Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Beating the Blues

By Frank Horwill

If you've got the 5000 metres blues, here's a way to get you back on song.

(The writer was coach to Tim Hutchings, fourth in the 1984 Olympic 5,000m and silver medallist in the 1984 and 1989 World Cross-Country Championships, the subject of this article).

In 1984 Tim Hutchings (GB) entered the Los Angeles Olympic 5,000m, never having bettered 13:20. However, in the final he came fourth in a time of 13:11. No other British athlete has improved his personal best 5km time by so much in an Olympic final. In that race, Said Aouita covered the last mile in 4:02 to Hutchings' 4:06. Hutchings' time, set 12 years ago, has only been bettered by three other British athletes. Dave Moorcroft's world record of 13:00.1 was set in 1982, but because of injury he finished last in the 1984 race.

The British women's 5,000m record was set in 1987 by Zola Budd, a sensational 14:48.07 secs, 11 seconds short of Ingrid Kristiansen's world record set in 1985. Budd's record stood until this summer when it was broken by Paula Radcliffe at the Cologne Grand Prix. Yet clearly, with the honourable exception of Radcliffe, British 5,000m running is in the doldrums and has been for several years.

Why is this?

To find an answer we can go back to that 1984 Olympic 5km. When Hutchings opted to run in this event, I embarked on a study of the training methods used by former world-record holders, starting with the late Gordon Pirie (13:36), who was a prolific track trainer all the year round. His recipe in the winter was 30 x 220 yds in 30 secs with 220 yds jog recovery one day, then 25 x 440 yds in 66 secs, jog 440 yds on another day and, finally, 12 x 880 yds in 2 mins 12 secs with 440 yds jog. He topped this up with a 2.5 hour fartlek-type run once a week. His summer training was much the same except that his recovery after the 440 yds repetitions was reduced to 110 yds jog, while the speed of all the other sessions increased.

'Racing to get fit'!

Ron Clarke, the first man to break 13 minutes for three miles, had a different approach. A 20 mile run once a week was an essential part of his training, which probably gave him the endurance to run a world record 5,000m in 1965 where the average deviation of pace for each lap was only 0.66 of a second. Out of season, Clarke trained three times a day, reaching 150 miles a week. The morning run consisted of three miles at a fast pace followed by weight training using a 100 lb barbell. At mid-day he ran six miles fast. Evening saw the main session of the day, 14 miles of continuous fast running.

Once a week he went on to the track, either to do 10 x 220 yds in 26 secs with 220 yds jog or 10 x 440 yds with 440 yds jog. This astonishing schedule was followed by a 'racing to get fit' regime; on arrival in Europe he raced virtually every other day for a month at different distances, which did not permit him to train often. It was commonplace for him to run a dozen 5,000m races in the summer, a feat which would cause many modern exponents of the 5km to turn pale!

Emile Puttemans (Bel) lowered Viren's 5km world record to 13:13 in 1972, which stood for five years. His training consisted of two sessions a day all year round and involved more anaerobic running than his predecessors; he appears to have been one of the first athletes to do two lactate threshold runs of four miles duration each at maximum effort. Fartlek (speed play) occupied 15 per cent of the total 100 miles a week.

Working out a formula

Having studied the different training methods of past world-record holders, I tried to find a mathematical correlation between their 5km and 1,500m times. It appeared that three times the 1,500m time plus three minutes equalled a slow potential, eg, best 1,500m = 4 mins x 3 + 3 mins = 15 mins 5km potential. It also appeared that the same formula plus only two-and-a-quarter minutes equalled the maximum potential, eg best 1,500m = 3 mins. 40 secs x 3 + 2.25 mins = 13 mins.15 secs maximum potential. Hutchings's best 1,500m time was 3 mins.38 secs, which gave a maximum possible for the 5km of 13:09 and a mediocre 13:54.

The other thing that became clear was the necessity for sustained bouts of running at the target 5km pace with short recovery. The current world record for 5km is 62 secs / 400m for men and 70 secs / 400m for women, or about 4:09 / mile and 4:41 / mile respectively. These lap times and mile times are rattled off one after the other with no recovery breaks. It therefore seemed pointless to do 13 x 400m at race pace with 400m jog recovery since that would provide a total rest time of about 36 minutes! We do not get this in a 5km race - we get none! Even jogging 100m after each 400m would total anything from six-to-nine minutes. Totally illogical!

