If you want to run a sub-20 minute 5K, but your current PB is 22:00, should you train at sub-20 pace, or at the pace you know you’re currently capable of running? A lot of runners might think it makes more sense to run at your goal pace in training in a pseudo-fake-it-til-you-make-it strategy, but this is often not the right choice. Yes, you should try to hit your goal pace sometimes, but more often than not, training at your current pace and progressing from there is a better way to get you to your goals.
Why should you train at your current pace?
If you’re trying to run at speeds that are much faster than what you’re currently capable of, you’re likely going to miss the physiological purpose behind each workout. For example, a tempo run, which should be run at around your anaerobic threshold to elicit the desired effect, loses its purpose if you’re running at your would-be tempo pace for your future goal pace. You are better off training the specific physiological factors that will help you get faster (like your VO2 max or lactate threshold) than targeting a hypothetical goal pace.
By doing all your workouts at your future goal pace, you also run the risk of overtraining. Trying to run paces that are far beyond your current capabilities during workouts will only serve to run you into the ground and cause your performance to stagnate or even decrease, rather than improve.
Finally, attempting to run every workout at your future goal pace might destroy your confidence if you’re not able to hit that pace for your entire workout. This could make you feel like you’re failing, which will also take a lot of the enjoyment out of running and training.
Is there ever a good time to train at goal pace?
This doesn’t mean you should never train at your goal pace, but as coach and exercise physiologist Dr. Jason Karp says, you should do so sparingly, and only when your goal is realistic. In training, that may look like only one or two workouts at that pace throughout your training cycle, or adding a few goal-pace strides at the end of a run or workout.
It’s important for all runners to remember you can’t force your way to faster times, nor can you rush yourself into fitness. By focusing on proper training, putting in consistent work and staying patient, you will see your times start to come down.