5K Training Stagnation (Read 135 times)


Chief Unicorn Officer

    Hello y'all:  I need a little advice on what I can do with myself and how I can improve.  I feel like I've plateaued (again, after some minor gains earlier this spring).


    Last year my fastest 5K was 20:21 (I am female, by the way).  Most of my 5K's were between 20:30 and 21:00 with a few outside of those parameters (20:23, 21:18, 21:44 (trail)).  My fastest 10K last year was 45:12.  I averaged probably about 35-40 miles per week training.  I would do long runs of 10-12 miles, one day of speedwork per week (no real method to choosing workouts, but most were intervals of 400-1000), occasionally mile repeats in place of those intervals, and usually one day of a tempo ranging from 20-30 minutes (plus warm up and cool down).


    This past year, I started following the Lydiard-esque plan in Healthy Intelligent Training.  During my base phase I religiously did the 2 hour run and the two 1.5 hour runs every week, and filled in the rest with easy miles or fartlek runs, probably averaging around 50 mpw.  My easy pace has improved to usually around 8:30-8:45, sometimes slower depending on the weather and what I did the day before.  I then did the hill phase and was quite tired during most of it and struggled a little.  My mileage dropped a little bit, but still consistently over 45 mpw.  I am ending the first track workout phase, but really have only managed to get in two track workouts per week, doing intervals between 600-1000m (as the book called for intervals ranging from 2:00 to 5:00 in length).


    I did PR in the 10K and 5K this year (PR's in signature).  However over the last few weeks, my racing has not been great.  My workouts have been pretty great--I've felt strong, working hard, but not struggling.  My range for 1000's is usually 3:58-4:03 and 800's 3:04-3:08 (doing workouts of 5 x 1000 and 6 x 800, for example, with 200m jogging rests).  My races haven't gone well.  In a 4 miler, I ran 27:27.  In my last two 5K's I went from a PR in March of 20:08 back up to times of 20:38 and 21:03.  The 20:38 was a flat course with a headwind on half of it, and the 21:03 had the first 3/4 of mile uphill, and I went out in a 6:34 mile.


    I guess one thing I want to ask is, is my weekly mileage enough?  I already feel like there aren't enough hours in the day for the 45-50 miles I am usually able to get in now.


    I went on vacation 3 weeks ago and took 6 days off.  I have been running solidly for 2 weeks since I've been home, though.  Can the 6 days off still be impacting me?


    Going out too fast, could taking that hill so fast have hurt me that much?  I have been trying to get under 20 for the 5K for two years now.  Along those lines, sometimes at the start of the race, I "accidentally" hammer the first quarter mile in 6:00 pace or so.  Can doing even just a quarter of a mile that fast blow me out for the rest of the race?


    If I want to get this sub-20 5K, what should my splits look like during the race?  I feel like I am skeptical (although most of what I read supports) of running negative splits.  I think that I have just always positive-splitted for so long it's hard to trust that it will work for me.


    Any advice anyone can give me would be appreciated--especially about the fast starts, and about my mileage.  Thanks!

    Mile 5:49 - 5K 19:58 - 10K 43:06 - HM 1:36:54

      I'm a 48 yr old male. I've had a sub 20 target for a couple years now. I thought I would get it for sure last year when I got more serious and started putting out 50 mile weeks in  January. My 5k times were 20:45 (April), 21:15 (May) and 21:50 (July)  in succession over a few months so I was going backwards. I did not do any real speed training and I was also somehow gaining weight.


      I finally got sub 20:00 today on my third try since the July race above.


      Also since that July race, I began marathon training for a January race, with weekly speed work and long runs. During marathon training, my race times improved but the volume of miles I put on my legs held me back in the several races I did during that time as I would not taper. But since my marathon fiasco in January this year, I ramped my mileage way up each week to 70-80, continued with the weekly speed work with my training group and kept up the long runs. I also added some ad hoc speed work as the opportunity presented itself, including adding a 3 mile tempo run to  the last 3-4 weeks at about 10k-15 k pace.


      In the week leading up to today's race, I had a cut back week. Keeping the tempo and the speed work but everything else was real easy and slow, and I mean slow.


