parkrun has been a fantastic community and sporting project since it started all those years ago and most runners you speak to will have run one. We all have our favourite one (Rich thoroughly recommends Holkham parkrun for a challenging route with some beautiful scenery that's got a lightening fast last 1km). You'll often read of parkrun tours where runners try to run as many different ones as possible too.
Many runners will run a parkrun regularly or even each week to enjoy the social and physiological benefits of vigorous exercise.
In this article, we suggest how you can use them within your training to improve your training and racing.
Whilst racing challenging yourself to run faster within a training cycle is a good thing, if you run the same route or distance every week to a maximal effort, it can cause you to plateau where your fitness / speed doesn't improve.
After a few months, adaptions from a regular maximal 5k effort are going to slow / be minimal. You'll often see runners making huge progressions with their times over the first few months of going to a weekly parkrun, but after a while their performance will plateau.
When thinking about your training, there are different ways of making the most of this weekly 5km so that you're doing it as part of something bigger. Some ways to provide variety for your parkruns.
Turn your parkrun into a session
You don't have to race your parkrun, instead you can turn it into a session;
Why not run the 5km at Threshold effort and work on your speed endurance? This can be a lot harder than it sounds, because you can very easily work above your threshold effort if you aren’t careful. It requires discipline and focus to make this session successful but after a few weeks of this you’ll notice the difference. If you can’t run 5km at threshold effort, take a recovery of a few minutes in the middle of the 5km. If you are going to do this, make sure you have a good warm up and cool down.
Get used to running your Marathon, Half Marathon or even 10km pace over 5km. Running 5km at Marathon Pace should feel easy, but making sure you can lock into that pace easily is vital to racing well over 26.2 miles. When doing any of these sessions, you have to make sure the pace is realistic, otherwise you are just running too hard. It's a lovely way to tune up before a big race.
Treat the parkrun as a Fartlek session, picking up and slowing down the effort at various parts of the run. You could then take this idea a step further, running alternate km's at different intensities. Try and run km's 1,3,5 at threshold effort and 2,4 at 10 km effort. You'll have an awesome workout! You can get really creative with how you break the 5km up.
Learn what it is like to run a negative split or kick hard towards the finish
A really enjoyable way to race is to have a negative split, where the 2nd half of the race is faster than the first half. Negative splits aren't just things for elite or fast runners. It teaches pace management and helps build confidence when you finish a run strongly. You can even practice a finishing kick in the last 1km. Having the patience and discipline to do this in a race can be really difficult. A parkrun is the perfect environment to try either of these tactics out.
Build it into your long run
We’ll be dicussing the long run in more detail in a future post, but why not take part of your long run as a parkrun? It can help break up the long run, and you can use it at various parts of your long run. Take the parkrun easy and use it as the start of your long run, put it in the middle of the long run to help keep you motivated, or use it as the last part of your long run, maybe picking up the pace to have a faster finishing long run done on tired legs. It can also help you to catch up with friends who may be slower or faster than you so you maintain social connections during a big training block.
Get better at races
Some people are natural racers and come alive on race day, but most of us suffer with nerves and anxiety on these occasions. We’ll be covering the mental side of racing in more detail over the summer in a series of blogs, but one strategy to get on top of this response is going along to a parkrun and using it to practice being in this environment. You’ll learn to cope with the stress / excitement that comes with race day, and start to see that it isn’t as scary as your head can sometimes make it. If you don’t have a good pre-race routine, you can start to work on one at parkruns, so come the big race, you’ll be calmer and in a better place to perform. Use these environments to make you more comfortable in a race environment.
parkrun doesn't have to be a hard effort or session every time that you run it. Why not slow down and use it a nice easy recovery run during a big training block. A great opportunity to catch up with friends too.
It doesn't have to be a race every week. Why not volunteer at your local parkrun. Giving back to parkrun and a sport you enjoy so much to help others can have a really powerful motivational effect.
We hope that these ideas for your parkrun helps you think about your training so you can get the most of each run you do. The more time and thought you invest into your running, the more you’ll get out of it.