You stuck to your 5K workout schedule like a deer tick on a border collie and thought you'd run faster than ever. But on race day, you came away disappointed. What gives? Could be any of these classic 5K training trip-ups, says coach and athlete Elizabeth Waterstraat, founder of Multisport Mastery.
Training Too Hard, Too Close to the Race
"It's pretty normal for people to get scared and feel like they have to put in a final session at race pace and race distance during race week," Waterstraat says. Too hard and long of an effort too close to the race tears you down rather than help you store energy that you'll use during the race. "What you really want to do is reduce the volume during race week and use your workouts to sharpen your legs."
Racing Too Much
After your race, you need to allow your body to recover before it can perform again. "The rule of thumb is a day of recovery for every mile you race," she says. "If you're racing every weekend, you get stuck in a cycle of race/recover, race/recover, and you can't build fitness in between races. You're always a little fatigued." Not the way to PR. Instead, space your 5Ks every four to six weeks apart (some people can get away with doing them three to five weeks apart).
Starting Speed Work Too Early in the Season
"Speed work is fun and it makes you [get] fast quickly," Waterstraat says. "But you only need to do about six weeks of it to get the benefits." Do it too early in the spring and you're going to peak in early summer. "If your races aren't until later, too much speed work too early can leave you burned out or even injured by race day."
Choosing the Wrong Course
Hilly courses with many turns aren't conducive to a PR. Neither are those on dirt trails or, for most people, races where the temperature is super hot. "If you want to set a PR, look at the race results from previous years and see how people did. You'll get a good idea of which courses are long, short, slow and fast," she says.
More: 9 Fast and Flat 5Ks
Letting Life Get in the Way
"Stress is the killer for everyone. It takes away your energy for everything. It interferes with your digestion, your sleep and all of the other factors that contribute to arriving at a race ready to do your best," she says. While you can't control every factor in the days leading up to a race, you may be in control of more than you think (for instance, not planning a big race for the morning after you return from an overseas vacation). For reasons that go beyond your race, aim to control what you can and accept what you can't.5K.