One of the biggest mistakes that runners make is a failure to vary their workouts. Repeatedly completing high mileage/low intensity runs can quickly lead to training plateaus and do little to increase your overall speed.
According to Jennifer Burningham, a Portland-based running coach, in order to improve running performance, it's key that you include speed work in your 5K training. Not only will speed workouts lead to faster, stronger, and more efficient running, but it will also help runners to avoid the monotony and boredom of unchanging workouts.
It's All About the Oxygen
Peter Gambaccini of Metro Sports New York stated it simply: "In order to run fast, you have to run fast." Repeatedly doing steady state training will help you build endurance, but it won't do much to shave time off of your 5K. The main reason for this, according to Burningham, is that steady state training does not help to increase VO2max. (VO2max is the maximal capacity of the body to transport and utilize oxygen during physical exertion.)
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Steady, continous workouts don't do much to raise your capacity to utitlize your oxygen levels. However, because they require more exertion and oxygen, speed workouts are ideal for impoving your ability in this area.
Bring on the Lactic Acid
Not only do speed workouts help the body to uptake and utilize oxygen more efficiently, but they also force the body to adapt to higher levels of lactic acid.
Lactic acid, the by-product of pyruvic acid buildup and reduced oxidation during high-intensity exercise, is what causes muscle soreness and fatigue. Burningham explains, "If you're just going out and running the same pace every day, you create a certain amount of lactic acid, you fatigue your muscles to a certain extent.
"When you do a speed workout, you create more lactic acid, you fatigue your muscles more, and in return, your body learns how to process lactic acid better," said Burningham.
This "processing" of the lactic acid in your body actually lets you do "more" with "less", a key component to taking your performance to the next level.
"Your body learns how to work more efficiently with tired muscles, so you're making yourself a stronger, speedier, more efficient runner if you add speed workouts," said Burningham.
Why Fast Twitching is Good
Finally, speed work is an essential component of a 5K training program because it helps the body build up the fast-twitch muscle fibers required for speed and explosive strength. Steady state running will build a strong foundation of slow-twitch fibers, to maximize endurance. However, as Burningham points out, "In a 5k, you have to be quick, but you also have to have endurance. And that comes from the fast-twitch fibers. "
So make the most of your 5K training efforts by including speed workouts. Not only will speed work make you a stronger and faster runner, but they will help you avoid the training plateaus and boredom associated with a monotonous, unchanging routine.
More: 7 Tips for Your First 5KSign up for your next 5K race.