What Should My 5K Goal Be?

Photo from Shalane Flanagan's Back the Track 5K where I ran another 23:02.

Photo from Shalane Flanagan’s Back the Track 5K where I ran another 23:02.

The other day I went on a lunch run. I didn’t have an agenda. I thought I’d go out for a 5-ish-mile easy run.

During the first mile I settled in to an 8:30/mile pace. Lately, this has been my natural “easy” pace. (In truth, it’s probably a little faster than I should be running on easy days but it feels comfortable.) The route I decided to run was an out-and-back and was rather uneventful until mile four clicked off and I looked down at my watch and saw 7:57/mile.

I don’t typically run 7:xx/mile during an easy run and I most definitely don’t run it comfortably. At least that’s been the case until this lunch run. I felt totally comfortable and didn’t notice a change in effort or breathing. Then my fifth mile clicked off and my watch read 7:47.

So what’s the deal?

About a month ago I posted about how I wanted to focus on speed for the winter. I decided to hone in on training for 5Ks because I think it’s a manageable goal, especially once the weather gets really bad. To work on this I’ve been incorporating more speed work into my training week. I’ve been running at least one tempo and one interval run each week and now I’m starting to see the impact.

My only problem is I have no idea how to actually “train” for a fast 5K. Sure, when I started running I did a couch-to-5K program. I ran my first 5K in 28:07 in September of 2012 but then I immediately began climbing the race distance ladder instead of working on speed.

I had never really raced a 5K until a month ago when I decided to test my fitness to see where I should start. I ran a 23:02, a nearly 2-minute PR since my previous 5K. After that I decided my first goal should be to break 23:00 but then my next goal should be… I don’t know?

If I’m running high 7:xx/mile pace at the end of an easy run, I don’t know what a more realistic 5K goal should be. Maybe a 21:xx? All I know is I like this newfound speed and I like the challenge running fast presents to me. Sure running long is fun too but right now, at the risk of sounding super corny, I’ve got the need for speed.

I’m welcome to any suggestions about what you might think would be a good 5K time goal. Share your thoughts in the comments! :)

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16 thoughts on “What Should My 5K Goal Be?

  1. It’s hard to figure having just run one 5K, I’d run another and see how you do, then make adjustments after that. As you probably know by now, the faster you get the smaller the increments in which you see improvement. It sounds like 21:xx is more than possible, to me the 5K distance is a combo of speed and endurance. My son is a college XC runner and his high school XC PR was 16:41 for 5K. They did that by lots of 200s/400s and faster tempo stuff. But don’t forget about the long run! The guys ahead of Matt on his XC team ran 10 miles once a week, I think that’s a big part of it too.

    • Thanks for your comment! I’ve been doing a bunch of 200s and 400s actually and have maintained a weekly long run of at least 10 miles. I plan to keep my long run between 10-14 miles while training for the 5K. I definitely need to just get out there and run a few more races. I’m just trying to nail down target paces for workouts.

      • It sounds like you are in a great place training-wise! Finding training paces can be tough for sure, but the more you race at that distance the more you will also get better with your tactics and what you can do. I’m like you…I went back to the 5K this year (albeit a bit slower!) and even with as much race experience I have I’m still working on my 5K tactics because I still go out too fast! :–)

  2. I love 5Ks and usually race a ton of them. You might try doing a mile time trial, entering that in McMillan to see what the equivalent 5K time is. If you feel that you can run that, then train to knock 30 secs off. If you feel that McMillan is giving you a faster 5K time than what you feel you can do, then you can train for that.

  3. First off let me start off by saying that those easy paces that you are putting down right now are pure awesome sauce!!! I have run distances from the mile to 26.2 but 5K’s are my favorite. Honestly with those easy pace you are running I think you could easily run a 22:30-22:45 5K easily under the right conditions. Progression runs and 3 X 1600 workouts will go a long way in helping with the goal time mentioned which I know you are capable of :) I would start your first 1600 workout at a goal pace of 7:30-7:40 and if you can manage that cut 2-5 seconds of the pace for each workout that follows.

  4. I wish I had advice, but I don’t…just wanted to say I’m happy to see you blogging again and am looking forward to seeing how your 5K training goes! We started out in really similar places (my first 5K was 28:02 and half was 2:17), but I haven’t upped the mileage nearly as much as you, and I’m not as fast – but definitely getting faster. So I’m looking forward to seeing what is possible! :) Good luck with your training!

    • Thanks! I’m happy to be blogging again :-) Life has just been so busy lately that my blogging has fallen by the wayside. I’ll do my best to keep it up!

  5. Mike (above) has really great advice. I’d try to run another 5k and try to run each mile feeling as if it’s hard/harder/hardest. Then you can really see where you’re at, and figure out training paces from there. I decided to focus on getter faster at the 5k about 2 years ago, starting at about 22:00; I was already in decent shape doing regular speedwork and long runs. I finally got it down to a sub 20 a few months ago, but chunked off little goals to get there, working on sub 21, then 20:30, then finally sub 20. It took amping up the speedwork A LOT to knock the time down by so much. I’m definitely not an expert, but I’d focus more on the times you’re able to do for your speedwork to give you an indication of what you can do, rather than relying on your easy run pace because it is in the speedwork that your body is feeling fatigued, just like you’ll be feeling in a 5k.

  6. First of all, congrats on the 5K PR and your awesome run! I definitely think you could shoot for something in the 21s as your next goal. Two minutes is usually a lot to shave off of a 5K but it seems like you are in that neighborhood! A good site I like to use for race/pace predictor is the McMillian Pace Calculator. It is awesome: http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/. It will tell you what your training paces should be based on your current PR and your goal PR. Enjoy!

    • I wanted to second this tip. I’ve found the McMillan calculator does a great job. The paces are designed to help you improve from your current PR, even if you don’t enter a goal time. The calculator provides a time/pace range for each workout type, and I’ve found that when I’m training well, I start a training cycle at the slow end or slightly too slow for a given workout type, but by the end of a training cycle, I’m hitting the targets around the mid-range or a bit faster.

      • Yes! I am the same way with the paces. Hard to hit at first, better towards the end of the cycle. It’s amazing how accurate it is! I have a coach now but I still use McMillan for reference! It’s great.

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