Now that you've nailed down a training schedule, here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
Stretch, warm up and cool down. Begin and end your sessions with five to 10 minutes of easy running. Be sure to stretch properly, too. Medical science continually adjusts what qualifies as a good stretch and what constitutes a harmful stretch, so find an expert who stays current and can show you the difference.
Don't run the easy runs at too fast a pace. Cyclical training works by alternating hard training (which breaks down muscle) with recovery (which builds it back up stronger than before), building a stronger, faster and better prepared body in phases. It may seem counterintuitive to hold yourself back on the easy runs, but all of those hard training runs, interval workouts, and long runs will be wasted if you don't give your body a chance to recover.
Get a partner or two. Having someone to help motivate and challenge you can lighten your load immeasurably, and can make the crucial difference between rising to meet your goals and letting setbacks get the better of you.
Don't run at all on rest days. Instead, engage in other light exercise. "Rest day" doesn't mean "lazy day." Enjoy a walk, ride a bike or go for a dip in the pool while your body recovers and incorporates hard-won gains from your hard runs.
On race day, kick off your trainers and slip into some racing flats. Yes, they actually do make you faster. Research has shown that dropping as little as 200 grams (about 7 ounces, roughly the weight gap between training shoes and racing flats), equates to shaving 1 to 2 percent off your time over a given distance. In a 24-minute 5K, this equates to taking 12 to 20 seconds off your time [source: Rennie].
Don't begin the race at too fast a rate. Every world record holder, from the 1500 meters to the marathon, has beaten the best by running the first half of the race slower than the second half (known as "running a negative split"). Adrenaline, along with the jitters and heat of competition, might make it a struggle to rein yourself in, but that's what you'll have to do if you want to eke out your fastest possible time.
Listen to your body. Forget one-size-fits-all programs; self-monitoring will tell you what works for you. Bear in mind, too, that you'll have strong days and weak days, so be willing to shuffle your schedule around occasionally to compensate.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How a Marathon Works
- How Intermediate 5K Training Works
- How Intermediate Marathon Training Works
- How Advanced Marathon Training Works
- How to Train for Your First 5K
- How to Train for Your First Marathon
- What's a green marathon?
- Why can a trained athlete run a marathon, but a couch potato cannot run half a mile?
More Great Links
- Bramble, Dennis and Daniel Lieberman. "Endurance Running and the Evolution of Homo." Nature. 432. 345. Nov. 18, 2004.
- Burfoot, Amby. "Improving Your Max VO2." Runner's World. Nov. 14, 2001.
- Gaudette, Jeff. Head Coach, Premier Coaching Online. Personal Interview. June 29, 2010.
- Higdon, Hal. "5-K Training: Advanced." (June 29, 2010)http://www.halhigdon.com/5K%20Training/5-Kadv.htm
- Merriam-Webster. "VO2 max." Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary. (July 2, 2010)http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/vo2%20max
- Merriam-Webster. "Lactic acid." Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary. (July 2, 2010)http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/lactic%20acid
- Palmer, Andy. "Training Program - 5K Advanced." Running Times Magazine. (June 29, 2010)http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=6025
- Rennie, Doug. "The Ultimate 5-K Plan." Runner's World. April 1, 2004.
- Running USA. "Running USA's Annual Marathon Report." March 28, 2010. (July 1, 2010)http://www.runningusa.org/node/57770#57771
- Sears, Edward. "Running Through the Ages." McFarland & Co. 2001.