5k PB : Anatomy Of An Advanced Level 5K PB: How to get a 5k PB

The Pump Triple Break
Image by DeusXFlorida via Flickr

Bear with me it gets better. This is a great article IMHO for all you good 5k runners who want to improve! Also a few insights for the beginner on what lengths you’ll be going to in a few  months time to eek out a few extra seconds from your PB.

This post looks at my 5k PB – what I did right and what I did wrong. You can learn from that maybe. If you want to come at it from the angle of what I think you can do to get a PB this weekend then instead <here>.

Here we go then…

At the most facile level “You’ve got to run a bit faster”. That’s SO obvious but worth bearing in mind because, for a start, you need to understand how you achieved your last PB in order to replicate parts of that performance and improve other parts.

I just ran a PB this morning, knocking about 10 secs off my last PB. With all the exercise stuff and training I cram in it’s just not possible to go for a PB every weekend. So the opportunities for them are few and far between and, to a degree, I plan for them. I think I’m already at a reasonable level, so many things have to go right in order to gt a 5k PB. In reality I only get 2-3 shots at a PB each year…food for thought. Planning is nearly as important as training sometimes!

Anyway here, below, is the anatomy of today’s PB which I am delighted with. Hopefully it will give you a few ideas on things you can do next time.

1. You have a GPS watch that shows your pace.
2. You understand your pace targets for each KM.
3. You’ve been doing your training! At the very, very least one long session and 1 HARD  interval session a week, every week.
4. You’ve checked the weather and it’s going to be good enough.

The anatomy of my PB (today, Saturday):

1. Did some longer stuff the previous weekend. Before that I’d been doing some slower interval work with a friend. Slower than my target race pace…not ideal, but not too slow. Was good for my 10k tempo training maybe. Probably counts as a pseudo-taper!
2. Monday.Rest.  Day off. To prepare for training with  my fast-mate tomorrow. I need the rest and recovery to avoid embarrassing myself.
3. Tuesday. Track session. Got to get my body used to going fast again. So let’s do it. I did 2x 1km intervals with 2 minute breather in between at MUCH faster than target race pace. Finishing with 2x300m flat out with 100m rest in between. Yep my legs have been reminded. I won’t be fully recovered from this session on Saturday…but I will mostly be recovered. There’s my first excuse already!
4. Wednesday. Rest. Little bit of stretching. Very bad night’s sleep last night.
5. Thursday. Rest. Better night’s sleep.
6. Friday. Rest…can you see a pattern emerging here? Your body must recover.
7. Friday. I’ve been drinking too much coffee and not enough water all week so today I got myself properly hydrated. Should have started earlier of course.
8. Friday, lunch. Quite light lunch. Few carbs, nothing special. Avoided volume. Avoided pulses and other things that you can’t digest.
9. Friday, dinner. Again quite light. I eat too late at about 9.30PM. I’m a vegetarian so had a veggie curry. Again no pulses. Bit of rice. All this nonsense about carbs before a 5k race is crazy…your body has plenty of carbs already in it for about 2 hours of exercise. You don’t need extra stuff as you are not doing a marathon. Also hydration is not really that important either for 5k. A couple of pints of water the day before is fine. It’s not that important, don’t obsess over nutritional benefits just avoid the stuff you can’t digest, like pulses.
10. Off to bed late. Aiming for sleep at 1AM after a little R&R ?! Fell asleep quickly, fantastic. Sleep is important!
11. Oh yes, before bed I ensure that I go to the loo for number 2’s. c 12.30PM. That’s important too. Pros will do this and have their breakfast at 2AM….(see next few bits to get an idea why).
12. Saturday. Woke at 7.30. so had 6.30 hours sleep which is not great. But it was quality sleep. I’m a bit of an insomniac so that is quite good for me.
13. Stretched a bit; lightly stretched lying on the bed. I’m not a morning person. Aching lower back as always as a result of mad bike session last weekend (also a PB!) so freed up hips and lower back with a  stretch or two.

14. Shower is good to wake me up but too tired today so won’t bother!? Had breakfast: instant coffee and 1 smallish banana. Coffee gets me buzzing and focused. Banana is not necessary normally for most people – but I don’t like running on an empty stomach and a banana at least has some carbs in there. Not that they will be of any use in 45 minutes when I get running. As an alternate to the banana I might have had a Lucozade sport. Again for the same reasons. Lucozade Sport won’t help nutritionally in the race it’s just psychological but it won’t hinder either. I just have one to avoid being sick by running on an empty stomach.

15. Ah now the coffee’s working. Off to the loo for number 2’s again. THIS IS IMPORTANT. I’ve planned my food intake to make sure as much of it is out of my body as possible before I race. Your body gets confused if you are telling it to digest stuff AND to race. Just tell it to race by ensuring there’s nothing for it to digest!

