My general training philosophy includes the idea that workouts are inputs. That is to say, the gain from workouts comes from doing them, regardless of the result. Even if you don’t run the splits you want, or were “supposed” to run, you still benefit. The best way to gauge your fitness is simply to race. That said, if a race isn’t available, and you are looking for a workout to help you predict what pace you should run in an upcoming race, the best one I know of is: 5 x 1K at, you guessed it, 5K effort, with 90 valuable seconds recovery between each tough interval.
5K time-predictor workout
5 x 1K at predicted 5K pace, with 90 seconds rest (walking or standing rest) between each kilometre.
You need to have some sense of your fitness, and start out at the pace you hope to run for a 5k, but it’s OK if you slow down a bit as the workout goes on. Conversely, if you feel like it’s too easy, you can feel free to pick up the pace and run harder. The short, 90-second recovery (this can be passive, that is, standing around, or a very light jog) will make sure the pace is honest.
You can fairly confidently take the average pace and translate it to your next 5K race, or use common calculators (McMillan or Jack Daniels) to determine what your pace should be for a 10K or even a half-marathon. (This workout won’t help predict your marathon performance, though. Probably only a half-marathon race can come close, but there’s no real perfect way, given the nature of the marathon, to predict as precisely what you should run.)
Now, it’s important to note that this workout is not what gives you the fitness to run your goal for the 5K or 10K. That is going to be an accumulation of easy runs, long runs, tempos, strides and other workouts. But this one simple set of intervals can show you what all that work has achieved.
John Lofranco is a coach with Athletisme Ville-Marie, head of road running at Athletics Canada, and a contributing editor. He lives in Montreal.