Key to Success :: Goal Pace Running

tempo running

When you are seriously working towards a key race, you are using a focused running program. You do your long runs, easy runs, tempo runs and intervals. Great! But something is missing in this picture:

Goal Pace Running!

In this section I'll talk about:

  • Why goal pace sessions are important.

  • Which goal pace sessions to do for different distances

  • Why You Need to Run at Goal Speed

    goal paceRunning a race is exciting.

    I always get nervous in the last half an hour before a race.

    Does not matter what race I am running.

    I need to run to the bathroom and feel uneasy about the race.

    Have I trained enough?

    Suddenly I feel a little pain in my left knee or my right achilles. I stretch a bit more. Do a few strides. Join the queues to the cubicles once more.

    After the race has started this uneasy feeling is gone almost immediately. I then focus on my speed. I know exactly how fast to go.

    Why? Because I incorporated goal speed runs in my running schedule, of course! I know exactly how fast to go.

    About Positive, Negative and Even Splits

    As you may already know, it pays off to run even splits or even slightly negative splits for longer distances.

    Even splits means that you run at a steady speed per mile throughout the race.
    Negative splits means that you start off a bit slower and speed up as the race progresses.

    You know those runners as well, who start off too fast and burn out well before the finish line? What, you are one of them?


    Don't worry. Me too. Occassionally.

    They are doing positive splits.

    Positive splits will hardly ever get you to your fastest time possible. In a marathon it is usually argued that every minute you run too fast in the first half, you'll lose five minutes in the second half.

    For shorter distances, the effect is less of course, but still tangible.

    Goal pace runs in your training will help. You'll make sure that you are able to run even splits during the race.

    So you know how fast to go and don't burn out early. Or that you realize afterwards that you should have pushed it a bit more.

    fight club running

    Other Reason for Goal Pace Sessions - Test Yourself

    There is another incredibly good reason for goal pace sessions. Uncertain about whether you'll be able to hold your speed until the end? Then you can test yourself during training.

    Suppose you want to do a 10K in 40 minutes. If you have severe troubles when performing a 5K in 20 minutes in your training, then you have got to wonder...

    A race usually brings out a little extra in you. But when you can't run half the distance in goal pace your goal is probably a bit too ambitious.

    So the second reason for goal speed running is to find out whether you are ready for your goal race or not.

    Goal Pace Sessions for Different Distances

    goal pace workouts
    I'll give you a few different ideas for goal pace running.

    We'll cover a few different distances.

    I have seen runners for whom these workouts are great predictors.

    And I have seen runners for whom they haven't.

    You need to find out for yourself what works and what doesn't.

    Generally you can break these goal pace running training routines up into different groups :

  • Intervals

  • Time Trial or Test Race

  • One prolonged effort

  • Easy, then goal pace

  • The first two are for the shorter distances; the last two for the longer distances

    Before you continue: do you have a clear goal in mind for your next race? If not, consider using the following pages to work things out:

    race conversion calculator

    running pace calculator

    5K Goal Pace Running

    Ten 500-metre repeats

    For me, this one is a powerful indicator. But, as I said before, you have got to find out for yourself if this works for you.

    Run 500 metre-repeats at goal speed. Walk for 45 seconds in between. Repeat ten times. You can run all repeats at goal pace? Then you are probably ready for your 5K!

    goal pace
    Five 1k Repeats

    Same idea as before: do five 1k-repeats with a short break in between (e.g. 45 sec - 90 sec). Able to do it?

    Then your 5k goal is definitely possible!

    5K Time Trial or Test Race

    The 5K is a short enough distance to run the complete distance in training at goal pace.

    Just do a 5K as fast as you can in training.

    See if you reach your goal or get close to it.

    This type of training, a time trial, is tough though.

    You don't have others around you to help you keep your speed.

    And it's easy to give in to the tiredness without the stimulation of a real race.

    That's why you might be better off putting test races in your running schedule.

    If you are in the middle of a tough training program your legs will be fatigued at test-race day. You will most probably not be able to maintain your goal pace the whole race.