      Also today, I took off much more comfortably than I normally do. My last two 5ks (2 weeks and 2 months ago, respectively) I took off way too fast trying to stay with a guy I knew would go sub 20. That hurt me. Today, I ran my race and I felt good from start to finish (well almost to finish). This is how I raced  in 2008 when I routinely ran sub 20.


      So to summarize, get the mileage up. Keep up the speed work (I think this helped me more than anything). Rest before and run your race not some one else's. As I re-learned today, if you do the training, you'll finish with your goal.


        I'm a HS sophomore (1600, 3200, XC guy) so I don't know how much my training would help you, but I know that the team does regular interval workouts and hill repeats.  You are doing plenty of mileage every week by the looks of it, but you seem to be lacking a bit in speed workouts.  Me and the rest of the distance guys do two or three speed workouts every week  100m, 200m repeats, and the king of workouts, the 10x400m set, usually at all-out pace (for us a 400m interval would be around 63-68 sec.)with like 1:30 between quarters for a 10x400.  It's really painful stuff, but it works wonders.  Doing fast speed workouts will improve your body's ability to clear and resist lactic acid as well as make a fast race pace not seem so hard.  for a sub 20 5k I wouldn't say that you are going out to fast, with a 1:36 HM you have some endurance under your belt so I wouldn't worry about it.  Again, I'm a highschool guy so I don't know if I'm much of a help to you but I know whats worked for my team, and most of us run in the 17's to low 18's so I guess the coach must be doing something right.  good luck!

        GO PRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          Just some vibes after reading your OP. I don't think it's unusual for people to struggle during the hill phase (based on what I've read), but could that be a suggestion that maybe more hills might help. I'm not sure what types of hills you did since there's several types of Lydiard hill drills. Could that be worked in with your intervals = do uphill work bouts?


          For me, older / slower, I've found some of my best gains have been with shorter (1-3 min) hill repeats (oversteep, but my races are hilly), but not many of them. I've only done them when I've had the base - both volume and hills - for them to be the icing on the cake. They help with power, economy, and form. I vary them based on what stress I want on my legs (power, strength endurance, etc) and cardio (too short for any benefits, just long enough to breathe really hard for a couple minutes). That said, I've gotten the best bang for my buck from some of the Lydiard hill drills on that DVD. They're great when I may only have access to shorter hills because of snow.


          It seems like you're doing a lot of racing. To break out of stagnation, would doing less racing and actually tapering, even short, for a race help?


          I'm just thinking in terms of diversifying what you're now doing. IOW, if you continue to train as you have, there may be no reason to expect different results.

          "So many people get stuck in the routine of life that their dreams waste away. This is about living the dream." - Cave Dog

            Hi MJ5! I agree with what AKTrail said. Just wanted to point out another aspect of your post that jumped out at me, namely: "my racing the last couple of weeks has not been great."


            But the last couple of weeks, if I've read correctly, you have been doing the intervals phase of your Lydiard training plan. Right? And the intervals follow a fairly hard hill phase (I know how it feels, I just did a Running Wizard Lydiard plan. Ouch.) So I wouldn't expect to be racing my best while doing all those intervals after several weeks of hills. Your legs are probably a bit tired and your body is still in the process of absorbing the training. The answer may be as simple as backing off from racing for a while, concentrate on your training, and then see how it goes post-taper. You may find you're suddenly sub-20 with a little rest in your legs.


            I wouldn't fiddle with mileage right now; your next base phase, if you have time, you can start upping the mileage.


            Oh, and if you do a forum search for 5k race pacing strategies, you should find several good threads on that subject!


            Good luck. Let us know how it goes...


            (MTA: you asked about your vacation. I don't believe 6 days off will have affected you much!)

