5K the Right Way

Skipping is a simple form of plyometrics, the explosive jumping exercises that build fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The sprint-distance triathlon, as its name implies, is about speed. This means two things: the race is over fast and you don't need to log hours upon hours training for the event. But going fast takes more than horsepower and stamina; it also takes skill. And building skill requires drills--especially for the run.

Most sprint-distance triathletes I know like to head to the running track to develop their 5K speed. They run lap after lap at different paces and stride rates, and that's fine, but it negates a big attraction of the sprint events: the reduced training-time requirement as compared to longer races.

By the time you schlep to a track to do a speed workout, you could have completed your run and my four drills, described below, on a course that starts right from your front door. They'll make you a more efficient runner and a much stronger triathlon runner, and efficiency is a key requirement for speed in the run segment of a sprint triathlon.

Overview of the Four Drills

The first two drills are strides and skipping. When I ran track in college, we started and finished each workout with a set of strides. A stride isn't an all-out sprint but a chance to focus on good, quick running form. Skipping--yes skipping--is a simple form of plyometrics, the explosive jumping exercises that build fast-twitch muscle fibers. Since roughly 20 percent of the energy tapped for a 5K is anaerobic, you need to train this energy system to last.

The next drill is the Brick, the fundamental bike-to-run transition workout. In a sprint tri, you have no time to ease into running form--your run leg is over before most Ironman athletes even find their rhythm. That means you'll need to practice the bike-to-run transition much more than other triathletes. The easier it becomes, the quicker you'll be able to find your 5K pace.

Last is a core-strength exercise that doesn't involve running: the plank. Remember, the key to a fast 5K is efficiency. You'll need a strong core to provide a stable platform for you legs to turn over smoothly and quickly. Unfortunately, most athletes neglect core work and ultimately never enjoy their full potential. With this easy exercise, you won't be lumped into that sad category.

The Four to Make You Fly

Add these drills to your run training and the results will become readily apparent during a race; you'll run past more people than ever.


  • Strides: Do a set of strides before and after each run. If possible, do them on dirt or grass. Run for 20 seconds as fast as you can while maintaining smooth form and then rest 30 seconds. Do a total of four strides.

  • Skipping: Once a week, find some grass or a dirt trail and start skipping. If it's been two decades since you last skipped, start with two sets of 3 x 30 seconds, with an easy one-minute jog after each of the three reps and a three-minute jog between the two sets. As you progress, work up to two sets of six repetitions and cut the recovery time in half.

  • Brick: Because of the importance of the neuromuscular transition from the bike to the run, I like to see people do--at a minimum--one brick a week throughout their training for a sprint event. Two bricks a week is even better. Your run shouldn't last longer than 20 minutes and should follow this format: Take two minutes to find your legs and then do six 30-second fartleks at 5K race pace with one minute of jogging recovery after each. Use the remaining time to run easy and cool down.

  • The Plank: Start in a modified push-up position where you're resting on your forearms. Keeping your legs, torso and head in a straight line, push your body up off the ground and hold the pose for 30 seconds. Repeat four times. Work up to holding the pose for one minute. Do the plank exercise every other day, year round.

Andrew Tepen is a Senior Coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. To find out what CTS can do for you and to sign up for a free newsletter, visit www.trainright.com.

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