The Unofficial ‘Running Science’ 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks

Here it is. At last:

My own 5k plan, designed from the workouts and ideas in Dr. Owen Anderson’s excellent book, Running Science.

Before the unveiling, let me explain the key design principles of the plan.

  • Five runs per week. I know many people have 6 day/week plans, but I need to get some writing done (and still do my job, be a father, be a husband, etc), so five days is the most I can handle (and I’m not even sure how that’ll go–I started with 3x/week). I haven’t put much effort into putting these runs in order, but obviously you don’t want to do hard runs back to back.
  • Strength training/plyometrics. The plan leads with strength training, and then reduces this to a maintenance level. This is the “Old(ish) Folks” part of the plan, as this should help prevent injuries and address some of the muscles loss associated with aging.
  • Volume. Anderson says runners get rapidly diminishing returns after 40 miles/week, so this plan builds from about 20 miles/week up to nearly 40. The elites may need to get the small benefit of additional miles, but if you’re an elite you’re likely not going to read this anyway.
  • Intensity. It aims for 25% of total miles being high intensity (close to or faster than 5k pace). To this end, after each day’s workout I list the hard miles and the total miles in parentheses. Anderson does say one can increase the percentage, but I opted against this.
  • Incrementalism. I tried to increase either volume or intensity, but not both in any one week. I do break the old 10% rule (week 5), though I tried to cut intensity as I did the big volume jump.
  • Periodization. Every 4th week is about a 25% reduction in effort. Time to heal and let your body gain strength and power.
  • Racing. It’s easy to add 5k races (or even 10ks, I suppose) into the plan. Just substitute for a run of comparable volume/intensity (a 5k would be about 3 hard miles, and 5 miles total, counting warmup). I don’t think a half marathon would be a good idea (unless you do it really easy).
  • For more info on each of the workouts, see this post. You’ll notice I opted to do the 30/20/10 instead of the 30/30. Just my preference.

And a final caveat: Even though I created it, this thing freaks me out! It looks hard, and I’m not sure if I can do it. But, as with all plans, the trick is not to look at the worst workout–look at the first workout.

And now, the plan…

 

Unofficial Running Science 5k plan for Old(ish) Folks

  • Week 1
    1. Circuit run (2 laps) +jump rope + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (1.5 hard miles, 5.5 total miles)
    2. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)
    3. Circuit run +jump rope + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (1.5, 5.5)
    4. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)
    5. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)

TOTALS: 3 hard, 25 total

  • Week 2
    1. Circuit run +jump rope + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (1.5, 5.5)
    2. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)
    3. Circuit run +jump rope + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (1.5, 5.5)
    4. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)
    5. 30/20/10 + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2, 6)

TOTALS:  5 hard, 25 total

  • Week 3
    1. Circuit run (+jump rope) + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (1.5, 5.5)
    2. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)
    3. Circuit run (+jump rope) + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (1.5, 5.5)
    4. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)
    5. 5k Race +2 miles warm up. (3, 5)
      1. (NOTE: I just put this here because I already have a race scheduled. You might substitute a 30/20/10 or some 400s)

TOTALS: 6 hard, 24 total

  • Week 4 (light week)
    1. Circuit run + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (1.5, 5.5)
    2. Easy run – 3 miles. (0, 3)
    3. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    4. Easy run – 3 miles. (0, 3)
    5. Easy run – 3 miles. (0, 3)

TOTALS:  4.25 hard, 21.25 total

  • Week 5 (increase volume)
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)
    3. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    4. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    5. Easy run – 8 miles. (0, 8)

TOTALS: 5.5 hard, 31.5 total

  • Week 6 (increase intensity)
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    3. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    4. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    5. Superset [(600m@max, 1000 @6:30 pace, 4 min jog) x3] +1.5 warm up, 1.5 warm down. (3; 7)

TOTALS: 8.5 hard, 32.5 total

  • Week 7
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    3. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    4. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    5. Superset x 3 + 1.5 warm up, 1.5 warm down. (3; 7)

TOTALS: 8.5 hard, 32.5 total

  • Week 8 (light week)
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 3 miles. (0, 3)
    3. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    4. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)
    5. Easy run – 4 miles. (0, 4)

TOTALS: 5.5 hard, 24.5 total

  • Week 9
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    3. 12x400m, 60 sec rest + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (3, 7)
    4. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    5. Superset x 3 + 1.5 warm up, 1.5 warm down. (3; 7)

