A photo of Geoffrey Hayward

A Runner's Second Week Towards a 5K Personal Best

From Hill Sprints to Parkrun Triumphs: Balancing Intensity and Recovery

Published November 27, 2023

A frost-covered garden on a misty morning. The lawn is coated with a thin layer of white frost, bordered by flower beds and a variety of potted plants. A wooden bench sits at the back near a wooden fence, surrounded by the dormant, leafless branches of plants, hinting at the quiet of winter
My Garden on Saturday, just before setting off to do the Parkrun.

In last week’s post, I revealed my strategy for chasing my next 5K personal best. In this week’s post, I will recap the strategy, and talk about how I have applied it, and reflect on the adjustments I will make for next week. From rigorous intervals to strategic recovery, this week’s effort culminated in a 5K course PB at the Cranbrook Parkrun, bringing me one week closer to the 5K personal best I am chasing.

My 5K PB Strategy

Like I wrote last week, I am incorporating key workouts into each Monday-Thursday of the week: Seven by 1km Repeats, 8-second Hill Sprints, an Active Recovery run, Tennis, and a Cardio Session. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are left flexible for life, family, and ad-hoc training (or, in last week’s case, a parkrun).

Monday: 8-second Hill Sprints and Strava Segments

The concept of 8-second hill sprints is straightforward: you sprint up a hill at full speed as fast as possible, but just for eight seconds, then recover by jogging or walking for 3 to 10 minutes before repeating. This ensures you can maintain maximum effort on each sprint. The short duration of the sprints helps increase your VO2 max and improve neuromuscular efficiency without giving your body an overly strenuous workout.

I recently learned about 8-second Hill Sprints in Andrew Snow’s 2023 “Run Elite” book and was super excited to try this workout. So, last Monday, I tried the 8-second hill sprints for the first time. By the end of the session, I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to chase down some Strava Segments. But next week, I will stick to just the 8-second sprints.

A screenshot of Garmin Workout programmer screen showing my 8-second hill sprint workout program.
My 8-second Hill Sprint Settings.

I set my watch to count down each 8-second sprint and then step into keeping me in zone 2 recovery. With the recovery step, I set it to wait for the lap button before repeating another 8-second sprint. This worked well, and I needed around 4 minutes between each repeat, of which I had programmed it to do ten repeats. The workout lasted around 40 minutes, and I knew I was up for more.

So this week, instead of chasing the Strava Segments, which may have tipped the balance of this workout into being more strenuous than planned, I will try 16 times the hill sprints and then head home. My legs were sore last week after this workout, but I am convinced it was down to the chasing of the Strava segments and not the workout itself — I will keep you posted.

Tuesday: 7 by 1km Interval Training

So, every Tuesday, my daughter has a tennis class next door to the gym. This gives me the opportunity for 1 hour of treadmill work. And this is excellent for doing interval work. The session I have chosen to do during the training for a new 5K PB is the seven by 1km workout. This is where you run at your target race pace for 1km, rest for 70 or so seconds, and then repeat seven times.

I selected this workout after reading about it in Nick Bester’s post on the Strava Stories website and hearing about it when Andy Baddeley advocated it on the Running Channel’s Podcast. By the way, “seven by” is a workout variation. Nick wrote about it as a five by 1km, and Andy talked about it as an eight by 1km workout. I chose seven as it fits my time well, allowing for a warm-up and cool-down.

Last week, I did seven by 1km @ 4:26/km with 70 seconds of rest between. Again, it felt great and very manageable. This week, I will aim for 4:20/km.

Wednesday: Active Recovery

The idea of active recovery is to allow your body to recover while still moving. It’s done at a comfortable, conversational pace. The theory is that this type of run enhances circulation, which helps to flush out lactic and other metabolic waste from the muscles, speeding up recovery. All without adding undue stress on your body. The benefits include reduced muscle stiffness, maintained flexibility, and a quicker return to performance levels.

This isn’t a workout that comes naturally to me. When it comes to running, holding back is hard. But I managed to hold back last week, and I am pleased I did, as my legs felt much better after the run than they did before.

I did the 5km with an average pace of 6:10/km.

Thursday: Tennis and Targeted Cardio

I began Thursday morning with an hour of a tennis hitting session. I find that a bit of tennis is quite beneficial. Tennis involves bursts of energy and quick movements, which help in building leg muscle strength. The lateral movements and rapid changes of direction in tennis improve agility and flexibility. The sport demands good balance and coordination; of course, at 40, that’s something that needs to be maintained - use it or lose it.

At lunchtime, I did another 50-minute cardio session at the Exeter Cardio Hub consisting of two and a half times 20-minute blocks alternating between 60 seconds at 90%+ of max HR and 60 seconds at 80%+ of max HR with a final 10 minutes at a constant 80%+ max HR. Each session burns around 800 calories.

Then, usually on a Thursday evening, my wife goes to the gym while our oldest daughter plays football. But last week, my wife couldn’t make it, so I went instead. The trouble was that, although I wanted to run on a treadmill, I was determined not to overdo it, so I opted to pass the time in the sauna. And I am glad I did as the next day my legs felt great.

Friday: Rest Day

To my surprise, I felt great last Friday. I could have easily run hard on Friday if I had not been strategic in my training. I attribute this to the 30 minutes in the sauna the evening before. My legs did not feel like I had just done a hard day the day before.

I must admit, I ran 1.3 km on a treadmill, and the last 300 meters were at 17 kph, but that’s still resting – right?

Saturday: Course PB at the Cranbrook Parkrun

On Saturday, I ran the Cranbrook Parkrun at an average pace of 4:34 /km, finishing in 22:45 and setting myself a course PB. The funny thing was I didn’t even realise it until afterwards. So I am happy with this time, and it is a good indication the training strategy is working, but I still have a minute and some to go before I set myself a new 5K PB.

Sunday: Rest Day

Yep, this was a rest day—20 minutes in the sauna and watching the ATP men’s final.

As last week comes to a close, the satisfaction of setting a course PB at the Cranbrook Parkrun is a clear testament to the effectiveness of my training strategy. The discipline of sticking to the plan while remaining responsive to my body’s signals has been instrumental in this progress. Looking ahead, I’ll carry forward the lessons learned, fine-tune my approach, and continue to chase a new 5k PB. Onward to another week of purposeful strides and mindful recovery — see you on the other side.

Enjoy your running.

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