              MJ5  - I agree with RunHarrietRun. If you are in the middle of a training cycle right now (and I just finished a 5K Lydiard cycle one month ago) racing during that cycle probably won't be great. The point of Lydiard training to is build you up to a peak so that you can have a goal race and just kill it. During the cycle I did several time trials, but they were all slower than my goal race pace. After I finished the hills training, then completed the interval/anaerobi phase, THEN did a two week taper....then it was time for goal race and goal pace. I was beat up going into my taper phase, and even though I had good time trials, I wasn't ready to race then. Finish out your plan and then rest so that you can have a goal race and go into at your very peak and have a great race


                Your 10k looks much weaker and the interval times you say you do seem to give an indication why: you really lack high end aerobic strength.


                I'd really focus on 1k to mile repeats at 10k pace up to threshold pace with tempos in the hmp to mp range.


                Get stronger and your 5k and 10ks can improve mightily.


                You might just need to get some more miles in, too, though. But if you think you're already maxed for time, I'd just work within the 45-50 mpw. That should be enough seeing as how you've already been quite close to sub 20. I don't think you need a 10-12 mile long run, but if you can only get your mileage into that range by doing those longer long runs, then that should be alright. You might want to consider turning that long run into a workout day, maybe 5-6 miles at marathon pace halfway through or a progression run, getting down to hmp over the last mile?


                Then just have one other workout a week, probably focused more on 10k-10 mile pace more than anything. All of that 5k and below work is too much. That stuff burns right through your aerobic conditioning and if you're not shoring up that aerobic conditioning then you can actually get worse by continuing the faster stuff.


                I ran my 10k and 5k prs (and went 17:45ish, 17:16, 16:48 in four months time) by primarily focusing on threshold and 10k pace work with just a few 3k paced intervals tacked on to the end of those threshold/10k workouts. If you haven't tried it before, might be the new stimulus you need to break through.


                Chief Unicorn Officer

                  That's reassuring to hear, and thanks all for your advice so far! I do like racing a lot, so I probably won't do this type of training again, but I'm on track for a July 4th race that if all goes as planned, I should be ready for (I'm in the last phase of training). I tend to really analyze things so I guess these not-great race performances have me thinking about what I could be doing differently and not really respecting the process.

                  Mile 5:49 - 5K 19:58 - 10K 43:06 - HM 1:36:54

                  Feeling the growl again

                    #1 - Your 5K is very respectable for the volume you are putting in and what background I can see.  Nice work.

                    #2 - You seem to think you are going to progressively keep running PRs all year.  There are several reasons why this is not awfully realistic.  The weather is getting hotter.  Also, running a good 5K requires speedwork and a peak.  You can't maintain a peak forever...6-8 weeks is about it.  If you are really hitting good intervals and progressing on them, you only get 6-8 weeks of benefit before you are going to be maxing out and you need to cycle back to more basic aerobic/strength work then build to the next cycle...which will culminate in harder intervals and peak racing season.  It looks like you have pushed past your first peak for the year and may be beating a dead horse...dial back on the intervals and work more on tempo/strength work for a few months.


                    #3 - Yes, more miles will likely help you.  If you have been through 2-3 cycles of similar training and the gains have stopped coming, you have to add a new stimulus.  More miles is at or near the top of that list.


                    I highly recommend adding some longer (40min) tempo runs into your mix.  You need to get stronger so you can have better speed endurance.  Another way to do it is, say, 3X15min tempo at a faster pace with 5min easy recovery in between.  Distance wise this would make a hard long run for you.  Work up to it (start at say 3X8min, then 3X10min, etc).  You will get stronger and hold your speed better.


                    A lot of what will work will depend on what type of runner you are...endurance-focused vs natural speed runner.  You probably don't have enough mileage base yet to really answer that question.  Most newer runners think they are natural speed just because they haven't done the training to tap the other option yet.


                    I spend several years stuck with a 15:37 5K PR.  All the typical 5K training strategies and racing strategies left me with a dozen races in the 15:37-15:39 range.  Then I ran a very high volume (100-120mpw) marathon cycle with a lot of longer, fast efforts....15K-HM pace...and 3K-10K paced work only once per week.  The result was a 15:39....followed by a 15:18 as the second half of the same 10K race.  So in one cycle I'd dropped from 15:37 to likely something in the 14:50-15:00 potential range by training totally not geared to speed...but I was very strong both muscularly and aerobically.