TOTALS: 8.75 hard, 32.75 total

  • Week 10
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    3. 12x400m, 60 sec rest + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (3, 7)
    4. Easy run – 8 miles. (0, 8)
    5. Superset x 3 + 1.5 warm up, 1.5 warm down. (3; 7)

TOTALS: 8.75 hard, 34.75 total

  • Week 11
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    3. 12x400m, 60 sec rest + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (3, 7)
    4. Easy run – 10 miles. (0, 10)
    5. Superset x 3 + 1.5 warm up, 1.5 warm down. (3; 7)

TOTALS: 8.75 hard, 36.75 total

  • Week 12 (light week)
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 3miles. (0, 3)
    3. 8x400m, 60 sec rest + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2, 6)
    4. Easy run – 5 miles. (0, 5)
    5. Easy run – 7 miles. (0, 7)

TOTALS: 4.75 hard, 27.75 total

  • Week 13
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    3. 12x400m, 60 sec rest + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (3, 7)
    4. Easy run – 12 miles. (0, 12)
    5. Superset x 3 + 1.5 warm up, 1.5 warm down. (3; 7)

TOTALS: 8.75 hard, 38.75 total

  • Week 14
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 7 miles. (0, 7)
    3. 12x400m, 60 sec rest + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (3, 7)
    4. Easy run – 12 miles. (0, 12)
    5. Superset x 3 + 1.5 warm up, 1.5 warm down. (3; 7)

TOTALS: 8.75 hard, 39.75 total

  • Week 15 (Begin Taper)
    1. 30/20/10 + one circuit + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (2.75, 6.75)
    2. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)
    3. 12x400m, 60 sec rest + 2.5 miles warm up/ 1.5 miles warm down. (3, 7)
    4. Easy run – 10 miles. (0, 10)
    5. Easy run – 6 miles. (0, 6)

TOTALS: 5.75 hard, 35.75 total

  • Week 16 (Race Week – Taper)
    1. Superset x 3 + 1.5 warm up, 1.5 warm down. (3; 7)
    2. Easy run – 7 miles. (0, 7)
    3. Easy run – 5 miles. (0, 5)
    4. Easy run – 3 miles. (0, 3)
    5. 5k Race (3, 5)

TOTALS: 6 hard, 27 total (counting race)

Unofficial 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks: The Key Workouts

This post is going to outline the key workouts of my Unofficial Running Science 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks. It’s not a plan yet, though, just a bunch of workouts and some explanation about the reasons behind each. I’ll try to stick it into a weekly schedule later

And I should add that this is a 5k plan, not a “couch to 5k,” so it’s mostly about speed—learning to run at the 6:15/mile pace I’m after, and to sustain that for a bit under 20 minutes.

And again, almost all of this is built on the ideas presented in Dr. Owen Anderson’s excellent book, Running Science.

The basic goals of the various workouts are:

  • Running economy
    • Efficient runners use less energy to run at the same speed as inefficient runners. Increasing efficiency is therefore basically free speed; you can run faster or longer with the same effort. Importantly, Anderson is clear (as are recent studies) that this is NOT about form fixes. As has been amply demonstrated, people tend to naturally adopt their most efficient stride, so trying to “fix” someone’s stride almost always ends up reducing efficiency. So how to improve economy? Mostly, it seems to be strength and speed work.
  • vVO2 max
    • Anderson is clear that the VO2 max measurement is nice, but not very predictive of one’s times on its own. Change in VO2 max is better. But the best, he says, is vVO2—the minimum velocity at which we hit our VO2 max. In other words, the slowest speed we’re running when our oxygen processing capacity maxes out. What’s particularly handy is that this is a measurement that combines VO2 max and efficiency.
  • Velocity at Lactate Threshold
    • Anderson is also clear that the old view of lactate as the enemy is wrong. In fact, our muscles use lactate as energy when we run! This doesn’t mean the old view is totally useless though. We used to think high lactate levels indicated our muscles were getting overwhelmed by lactate. We now know that these levels actually indicate we’ve passed the speed at which we’re able to use the lactate efficiently—there’s fuel just sitting there and our muscles can’t use it! So what we need to improve is our ability to “take up” lactate from the blood, which we can measure by running velocity at lactate threshold (the pace at which lactate levels start to spike quite rapidly). This is, by the way, another one of those indicators that is actually measuring several things at once: lactate uptake, VO2 max, economy, and other stuff. The good news is that this is very responsive to training—and even better, it’s very responsive even in old(ish) runners like myself, and is one of the only ways us old(ish) folks can make up for that annoying youth and vigor of the young(er) crowd.
  • Some other stuff
    • Other elements that matter are maximum running pace (your top speed when sprinting), nervous system efficiency, the quantity of small veins/arteries in the muscles, mitochondrial quantity and efficiency, connective tissue toughness, and finally, mental toughness—getting used to the discomfort of running and learning that the “I’m going to die if I run this fast” feeling isn’t actually (quite) the truth.

