Florian Neuschwander’s Run with the Flow crew has won the team category at the Wings for Life World Run for five years in a row. And with over 1,100 team-mates on board for this year's event on May 9, you’d better believe they’re not all world record setters like their team captain. One of the most accessible entry points for rookie runners is the 5k, which has a habit of quickly nestling its way into your fitness regime. Neuschwander says the next challenge is knocking your time down, minute by minute, second by second.
To help, he's got some tips to get your 5k under control and maybe even under 30 minutes – the point where the Catcher Car will begin pursuit.
1. Start befriending 2k and 10k runs
Slaying the 5k isn't just about running 5k all the time. The name of the game is increasing your aerobic ability while building an internal battery that never dies. "Mixing up your 5ks with longer 7.5k to 10k runs and shorter 2k to 3k ones can improve your stamina and your speed," Neuschwander suggests.
2. HIIT it up
If you want to boss your 5k time without necessarily hitting the pavement several times per week, you might try high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It's basically combining vigorous exercise (e.g. sprinting on the spot, or cycling as fast as you can) with brief rests.
Studies suggest it could even have better gains for your cardiovascular ability than continuous endurance training. "Cycling is something I do myself for cross-training," says Neuschwander. "High-intensity bursts can be one way to squeeze in training on those days when you're pressed for time."
While you're training, try weaving five-minute intervals of threshold running into your longer run
3. Don't aim for a PB on every single run
"Nobody likes to run full throttle more than me, but sometimes, to run faster you actually need to run slower – as long as you do it regularly," Neuschwander advises.
Easy runs are a surprisingly effective way to build your fitness and although it's tempting to drop these from your schedule, they're important for healing and for being able to run more often, as well as for balancing out the more intense stuff.
4. Think about your heart rate
To run harder for longer, you might consider threshold running. Rather than concentrating on pace, you're looking at effort – what fitness folks say is comfortably hard and below your optimum 5k time. "Pace is still important and when you want to plan for the run on May 9, there's a Goal Calculator to help you figure that out," Neuschwander notes. "But while you're training, try weaving five-minute intervals of threshold running into your longer run." Over time you might increase the intervals to 10 minutes or longer.
5. Turn mountains into molehills
Running up hills is a skillset in itself. Rather than thinking about it as a measurement of how much energy you have, compare it to squatting or lifting weights – that's kind of what’s happening to your leg muscles. If you make your regular 5k a hilly route, Neuschwander says, "the flats will become easy by comparison."
6. Strong legs = fast pace
Speaking of muscles, since your legs are going to be your primary instrument for your 5k, you're going to want to whip them into shape. "But it's not just about having shapely calves," laughs the mustachioed athlete. "Your hamstrings and glutes are important, too." Work your whole legs in the gym to get the best out of them.
7. Seek variety in your routes
Neuschwander has laced up his shoes all over the world and says, "For me, the terrain doesn't matter. The important thing is to get out and run." Concrete, mud, gravel, hilly, flat – getting accustomed to different routes will make you more prepared for anything thrown at you. Try your anticipated App Run route more than once for a better time – you'll know what to expect, where to preserve your energy and when to floor it.
8. Find motivation outside yourself
If you want to give better than your best or go for longer, the goal of the Wings for Life World Run will fire up your inspiration. The whole point is to support research to find a cure for spinal cord injury. "The fact that this virtual car is chasing you and that it's for a good cause – that's my thing," Neuschwander shares.
9. Weather it out
If you felt those race times dropping during winter weather, take heart: the workout you've been giving your lungs means that as milder weather steps in, you should get a boost of confidence in your race time. Neuschwander adds with a smile: "And if it’s been summer in your part of the world, no worries. You never know what the weather will be like on race day, but we all get through it together."
10. A little help from your friends – and the App
Neuschwander recently set the record for 100km on a treadmill (6h 26m 08s) and credited the support of people around the world who were following along digitally. Now, he says: "On race day, Our Run with the Flow team will be running individually, but connected on the App. It's such an amazing event and when you're having fun, you can blast those kilometers."
Join Flo Neuschwander and Wings for Life World Runners everywhere: wingsforlifeworldrun.com