Best Running Pace for a 18 Minute 3 Mile

by Jonathan
(Cerritos, CA)

Hey, I'm in the marine DEP and leave for bootcamp in about 6-7 months' time. I need to be able to run a sub-18 minute 3 mile to get a perfect physical fitness test score.

I've been running for a few weeks now but just started to run consistently for about 1 week.

At the beginning ran it in 26 minutes and in about 3 weeks I got it down to 24:30. Even before I finished the run my right lower leg began to act up. I took 1 day off and ran again this time at a faster clip at a 8 min per mile pace and the pain was so bad I stopped after about a mile and a half. It wasn't a sharp pain but a dull aching pain. I'm afraid I have shin splints. But it doesn't hurt to walk. I don't know.

My question is do you think I'm increasing my pace too quickly and my legs aren't strong enough or used to it?

My second question is in order to train to run this sub 18 min 5k will running long distances like 5 to 8 miles at slow paces like 9 min mile pace will naturally help me increase my 5k pace or should I continue to push the pace on my 3 mile and not run long distance.

I'm afraid my shin splints will get worse though if I were to do that? Or should I do both?

Also will weight lifting help my legs while running? If so what kind of lifts?

Thanks for reading this I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Answer by Dominique:

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for your running training question.

The great thing is that you have got a lot of time. This should allow for a really solid preparation.

As you have discovered, fast running does increase the risk of running injuries.

Serious running training can be a bit of a balancing act between keeping the injury gremlins at bay and continuing to run!

There is quite a bit to address here. I'll cover it as follows:

1. Addressing the shin splints
2. Speed or endurance
3. Running and lifting weights

Addressing the Shin Splints

Doing those 3 milers over and over again at the fastest pace possible is not the best strategy. You have noticed your body protesting. Doing fast running increases your risk of injury.

Shin splints are almost always a case of "too much, too soon". They do usually resolve themselves once you are used to the new training load. But you do need to take it a bit easier for a bit. Slow down the pace.

best running pace for a 18 minute 3 mile

Speed or Endurance

You have time. You have six months or so, so there is no reason to hurry things. There is definitely a lot of benefit in running longer, slower runs first. This will help you build your base, also see my page about base running.

To address the title of your question - what is the best pace to train to get to your 18 minute 3 miles? Definitely easy pace, first and foremost. A lot of your training should just be easy pace.

So yes, I would recommend you pretty much stick to easy runs for the next 6-8 weeks or so. Do 3-4 running sessions per week consistently and slowly bring up the mileage over that time. Also see my increasing mileage safely-page.

After that period of base building, replace some of those easy runs with tempo running and interval running.

A solid base due to those longer slower runs combined with speedier stuff closer towards your physical test will get you to improve that 3 mile time.

A good book that adds all those elements together is Daniels Running Formula.

In this book you will also find training plan templates for your 5k run. Also note I have a coaching service that can provide you with a customised running plan and support along the way.

Running and Lifting Weights

best running pace for a 18 minute 3 mile

Lastly, let's get onto weight lifting. There is no doubt that there is a place for weights and body weight exercises in your running program. I have had tremendous help from weight lifting over the years. Weight lifting helps address imbalances and weak spots in the body. This in turn helps avoid injury. And just the act of staying consistent with your running is going to be tremendously important.

Additionally, your legs getting stronger will help with the tougher, faster workouts. So, yes, do it.


There are plenty of ways to devise a weight lifting program, depending on the equipment you have available to you. My short summary would be a selection out of great compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, single-leg exercises like lunges, single leg squat, Bulgarian split squat, core exercises and some upper body work (bench press, rows, push ups).

Contrary to old belief, focus on lower rep, heavier weights. You want to build strength, i.e. in the 5 - 10 reps range.

I hope this helps.
Best of luck!

Kind regards,

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