Utilizing plyometrics for my typical-slow twitch- distance runner self to help me break the 5:00 minute mile


In my 3 years of training, I have raced 5 miles:

Indoor 2013: 5:54, 5:49 ( had about 1 month of training under my belt joining indoor track halfway through the season)

Indoor 2014: 5:18, 5:07 (healthy, but in a phase of deep insomnia running 5:07 the day after getting 45″ minutes sleep the night before)

Summer 2014: 5:00 (healthy)

Indoor 2016: 5:11 (during a phase injury and anxiety filled mental freak-outs)

All of them, including 5ks, feel extremely fast to me. I’ve only raced 4 5k’s and all were 17:50’s, I have ran 17:25 by my lonesome just to push myself, but I have never been able to race a good 5k yet. I know my 5k time would trump my mile time, but in the two seasons of track I have completed, I have never been able to pull it together either due to my insomnia or injury.  From my very little experience in track I know that the 5k feels uncomfortably fast and the mile is like a dead sprint. The 800 feels like there must be a pack of wolves chasing me as I run for my life.

When I ran 5:07, the only workout I had done in preparation for that was 4X300 at 57-58′ and the rest were 800-1k repeats at 5k goal pace (5:45 pace) with faster 200’s at 38-40′ tacked on. I can attribute my very average, but decent third shot at racing the mile, to my aerobic base and good race instincts. When I ran 5:00 flat, I was in the middle of 60-80 mile base weeks. I did run it on fairly even splits, going through 800 meters at 2:31.

For me, it is resonates when Jack Daniels writes, “Races that last between about 4 and 13 minutes are won with speed, but a high aerobic capacity allows for some control in the middle of the race and provides a strong base and recovery system that facilitates optimal anaerobic training…You must learn to run fast and still be in control of your mechanics; run fast and not strain; run fast and still feel you have another gear when you need it. That is when having a high aerobic base pays off. It means saving anaerobic reserves as your final gear, rather than having to call on them to maintain intensity of the midrace pace.”

Now, as I realize if I ever want to reach my potential in the 5k and 10k and then in 5+ years down the line, switch my focus to my real goal: the marathon, then I must really get better mile. As in the next two years, I will 4:50-ish (I am very firm about this, I feel silly writing that, but I have to believe I can, right?)

I realize my aerobic capacity can only help me so much. While I am not suggesting that my aerobic ability will not contribute to my goal of running sub 5:00–what I am saying is that I need to work on my weaknesses and not depend only on my aerobic strength for anything faster than 5:10 pace.

The first 3 years of running for me has been very aerobic, honestly just a lot of 6:40-8:30 min/per mile running. I went from a 22:11 6k to a 21:16 6k with the summer prior running 70-90 miles a week at 7:30- 8:30 min/mile pace, only dipping into 6:30-7:30 pace once maybe once a week. I would typically run 70+ minutes at a time around 7:45 pace and then somehow did my first 6k back in 21:26?? I honestly don’t know how I did that. My coach always told me I swallow oxygen like it’s a drug. Now that I have been in the sport a couple years and have done some reading, I realize that I need to have days where I focus only on speed.

This past year, I solo’d my very first 400 meter time trial and ran a 67 going through the first 200 at 30′ (prior to this 200′ split, my fastest 200 at maximal effort had been a 34′) and then completely faded with 150′ to go. That was my first attempt at getting “faster” but the recovery days following took too much time away from overall quality running, as I literally couldn’t run faster than 9:30 pace for the next 4 days to save my life. Honestly, my athletic trainer flushed my legs 2-3 times a day and I was even tested for rhabdomyolysis because I was that out of tune.

…yes, this is pathetic. You’d think as a low 5:00 miler, I could run 1X 400 at 67′ and be okay but apparently I am that fragile to speed work. My coach and I agreed pure speed days like this weren’t really realistic to keep pursuing if I got that beat up to point of it hindering other quality training.

My approach now is to still work on speed, including some hard 60 meter- 150 meter hard efforts before I could really trash myself in efforts longer, similar to my unforgettable 400 meter experience, but I am more focused on developing better mechanics and force output. My stride is very distance runner-esque, as my knee lift could be much higher. When running fast workouts, I now focus on trying to drive the knee up much higher than I have in the past.

A few weeks ago, I asked my school’s assistant football coach who is very knowledgeable in strength and conditioning to help me. It would be tedious to list everything he helped me with, but the exercises I plan to continue to execute and some that I have picked out myself are:

  • Speed squats: my starting time with just the bar is a set of 2 reps in under 2.6 seconds
  • 30 second high knee and butt kick drill at maximal speed
  • Jump squats: Jumping Squats Side.MOV down into a deep squat and as quickly as possible resuming to neutral standing positon

  • Knee slaps: Legs   Jump with Knee Slap just going from standing to bringing the knees into the chest and slapping the top of the thighs, repeatedly

Along with these, I am also starting to box jump. I am hoping these plyometric exercises help me produce greater force, faster.

When I reflect on running the mile, I never recall feeling as out of breath as I did just unable to turn over my legs any more quickly than they were already going.

In the end, I think running a better mile than I have in the past will come down to actually running that given pace in workouts specific to sub- 5:00 pace prior to the race, but I think this ancillary work will benefit me on my fast twitch fiber’s force output and rate of firing.

Sarah Bradley
Expanding on her passion for distance running, Sarah Bradley, is a young lady who finds great enjoyment in interviewing people on their journey pertaining to the sport of track and field and writing about various topics within the sport. She wishes the insights, experiences, and self reflections shared may serve someone, somewhere. Beginning running recreationally at age 18, she has since found substantial improvement. She is mostly silly, but on occasion--when she drinks enough coffee--she is fully enticed in the pursuit of her very best.