For the last 6 weeks, I've been following a Runners' World plan with the aim of finally (FINALLY!) cracking the 30 minutes for the 5k.
I graduated back in October 2013, and at the time I was a bit disappointed I didn't make the distance. In fact, it took me a couple of weeks after that to make 5k in 34:35, which I got down to 31:32 by the end of 2014.
Since then, I plateaued - and although I was/am proud of continuing with the running, where I've got to from where I was, etc., the time did become a bit of a monkey on my back, because for me the 5k in 30 minutes was the point (I appreciate this is not the case for everyone).
Anyway, cue Runners' World plan aimed at getting down to the 30 minutes mark in 6 weeks from around my starting point.
What I've learnt from this is:
1 - running longer but slower makes a surprisingly big improvement
I found it initially hard to get over the mental contradiction of running slower for a long time making me faster, but it's definitely worked. Longer in this programme means 6.4km easy runs (easy = conversational pace) and/or longer runs of 60 mins to 80 mins once a week.
I've thought about why this is the case as I run (I don't run with music, so have to fill the time!), and I think it is to do with strengthening the repetitive action of running with better form. And this last point is what I was really thinking about last night - the easy running keeps me relaxed and my form is good without having to try, making it easier to run, etc. - bit of a virtuous circle going on.
2 - my cadence has naturally improved and when I do ramp up the speed, it's easier to keep going faster for longer
Before I started this plan, I would plod around 158, now at an easy pace its closer to 164 and if I'm trying it's more like 172-174. My feeling is that going slower makes you take more, smaller steps.
Combined with 1 above, this means that the longer runs don't wear you out (easy breathing), but are more gently taxing on the body (pleasantly aching muscles, normal recovery no problem).
3 - I can do better than I thought I could if I'm not obsessed with measuring time
This is the self-limitation bit - in my head I set times that I would expect (e.g. conversational pace = 7:00 to 7:30). Then there was a run about 3 weeks in where you had to do an "in and out", aiming for faster back but at a 10k pace (so not trying to go flat out). Without looking every km at the Garmin (Gary Garmin to me, Mr Garmin to you lot), I was gauging effort by ability to utter some words - and from this I had a bit of a revelation that I could do 6:20 and still be "conversational". So I was seriously under-estimating what I could achieve within a sliding scale, because I had pre-accepted that this was the best I could do.
Since then, I feel mentally much stronger and positive, and tomorrow evening is the big day - i.e. the "race" for the 30 minutes.
I know I can do it from the training - I'll let you know how I get on!