So, with that long lead in, here are the key workouts for a 5k plan, as per Anderson:

  • Circuit training
    • What to do: A mix of lower, middle, and upper body exercises, with running in between. I use the fitness trail at my local park, but add in extra running-specific activities like squats and lunges.
    • What’s the point? This workout is designed to improve running economy by building overall strength and explosiveness, but I can tell you from experience it is a lung buster also. You will be spending a lot of time at VO2 max.
    • How often?: It looks the early parts of Anderson’s plan have a couple such workouts per week, but they reduce to 1/week in later parts of the plan.
  • 30-30s (VVO2 workout 1)
    • What to do: After warming up (you should always warm up–so I’ll not mention this again), run 30 sec at vVO2 max, then 30 sec at ½ of VVO2 max. Keep on doing this until you can’t hit your pace.
      • A rough calculation of your vVO2 max can be found by measuring distance run in 6 min. With my 6 min mile recent PR, this makes my vVO2 pace about 86 sec/400m.
      • The book says the runners they tested could do, on average, about 8-9 minutes of this (with each minute representing a max run and a 50% max run).
    • What’s the point? Running at VO2 max is fantastic for you, but it’s absolutely exhausting and most people can only maintain it for a few minutes. The 30-30 workout is built around the realization that after hitting VO2 max, your heart and breathing stay there for a bit even after you stop exercising. So the trick to this is to go fast enough to get yourself maxed out, and then rest just long enough that you can keep doing the runs, but not so long that your heart rate and breathing drop out of max rates.
    • What’s next? He says one should progress to a 60-60 workout, and finally to a session of 5x3min sessions at vVO2 max, with a 3 minute jog in between.
    • How often? This is clear: no more than two of these workouts per week. After that, you will be doing more harm than good.
  • 30/20/10 (VVO2 workout 2)
    • This workout isn’t from Anderson. I read about it elsewhere (originally in a Runners’ World article, I think) and have covered it earlier. I really like it as it includes sprinting which is not only a quick way to get to VO2 max, but is also great for form and maximum running speed. Plus it’s just a delight–running the way running used to be when we were kids. I think the basic reasons given for the 30-30 workout above apply to this one also, so I’m not sure which I’ll do.
  • 400m intervals
    • What to do: This is the classic speed workout. Run 12x400m at goal 5k pace (so about 93 sec. for me), but with a measly 15 seconds of rest between. (Yikes!)
    • What’s the point? Velocity at Lactate Threshold. The workouts listed earlier will help with the economy and VO2 max part of this indicator. The rest of the benefit—the physiological development of lactate processing ability—is best developed just by picking activities that flood you with lactate. And after 12 of these babies, you will be flooded. Frankly, I seriously doubt I can even get to 12.
    • How often? Once per week.
  • Superset Training
    • What to do: This was a new one to me, and I haven’t tried it. As the book explains, you run 600m at maximum pace, and then 1000m at current 5k pace with no rest in between. This makes up one “superset.” Repeat three times (three supersets), with a 4 minute easy jog between each. So this is a total of 3 miles (4800m), with 1800m at max speed and 3000 at 5k pace.
    • What’s the point? These do everything, apparently. Anderson says they’re great for vVO2 max, lactate threshold (you’ll build lactate during the 600m portion and then teach your body to clear it while running the 1000m), maximum running speed, and mental toughness (learning to stick to 5k pace after that initial 600m burst).
    • How often? It doesn’t really say, so I’ll try to stick to once per week or so.

And there they are. Four key workouts, none of which are long slow runs. The problem I’ll have to deal with in developing the actual plan is that I have 4 hard workouts listed, and I can (should) likely do no more than three hard runs in a given week, and probably only 2 in many weeks, especially the early ones.

And the results are…

Pretty much what I expected. 22 minutes flat, which was 7:06/mile, or almost 40 sec/mile slower than my recent best.

The good news:

  • I didn’t collapse. The temperature was in the mid 80s with humidity to match, and I had at least ten coughing fits as I was warming up, but I made it through the race vertical.
  • The leg injury didn’t bother me at all (yay! – This is a big one)
  • The guy who barely beats me in most races had a terrible race, and so he… barely beat me.
  • I actually feel decent now. Still have the sickness fatigue, but I think I’m actually coughing less. Maybe the running helped that final clear-the-lungs stage of the illness.

