Getting the Sub-20 with Less than 10 MPW

It’s true: I was running 10 miles or less per week leading up to my 19:56 5k. Evidently, that’s a bit rare. So I figured I’d write a blog post to explain how I pulled it off, despite the fact that some contend I didn’t do much of anything.

1. I’m built right. Really, this was a big help. My current BMI is 20.5-ish, my body fat is currently under 10% and I’ve never really been terrible at long or middle distance running—even on very little training. This fact has me wondering if I really ought to abandon cycling and take up running … the only trouble is I’d have to start racing marathons—yech!

2. I raced uphill cycling races in the summer. I didn’t do a ton of them this year, but I did sorta race Snowbird, the Widow Maker and Teton Pass. Bottom line: I didn’t come into running from sitting on my bum on the couch.

3. I ran hills regularly. For the first week or two, that’s the only running I did. And the hill wasn’t shallow either—there’s a section that’s got to be at least 10%. Even after the first couple of weeks, I inserted a hill run at least every second week. I found that if I didn’t do that (and throw in some split jumps here and there), ITBS would creep up on me. Face the facts: running uphill is the best glute workout, period.

4. I kept cycling, with an emphasis on aerobic development and high cadence. Cycling helps your running turnover, and it’s legitimate aerobic base-building. In fact, I read earlier today that cycling and running enjoy a whole lot of crossover. The week before the daylight savings shift, I did a high-volume week—my last of the season—and most of it was on the bike. I rode almost every day, ran flats twice, ran hills on Friday and then took Saturday off completely (because the next day was what Mormons call “Fast Sunday”).

5. I kept strictly to two aerobic runs per week, meaning that two of my runs every week were done with a heart rate monitor on and below a particular heart rate. These weren’t usually long runs, I should mention. In fact, the longest run I did leading up to the 5k was shorter than 4 miles (about 3.7 if I remember correctly). But between this and the bike time, I accumulated a handful of low-intensity hours each week.

6. I did half-mile intervals almost every week. I missed that week before Daylight Savings, but every other week, I ran 6x half-mile intervals as close as I could to 3:05 per interval. I did the first interval workout on the track (until I remembered that there are few curves on my road 5k courses), and I started out on 90-second rest intervals. On the second workout, I bumped it back to 2-minute rests, but kept to 3:05 pace. The last week before Thanksgiving, I did a half dozen quarter-mile repeats on 90s intervals and 90s rests, and then I promptly picked up a cold virus. The week after Thanksgiving and before the Jingle Bell Run, I did 40s hill repeats (because my IT bands were feeling a smidge tight).

7. I did regular plyometrics, which may have egged on my IT tightness. But really, I think plyos are worth 30 or 60 seconds—which, if you’re racing a 5k, is an eternity. My main plyometric was a squat jump including a long (10-count) eccentric load followed by a short concentric leap into the air and, of course, an eccentric return to the earth. But, as already mentioned, I also included some split jumps this time.

8. I followed Steve Magness’ prescription for muscle tension as outlined in Running Times. While I think I’ve determined that this protocol is completely WORTHLESS for cycling, it’s GOLDEN for running. My wife and I both saw PRs this year just from tossing in a few intervals and squeezing in a little ice bath two sleeps before the race.

9. I chose a POSITIVE split strategy. That’s right: I didn’t even try to negative split it. I’m finding that in 5k races, trying to negative split just leaves me with more runway at the end of the race—when I’m already at the end of my tether. So instead, I started out hard—hard enough that I was hurting by the end of the first mile. Then I pushed my way through mile two, and on mile three, I somehow still mustered something of a pathetic kick, though I didn’t have much left at that point.

So that’s it. Sounds pretty easy, right?

I told my marathon-running coworker about having done it on 10 miles per week, and he said to me, “That would be reasonable for a teenager who was just getting into cross country.” That’s a compliment since I’m a 32-year-old father of three. I’ll take it.

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