Too long a recovery, too fast a pace

Yet I recently met a noted athlete who complained that he had run 13:40 / 5km 11 times and could not break through. Asked what his specific 5km session was, he said that it was 12 x 400 in 56-60 secs with 400m jog. When it was pointed out to him that he would not get 400m jog recovery in the race, he countered with: 'But I'm running much faster than race pace'. I replied that the session was more suited to the 800m event and that his failure to break 13:40 was due to too long a recovery and too fast a pace. I pointed out that if he did his reps in 64 secs (13:20/5km) and jogged 50m (20 secs) after each, he would get the feel of what it was like to run a tough 5km race. In fact, 400m repetitions are not a good distance for the 5km athlete to train at. The minimum recommended is 800m, eg 7 x 800m with 100m jog recovery (45 secs), and the maximum is 2000m (five laps), eg 3 x 2km with 300m jog recoveries (2 mins).

The recovery time after repetitions at 5km pace is a crucial factor. A good rule-of-thumb guide is to jog one-eighth the distance of the repetition. In 1972 I watched Steve Prefontaine (USA) in the Olympic village do 3 x 1 mile in 4:08 (12:56 / 5km) with 15 minutes rest after each. Many onlookers thought this was a sensational session and tipped him for the gold medal. However, we do not have 15 minutes rest after the first mile of a 5km race. It would have been better if he had done 3 x 1 mile in 4:16 with 200m jog recovery. He finished fourth in the final in a time of 13:28 (64.5/400m).

Here's a 14-day schedule

The 5,000m race is 80 per cent aerobic and is run at 95% VO2 max. Predominantly aerobic running is marathon pace (98%), half-marathon pace (94%), 10km pace (90%) and 3km pace (60%). The training ratio is four aerobic sessions a week to one anaerobic. The later may include: 1,500m pace (50%), 800m pace (67%), and 400m pace (full-out sprinting from 200m - 83%). We are now in a position to draw up a 14-day, physiologically based schedule for a female 1,500m runner with a best time of 4:20. Her potential for the 5000 is 3 x 4:20 + 3 mins = 16 mins to 15 mins.15 secs.

Day 1: Aerobic - 98%. Run 10 miles in under one hour.

Day 2: Aerobic - 90%. Run 10km in 35 minutes.

Day 3: Aerobic - 95%. 4 x 1,600m in 5 mins.20 secs with 90 secs recovery. Aiming to reduce to 5 mins within 12 weeks.

Day 4: REST.

Day 5: Aerobic - 60%. 16 x 400 in 74 secs (3km pace) with 45 secs rest.

Day 6: Anaerobic - 50%. 6 x 500 in 87 secs with 2 mins rest (1,500m speed).

Day 7: Aerobic. 15 mins jog, then run 4 miles at 5 mins.23 secs/mile (lactate threshold).

Day 8: REST.

Day 9: Aerobic - 94%. Run half-marathon at 6 mins/mile.

Day 10: Aerobic - 80%. 1 x 3km in 9mins 52secs, 3 mins rest, 1 x 2K in 6 mins.35 secs, 2 mins rest, 1 x 1K in 3 mins.17 secs. Aim to reduce to 9:30, 6:20 and 3:10 respectively within 12 weeks.

Day 11: Aerobic - 98%. Run 10 miles in under one hour.

Day 12: REST

Day 13: Aerobic - 60%. 5 x 800 in 2 mins.28 secs with 90 secs rest.

Day 14: Anaerobic - 67%. 4 x 4 x 200 in 32 secs with 30 secs rest after 200s and lap walk after each set.

The aim of the above schedule is to reduce all times stipulated within 12 weeks without reducing any of the recovery times. It will be noted that the customary five consecutive days of training with the sixth off (Friday) has been amended to three days consecutive training with the fourth off. Recent research indicates that there is a greater incidence of injury after three days of continuous training and that stress is likely to occur when carrying out a 5,000m schedule of this type if such rests are not taken. Athletes troubled by extra weight can do a morning run of 30 minutes in addition. The resting metabolic rate is raised by morning runs and remains elevated for 18 hours afterwards; this helps burn off calories.

I recently heard a good-class 5km runner exclaim when he heard of the new world record (12:56.96): 'I feel like giving up. I'll never run that fast'. Asked what his best 3km time was, he said that it was 7:39. I pointed out to him that he had already run over half the 5km distance faster than the world-record pace! It was suggested to him that in training he ran a fast 3km, took 3 mins rest and then did 5 x 400m in 62 secs with 90 secs rest. This would equal 5km in total at world-record speed. When accomplished, he should systematically reduce the recovery times by 15 seconds a session. He thought it was a good idea. As the old Chinese saying goes, 'A 10,000 mile walk starts with the first step'.