This spring, with no half or full marathon races on the horizon any time soon, I thought now would be the ideal time to put aside the long training runs, and turn my focus towards the shorter distances for a change. Especially with the very welcome recent news that parkrun is hoping to restart it’s Saturday morning events in England on June 5th, I wanted to get myself completely 5km ready for the return!
My previous best timed 5km run stood at 24:22min, set at Victoria Docks parkrun way back in August 2019. Since then, I managed to break the 25 minute barrier once more at a RunThrough Olympic Park Chase the Moon event, but spent all of 2020 not really able to improve further. Of course, the lack of parkrun or any other organised races last year didn’t help, as I had always found that running with other people in a race atmosphere to be where I was most able to put in my best times.
I had heard mention a couple of times about the Garmin Coach training plan, a personalised and free training plan paired to your running watch, which seemed ideal for the situation I found myself in. Lockdown 3.0 was well underway, with no possibility of accessing running clubs or track sessions. Even simply running with more than one friend was impossible under the English lockdown guidelines. It was going to be a few months of just me, my Garmin watch and a whole load of solitary running. The perfect time to set my own targets and see if I could get something useful out of these quiet few months.
How do you set up the training plan? It’s really easy to set up a Garmin Coach training plan via the Garmin connect app. You can choose 5km, 10km or half marathon plans that take anywhere between 6 and 26 weeks. You go through some simple steps of inputting your goal times and training preferences, before choosing a virtual coach. The coaches here on the plan are really a way of selecting different training styles that mimic the preferences of the three real-life coaches Greg McMillan, Jeff Galloway and Amy Parkerson-Mitchel. I found that the app didn’t give you a whole load of information about the different styles before you committed to a plan, so if you want a more detailed overview I recommend reading this helpful guide here. I plumped for coach Greg, and a goal of a sub-24 minute 5km in 11 weeks, and just like that, the plan was ready!
What were the best things about the plan? The number one most useful thing about the Garmin coach plan is how easily and seamlessly it syncs with your watch. Whereas normally, it can take time to plan and create a complex multi-step workout involving warm-ups and different paces to hit, the Garmin coach takes all the effort away and sends it straight to your watch each day – just press start and off you go! Start running and the watch will beep to let you know when to change pace etc, guiding you through the workout. Secondly, the plan is intuitive. Each time you complete a workout it will analyse if you are on target or possibly struggling to hit your goal paces, and will adjust the difficulty of the next weeks workouts accordingly. I diligently worked through the 11 week program which consisted of a mixture of easy runs, hill work, and goal-pace intervals of varying lengths. Towards the latter part of the plan, the interval workouts became quite challenging (e.g. a 9km run containing 5x1km sections at 4:40 per km – tough going for me!), but I felt really motivated to try my hardest for the reward of a ‘Good Job!’ message from coach Greg and the satisfaction of my plan staying in the ‘Green – on track to succeed’ zone. Sounds a bit silly, but whatever works!
And did it help my 5km performance? On completing the plan a couple of days ago, I set out on a little solo 5km time trial to see if all this training had helped at all. I chose a nice flat route around the Olympic stadium, turned up my tunes to the max, and just ran for it! I honestly think 5km is one of the hardest distances to pace well, for me it is a very fine balance of how much speed I can put in those first couple of kilometres without burning out in the second half. Again I used my trusty watch to keep me on track with an evenly split pace. I finished the 5km having given it my absolute all, in a time of 23:26! Of course, this is just a watch-timed run by myself and not on an officially measured course, so I’m not claiming that as my PB for now, but it was undoubtedly the best that I’ve ever managed to run 5km. Roll on this summer where I would be absolutely delighted to record a time like that in a chip-timed race or at a parkrun! Let’s see if it is possible!
I’d love to hear if anyone else has had any success following a Garmin Coach plan, or if you have any questions at all about how to use the plan, just drop me a line. Love to you all x