threshold and VO2 max capacity, training you to run faster for longer. If you’re personally looking to improve your 5K running, these sessions should do wonders. Just be sure to warm up and cool down before and after, and don’t overdo them. Once, maybe twice a week is plenty, and allows the body to rest and recover between efforts.
Now that it’s done, I’ll probably let that sit for another year or two before I try and improve again. But then again, perhaps having company at the track would be a good impetus to train intervals more regularly. I should look into the local club membership some time. It would certainly add some structure and discipline to my training when it comes to speed or interval sessions!
Have you recently gone for a PB, or inadvertently beaten one? And please do share any personal tips or advice when training for speed over this distance or running on the track.