    But just go out at your goal pace and see how long you can maintain it. No worries if you crash and burn. This is your test race!

    If you already feel like you can't go anymore after 1 mile, then you might be a long way from your goal. But if it happens in the last half mile before the finish, then there is a good chance that with a bit more quality training, a good taper and fresh legs you'll be able to finish your key-5K at the desired speed.

    goal pace

    10K Goal Pace Running

    Three 3K-repeats

    This is a toughie, especially in loaded training weeks. But when you can do this one, you are close to being able to run your 10K in your desired time. So do three 3K-repeats with a 1.5 minute jog in between. After this training, put in a few easy days.

    Also, please do not leave your goal speed sessions to the last week before your goal race. Try to to do them two or three times in the four to six weeks leading up to a key race to get a feel for the pace.

    Alternative goal pace workouts that you could use in the lead-up to 3 x 3k are 8 x 1k and 4-5 x 2k.

    10K Time Trial or Test Race

    As with a 5K time trial, it might be easier for you to schedule in test races. See what works best for you. A time trial is a bit more convenient to find time for. You can do it any time, any day. But it is a hell of a lot tougher to keep your pace when there is nobody around you.

    Half Marathon Goal Pace Running

    running tips for goal pace running


    Time to introduce some of my own lingo. This one I call the Double-Six.

    First run six miles at an easy pace.

    Then run six miles at goal speed.

    Why do six easy miles first?

    Well, you see, the trick  is that when you start doing your goal pace miles you are already tired.

    If you can maintain the pace for mile 7-12 with already tired legs, then you can feel pretty confident about making it to your goal.

    One prolonged effort

    Run nine miles at your half marathon race pace. Nine miles is a little less than 70 % of half marathon race distance (=13.1 miles / 21.1 K).

    Able to run 70 % of race distance at goal speed? Then, with your extra "race day powers", you should have a good chance of being able to run the full race at goal pace.

    A third option for the half that has worked for me in the past, although it is not technically goal pace running, is to see if you can run 12 miles at goal pace + 15 sec/mile (goal pace + 10 sec / km). Able to do that? Then you are probably good to go for your half marathon goal time!

    Marathon Goal Pace Running

    The longer your race gets, the more important it is that you go out at race pace. Not faster.

    It is often said, that for every minute you gain in the first miles of the marathon, you lose five minutes in the last miles.

    In a 5k you can chance things a bit more. You can go out aggressively, then hang on for dear life, maybe slow down (and die) a little bit during the last mile... But knowing what you can and cannot do is of utmost importance when running the marathon. For the marathon, as with the half marathon, we have two types of goal pace sessions at our disposal :

    Easy, then goal pace

    For a long time runners have believed that slow long running is the key for a good marathon. Of course, you need to do your amount of slow long runs.

    But next time you are planning a few 20-milers in your running schedule, make half of them finish at marathon pace.

    So start off slow, but for the last five to eight miles pick up the pace.
    As with the half marathon workout, key is that you run goal pace miles when your legs are already tired.

    One prolonged effort

    More and more elite-runners are running their long runs of 20 and 20+ miles at marathon pace. These sessions are extremely taxing and do not belong in the regular running program of us, mortals.

    But we can learn from the elites and at least try to do some longer runs at marathon pace when preparing for a marathon. Build up these long runs to about 15-16 miles in length. They'll give you a good training at maintaining your pace for a long, long time.

    And it is generally believed, that if you are able to run 16 miles at goal pace, you'll be able to run your marathon at goal pace.

    Goal pace running is an important part of your running program. Yes, you focus pretty much all your training on the traditional running training; your long runs, easy runs, tempo runs, and intervals.

    But you will want to put at least four to six workouts in your running schedule which are focused on running at goal pace.

    After all, running at goal pace is a very good way to make sure that you find your right pace when race day comes and that you'll be able to hold on that pace for the whole race!

    Other Recommended Articles for Peak Performance

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