 

The bad, or at least kind of annoying news:

  • Bad splits. I faded pretty badly at the end, which has been unusual for me. I blame the illness. Or the heat. Or something.
  • It was a small crowd, and had I run my best I might possibly have been the overall winner (except for the 18 year old bandits and their 17-something times).
  • I could certainly have beat my nemesis had I felt decent.
  • And most of all… The course was EXACTLY 3.1 miles according to my Garmin, so had I felt okay I might have actually been able to get that coveted, official (by my own standards), sub-20 5k I’ve been aiming for.

So the quest continues. Hopefully by Monday I’ll be back into training, and on to the next part of the Unofficial Running Science 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks.

Unauthorized 5k Plan for Old(ish) folks, Key Workout 1: Circuit Intervals

Running Science is big on strength training: whole body to start, then moving to more running specific and explosive drills. Strength is always a good thing, but drills like this are great for an old(ish) runner like myself because they combat the tendency to lose muscle with age and also help prevent injuries (like the one I’m recovering from now, hopefully).

The book has two straight strength sessions (and really, let me here again suggest you go get the book yourself!), but in the 5k section there’s a circuit session that is combined with intervals. Unfortunately, that plan is built around a track (i.e., do a 400, do three exercises, do another 400, etc), and I just don’t want to go to a track; I want to run in the park near my house. Plus, the park has those little fitness stations.

So this post is going to be about turning a highly organized and scientifically proven circuit training plan into something I can do at the fitness stations in my park, situated on a .7 mile trail, and likely designed by a city worker during the lunch hour.

And before I start, let me say the book’s plan would be a bruising workout. For instance, there is no recovery time at all—or rather, the recovery time from running is spent doing the strength circuit, and the recovery from the circuit exercises is spent running. So I’m going to have to tone it down, I can tell already.

As I see it, the big issue is how to fit in the 400s. If I run a 400, I’ll miss half the stations. If I hit each of the stations in turn, I’ll never run much more than about 100-200 meters at a time. And there’s no way I’m running a full lap, almost 1200m, between each station. For the moment, I’ll just have to settle for running from station to station.

So my first try—a “still-recovering-from-injury-and-also-still-not-in-shape-for-this-circuit-thing” try— should go something like this.

  1. 2.5 mile warmup
  2. 400m at current 5k race pace (about 98 seconds, or 6:30/mile right now)
    • Then do each station below, running at 5k pace between them (a total of .7 miles)
  3. Push ups (15)
  4. Chin ups (5ish) (man I hate chin ups)
  5. Monkey bars (I’m going to skip this one for another few weeks while my shoulder heals)
  6. Pogo hop (short quick straight-leg hop, driven by ankles)
    • This isn’t a station, but I’ll do it instead of the silly ladder-climb thing they have
  7. Sit ups (with Russian Twist) (20?)
  8. Leg lifts (laying on back – ab exercise) (15 each leg)
  9. Leg lifts (standing – quad/hip exercise) (15 each leg)
  10. Step ups (15 each leg)
  11. High Lunge (10 each leg)
  12. Hop over low bar (12)
  13. Jump up to high bar (15)
  14. Run one lap (.7 miles)
  15. And then… another???
  16. Cool down run – 1.5 miles

I’m missing one-legged squats and bench dips from the book plan, so I’ll have to work those in later

 

And a day later, the results:

I made it around. Once. Or, phrased more positively, I made it through steps 1-13, plus step 15. Also, I’m still slow from the injury so I didn’t hit 5k race pace.

All in all, it is absolutely astounding how tiring these exercises are!  I always thought runners were the only ones panting with exhaustion after a workout, but how wrong I was! Going straight from one station into a fast run… Wow. This is an oxygen intensive session! I was probably breathing a bit harder after my 30/20/10 sprint session, but then again I had to cut this circuit round short with the injury.

On the bright side, I’ve got plenty of room for improvement.

The Unauthorized Running Science 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks

I’ve been reading Running Science, by Owen Anderson, and am freshly inspired. The book is pretty technical at points, digging into the biological processes of lactate conversion, for example, but I appreciate that. It’s a book built on research, not on lore.

Unfortunately, while it does have a nice half marathon training plan (26 weeks!), it doesn’t have a 5k plan. It does have several 5k specific workouts, though, so I’m going to build my own plan. Call it The Unauthorized Running Science 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks.

The next few posts will be devoted to each of the key workouts, and eventually to putting them all together into some sort of sequence. Look for the first one on circuit training soon.