Figuring out 5k effort

My training plan calls for time based repetitions run at “5k effort,” and it turns out that I am really struggling to figure out exactly what pace that might be. I know that I have mentioned the article “Solving the 5K Puzzle” about a million times, but since it is the basis for my training plan, expect to keep hearing about it for the next 8 weeks.

The author indicates that these effort based repetitions should be run at paces based on my current fitness, not the fitness I hope to have at the end of the training period. My most recent 5k was completed in 22:15, or about a 7:10 pace. That was raced the day after a 10 mile training run, so it is possible that I am a little bit faster now.

22:15 was fast enough for an age group award!

For my first set of 5k efforts (5KEs) I tried to run a bit faster than usual, but not crazy fast. I calculated that I was running at a 6:56 pace. I was supposed to run 5 reps, but I felt like it was too easy and ended up doing a couple extra. I decided to try to run a bit faster the following week. During week two I ended up running around a 6:22 pace. This was WAY too fast and I definitely paid for it for the rest of the week.

The truth is I really don’t know how to pace myself at paces below 7:00. Part of this makes me want to panic. The best way to get a 5k PR will be to run even splits or slightly negative splits. If I can’t figure out how to pace myself during the 1-2 miles, I am going to run out of speed before the finish line. Fortunately Hanna shared some very timely wisdom on her blog this week:

it’s okay – my body is still learning.

This is completely new running territory for me right now and it is okay if I can’t perfectly execute every run on my training plan. When I trained for my first couple half marathons, I ran every long run as fast as I could. Now I know better. And by the time I have gone through this training plan a few times, I will be able to control my speed instead of trying to run each rep as fast as possible.

For week 3 I decided to give myself a little bit of help finding the right pace. I knew that I wanted to run a bit faster than 6:56 and slower than 6:22. I decided that aiming for 6:45 would be a good middle ground. Since I would be running for 2 minutes, I knew I needed to cover about .3 miles. I found a nice stretch of paved trail that was the right distance and set out to cover it 5 times with 3 minutes of recovery between reps.

My reps were 2:05, 2:07, 2:00, 2:00, 2:02

Average pace: 6:49. A tiny, tiny bit slower than intended, but the first three had a pretty strong headwind, so I’m really not bothered. I finished feeling like I could have gutted out one more rep, but I was glad that I didn’t have to. Hopefully this means I was close to the right pace. I’m going to use this strategy for running the rest of my 5KEs and, hopefully, come race day I will know what I am doing.

If anyone has any better ideas for running this type of workout, please let me know! As I’ve mentioned, this is the first time I am following a 5k specific plan and could use any advice that is out there!


8 thoughts on “Figuring out 5k effort

  1. Sounds like a great plan! For my speed work in my half training, I also have 5kE for my repeats. I also struggle with picking what pace to run it. I haven't “raced” a 5k in such a long time, so it's even tougher to decide! I aimed to do 1:45 for 400m and that worked for me. Another thing I try is to improve on each repetition, or at least do the last few faster than the first few. You did this as well, which I think is great for simulating pushing at the end of a race on tired legs!

    Keep it up 🙂


  2. Good job! Thanks for the shoutout 😉 It is a good mantra isn't it? This is why we crazy runners stick with the sport, all the nuggets of wisdom we get during runs!

    Runners are surprisingly hard on themselves about not hitting a home run in every workout (I would know, I am the queen of this!). I think it's because so many of us are goal-oriented perfectionists by nature, hence why we are drawn to the sport. But our bodies and muscles really do need time to learn, just like you would expect needing time to learn a new job, or learn the material before you take a test, or practice driving before you get your license. There's a reason we call it training! 🙂

    As for the intervals, I don't run short fast intervals very often but I use a strategy for longer ones that I think would work for shorter ones too: the first couples times I'm doing any sort of workout, I try to run it by feel instead of pace – what I THINK the effort feels like. Then afterward I can look at my Garmin and see how close I got to my goal pace. After a few times of doing the workout this way, my body starts to learn what certain paces feel like and I start to feel more confident about making adjustments to get closer to the target. For example, if I'm always coming up a little short of my goal pace, I start to learn that next time, I need to run just a teeny bit faster than I'm used to. Remember, your body knows effort, not pace. You have to become fluent in what your efforts yield before you can make adjustments. Hope this helps! Keep up the good work!!!


  3. If you have a recent race you could use one of the equivalency calculators to see what your 5k time would be, such as the McMillan calculator. That might help you gauge what pace to use for your intervals.


  4. I'm like the only runner without a Garmin 😦 Having one would definitely make it easier to track how I am doing on my intervals.

    Oh well. Just got to keep trying to learn and trying not to be too much of a perfectionist (so, so guilty).


  5. Great post! I'm about to start doing similar workouts and I'm a little bit nervous about them. It's just hard for me to judge what some of my shorter paces are. I've run only one 5k at race effort in the last year and a half, and I went out WAY too fast in the first mile and really suffered through the last mile. So is my 5k pace the average of that? Or would I have been able to go faster if I hadn't sprinted out the start? I don't know!

    Long story short, I don't have words of wisdom for you, but I look forward to reading more about your speedwork/5k training journey. I'm sure I'll learn something from reading about your experiences, and maybe we can help each other figure this out.


  6. That is pretty much my 5k struggle. I don't know how to pace myself so I always starts too fast and slow down in the last mile. I am really, really hoping not to do that during my upcoming 5ks this year.


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