The idea behind Project Joker came about because I've got limited time to train at the moment. And despite last year being great for PB's (10k, 10 miles and half marathon), my 5k time is now nine years old! So I wondered what would happen if I devote my finite time resources to quality training sessions, and focus purely on my 5k time. And rather interestingly, just how much can a runner improve with a concerted and measured effort? Let's do some science!
But hang on! If you've got any pertinent medical conditions or injuries; if you're not used to running regularly; or if you've never done speed work before, this is not for you. A dramatic increase in training load can cause you all sorts of trouble, so if you have any doubts, don't do it. Join in entirely at your own risk!
Still here? Good. Project Joker provides you with three quality sessions - a long run, a threshold run, and an interval session - and ten weeks to train. Unless you're Seb Coe, it's not not wise to attempt all three every single week.
The Training SessionsLong Runs (L)
Time on your feet is still important in short races. Take these at a gentler pace than you normally run, to stimulate your fat-burning systems, tune up your cardiovascular system, and help your body run efficiently.
Running fast (somewhere between your mile and 5k pace) helps improve the maximum rate at which your body can use oxygen. It's very hard work though, so the breaks in an interval session allow you to amass a greater overall volume of hard effort.
Threshold Runs (T)
These stimulate your muscles to utilise lactate, which is produced when they break down carbohydrates. Judging effort is key - if you go too slowly, you won't create a build up of lactate, and if you go too fast, you'll grind to a halt before getting the benefit.
Over the next ten weeks, I will be aiming to devote my three runs per week to these sessions, then seeing how this affects my 5k time. But crucially, I will also be playing a joker whenever I'm too busy, or when I feel like I could do with a rest. On these occasions, I'll either do an easier run, or just take a rest day. I'm not going to give myself a hard time about missing the hard training. Perhaps the best strategy would be to alternate the interval and threshold sessions each week. Obviously, consistency can lead to improvement, but well-timed rest is vital to give your body the opportunity to respond to the training load. And at the end of those ten weeks, even if I've played 30 jokers, I'll have some useful information that will help me understand the relationship between training effort and outcome.
If you'd like to join the experiment, you need to provide a benchmark figure for your current 5k ability. This doesn't mean your all-time best ever, it means the fastest you could run one today. This will generate some suggested paces for the three different sessions, and will give you access to a page where you can track your progress. You'll also be able to see the other participants, how many jokers they've played, and the progress they've made.