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March 23rd, 2010
Run with Moe: How to run a 5K or 10K

Run with Moe: A column
San Marcos Runners Club

With the exception of a few smaller long distance races, the emphasis for the rest of the running season shifts now to the faster 5K and 10K distances.

The training for shorter, faster distances has the runner shifting from long, slow runs for a marathon to the speed work necessary for the 5K and 10K distances. While the times for these shorter races would seem to mean running at a faster pace, there is not that big gap that most runners would assume.

When marathon and half marathon runners pass the 5K and 10K markers in the longer races, they are often within a few seconds of what they would run in that race. Runners that have been training to run a marathon or a 10K and then try to run faster in the 5K find that things just do not work that way.

Most runners have to run a pace that enables them to stay within what is termed a training zone, and out of oxygen debt, which occurs when the body uses more oxygen than the runner is able to take in while running. The runner begins to gasp for air and the body needs more oxygen to keep the muscles working.

When the muscles come up short of oxygen, they start to slow down or cramp up. The runner has to back off the pace and slow down and try to recover the level of oxygen needed to keep running.  It is hard to do when you are gasping for air and the body wants to stop and catch a breather. The trick is to keep running at a slower pace, but not a very slow pace, while getting back to a level of comfort.

By keeping a slightly faster pace, the discomfort lasts longer and takes more time to recover, but the runner does not lose as much time in the race. Eventually, the runner will once again feel comfortable and be able to hold that pace for the rest of the race.

The one difference between a longer race and a 5K or 10K race is that, if you have been running longer distances, your oxygen capacity is still high. This allows the runner to “kick” at the end for a little longer distance. After a marathon distance, the speed of a finishing kick is not really much more than a slightly faster pace than actual race pace.

In a 5K, the “kick” can be very close to an actual sprint pace. The runner will go into oxygen debt, but that is okay, because as soon as she crosses the finish line, the runner can stop and catch their her and walk around until recovering.

The runner’s ability to withstand the discomfort of oxygen debt will govern how long he can kick it in to the finish. Some runners begin to gradually build up a pace from a quarter of a mile out, then slowly increase speed until sprinting the last 200 yards.

One other tactic runners use in the shorter distance races is to head out a bit faster than usual before settling into a race pace that they will maintain through the race until the kick at the end. The reason, strange as it seems, is that once runners get out about a mile or so in the race, there is very little passing done.

Most runners find their paces and will hold them for the rest of the race. If you can get ahead at the beginning before you settle into your race pace, you will, in many cases, stay ahead of those runners you passed at the start of the race. The key to this strategy is that you can run faster, but not so fast that you go into oxygen debt while running a faster pace in the beginning.

I have seen a number of runners almost sprint out to get that lead, but when oxygen debt hits them, they have to either stop or slow way down, meaning they can be passed after a mile or so in the race.

This is one of the reasons you see experienced runners running before the race. The change from standing still to running is not as drastic and the use of oxygen is not that big a change. Just remember that the distance is shorter, but the pace is almost the same as longer distance running, with the exception that at the end, when you want to pass somebody, you can kick and run fast for a short distance, hopefully fast enough to win an award or at least run faster than your friendly rival in the race.

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