To 5K Pace or Not to 5K Pace?



Many runners and coaches seem to be fond of training at 5K or 10K race pace, designing workouts at those paces. There is not much value to doing that other than to practice specific race pace. While it may seem logical to run at 5K (or 10K) race pace as often as possible to get faster for a 5K (or 10K), it’s not the best (or even a good) way to improve 5K time. It’s better to target the specific physiological factors that influence race performance.

5K race pace is too fast to train lactate threshold and too slow to train VO₂max, and so is not the best use of your training time. Instead, run at lactate threshold pace to train lactate threshold and run at VO₂max pace to train VO₂max. However, if you feel you need to practice specific race pace for the confidence it gives you, then train at that pace to meet the psychological purpose.

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2 Responses to To 5K Pace or Not to 5K Pace?

  1. Let me play Devil’s advocate here, especially when it comes to running at VO2max pace as opposed to 5k pace. Yes VO2 max is an important component, especially with a 5k race, but we are making the assumption that we can pick a precise pace that will elicit the maximum amount of benefit when trying to improve this. Barring being in a lab, I don’t think we can make this assumption at all. The precise pace would be the slowest pace that would result in hitting VO2max, anything faster would put a needless amount of stress on the body, and if the pace is significantly faster would actually work a different physiological function than VO2max. On the other hand, running at 5k pace might be more precise given the same conditions as the 5k itself, and though it would be slower than theoretical VO2max, my understanding is that VO2max is somewhere around 3k pace or maybe around the maximum pace maybe you could run in 11 minutes. Would the difference between the two paces be significant enough to take the chance of running at a pace that is too anaerobic? Wouldn’t running at 5k pace still significantly benefit VO2max? Finally, wouldn’t the best case scenario be running more by feel rather than worrying about a precise pace? Just some thoughts.

    • I agree with everything you have said. If we know a runner’s 5K pace, we can calculate VO2max pace and be pretty close. If a runner is going to run at 5K pace in a workout, the reps have to add up to be more than 5K, otherwise the workout wouldn’t stress the runner enough.

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