                    There are a lot of pieces to develop to run a good 5K.  Don't get stuck only thinking of fast intervals.

                    "If you want to be a bad a$s, then do what a bad a$s does.  There's your pep talk for today.  Go Run." -- Slo_Hand


                    I am spaniel - Crusher of Treadmills



                    Chief Unicorn Officer

                      Thanks, Spaniel! For the record I'm not a total noob--been running since 1994, but really only recently (2009-present) focused on truly improving (I was a D-1 softball player so for many years running was recreational and racing mostly just for fun).


                      I like those tempo ideas. I do think endurance and stamina are issues for me--10K's and 5 milers, those kinds of distances are very, very hard for me, and so are tempo runs. The mile races I have done, those seem to come easier--I like the training, but in the actual race they just seem naturally easier to execute. I know it's unrealistic to want a PR everyone I race, but like, even though I KNOW that, I can't break that disappointment when I don't have my best race.


                      Thanks a bunch spaniel!!

                      Mile 5:49 - 5K 19:58 - 10K 43:06 - HM 1:36:54

                        Hi MJ,


                        I was in a pretty similar situation last spring - early fall, running lots of 5ks in the 20:00-21:00 range with the goal of breaking 20. I'm also female, 27. I ran 20:10 on a hilly loop in October then two weeks later PRed big time with a 19:12 on a very flat out and back course. Since then I've gone under 20 every time I've raced a 5k and I think I am close to breaking 19 on a good day (that's my goal for the summer). Leading up to the 19:12, I was running about 40mpw - mostly easy w/ 1 workout and 1 long run per week. In late summer I did some hill workouts and then I transitioned into lots of 1000s and 1200s with progressively shorter rest as I approached my goal races (started around 3 minutes, worked down to 1 minute). I did these at goal pace, so ~4:00 for 1000, and I'd do 5-6 of them. I wasn't running many tempos at the time, though I think I did 2 x 2 miles at HM pace once or twice, and maybe some mile repeats at HM pace w/ short rest (30-60 sec). My log is open if you want to take a look.


                        After that 19:12, I switched gears and started training for a half, though I used Daniels 5k-15k plan for it. I bumped my mileage into the 50s and got serious about tempos. As others have suggested, those 30-45 minute tempos are so key. I struggled with them at first and found that it worked best for me to do them as progression runs, starting around MP and working my way down (sometimes as low as 10k pace, usually more like 10 mile - HM). 3 x 2 miles is another good one, or 3 x 10-12 minutes. I did one that was (iirc) 15 min, 10 min, 5 min w/ 2 minute jogs between. All these workouts made me much fitter aerobically and they gave me a ton of confidence in my ability to hold a faster pace. I still did some shorter stuff, and in fact Daniels starts off the training program with lots of 200s and 400s at ~mile pace. But the tempos were the most important factor for me, I think, along with the increase in mileage.


                        Oh, one other thing is that during my half training, I was doing 2 hard workouts per week instead of 1, which was exhausting a lot of the time - but I think it made me a lot tougher. I don't want to discount all the physical adaptations that happened, but the mental part of the game was just massive - once I'd done some of the monster workouts, toiled through very hard weeks, and had a couple of good races, I really started to *believe* in myself. Also, once you break the 20 minute barrier, it becomes a lot less intimidating...I predict that you'll go under 20 once and then find yourself under 20 basically every time after that. From what you've said about your training I suspect that you will get there soon - if not this summer (heat sucks) then in the fall for sure.


                        Chief Unicorn Officer

                          Thanks, youngoffender!  Your progress gives me some hope!  Tempo work is definitely something I need to do more of.  It's also reassuring to hear that you made a breakthrough doing only a little bit more mileage than I am right now--I'm usually between 47-50 mpw--and I can do a little bit more mileage, but honestly, not much without having to double a lot (I work full time and play softball 3x per week).  I appreciate your advice. Smile

                          Mile 5:49 - 5K 19:58 - 10K 43:06 - HM 1:36:54


                          Letting off steam

                            What Spaniel said - especially the part about holding a peak for only a short time.