16. Kit on time. All got out last night. New Balance RC 130X running flats. My PB shoes. When I wear them I ALWAYS get a PB. Always. Yep, every time, seriously. They are running flats and very light. I’ve written elsewhere on why this is important. Lighter running shoes do make you run faster for several reasons. I also have elastic laces. The ones you don’t have to tie. It’s not that I’m lazy it’s just that there is absolutely NO CHANCE that they will come undone…one less thing to worry about. Even if someone treads on my shoe and it comes off it will be on again in less than 5 seconds…Duathlon transition training coming in handy you see!

17. Nike ankle socks, very thin, very light, very cheap. Probably girls ones. I got them from TK max. Not really important.

18. Miscellaneous running shorts. Light. But it’s not important.

19. My most lightweight and BREATHABLE Nike running top. The breathable bit is important for today for me. It is a hot day today and so I want to be able to be as cool as possible. I want my heart to be focusing on pumping oxygen to my muscles NOT pumping the blood around to cool me down. The right gear must save a couple of wasted beats a minute. There’ll be some research somewhere showing a few precious seconds that that will save I bet.

20. Garmin forerunner 305 and HRM strap on. HRM not needed, I just like the stats. Quick check that my last PB is set up on the Garmin. I’m going to be tracking my performance against my last PB as I race. The Garmin shows me a display in WHITE if I’m ahead of my PB and BLACK if I’m not, even the most ardent technophobe will understand that.

21. Bike and lock already out from last night. My keys have my parkrun barcode on. Gentle cycle to Bushy Park for the free local parkrun (excellent set-up). If I were to jog it would tire me out I reckon. I arrive at about 08:35. Earlier than I normally do. The easy cycle ride must have warmed something up a little bit, it’s also given the Garmin chance to find out where it is today.

22. Watch on wrist. Course on watch set to go. Bike locked up.

23. Stretch all major leg muscle groups. Dodgy lower calf. That’s not good.

24. A few strides ie c50m pseudo sprints…not quite that fast but a bit faster than race pace. 5 mins to go. A Few more silly warm ups, not many though. Oh and another wee…the joys of being a man make this much easier.

25. Walk to start line get a good position away from the slow newbies that I don’t want to fall over.

26. And they are off.

27. Start off too fast as always. All best times apparently are from even splits! Oops.

28. First Km is faster than I need to go. But I feel good and the calf is being quiet, again good. Not too fast though and importantly feels comfortable enough.

29. Second Km. Again good. Just the occasional glance at the watch to check my pace. I have my watch set to show actual pace AND cumulative pace for the current KM. The latter is OK and the key metric I use.

30. So now I know I feel good and I know that I am on target. I don’t need to have the Garmin thing where I compare myself to my last PB. So I’ll not even switch my display to that. At this point I pretty much know I am going to do it. I know it’s not going to be easy but I know I’ll do it (remember in any case I have THE shoes on). Re the previous PB tracking: Looking at pacing devices can sometimes slow you down so I get moving. Still it was there as a contingency if things got tight. Planning…and back up plans.

31. Third Km. Again OK. I’m going past a few people here, not many. I’m aware that some people who kept a good pace on the first 2 Km are slacking a bit now and I can’t trust them to be maintaining the pace from here on in. Trust myself. IE I can’t just follow them and hope they are going the right speed.

32. Fourth Km. Fractionally uphill. I hate this bit. Some people just ahead of me who are normally a lot further ahead of me. Promising! They must be having a slow day.

33. First half of the last Km. Important to maintain pace as I probably lost a bit on K4. Few funny turns coming up, almost stop/start stuff. Still the course was the same when I did the previous PB so no excuses there.

34. OK 2 mins to go; pick it up a little bit. Save myself for the sprint.

35. Round the last tree and into the last minute (ish) – it’s further than you think. ‘Sprint’.

36. I go past 2-3 people. Good.

37. Catching up with someone else, redouble sprinting efforts with one last surge. That’s it. Finished. Quick glance at the watch and we are sorted. I, of course, am shagged. Remember to stop aforesaid watch.

38. Usual feeling of course that as I could sprint so fast then there must be another 5-10 seconds I could eek out of the earlier parts of the race at my current level of fitness. So always room for improvement. But delight at the time.

39. Next attempt won’t be until late September probably as it starts to get too hot from now until then.

40. Free Lucozade Sport. Oh, that will do nicely. Thank you Mr Lucozade. Back home for my real breakfast.

So as you can see I do quite a few things ‘wrong’. But I do enough right to improve and do the job. I’ve done a few PBs after having a beer the night before. OK not a night on the town admittedly. As long as you drink enough water to digest one pint it’s fine. Also it helps me sleep and, as I’m a near insomniac that’s good.

Most important things I would say are:


b. lightweight RACING (not training) shoes. Running Flats will do nicely.

c. GPS pace monitoring device. Garmin Forerunner is £100

d. Follow a pre-race diet and ablutions regime that you know works for you. Just avoid the wrong stuff to make sure your body has emptied itself by 9AM on Saturday morning.

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