Get to grips with your perfect 5k running race pace and your training and racing will both go up a gear. Liz Hufton looks into your crucial run speed…

Learn your crucial run speed

People tend to suffer on the run leg of a triathlon. Just at the point when they ought to have the finish gantry in sight and feel like pushing for the line, they slump into a shuffle and slog their way to an anticlimax.

Watch the pros race, though, and you’ll see a very different picture. They fight hard all the way to the finish line. Now, in the case of ITU racing that might be in part down to riding in a pack and saving their legs – but it’s also because, in training, pros teach themselves to suffer on the run.

One of the simplest ways to do this as an amateur is to work on your 5k race pace. Racing 5k is a fine art: it’s a very fast pace, kept up for what seems like a very long time – anything from 15 to 40 minutes, depending on your level. Learning to pace yourself perfectly over 5k is difficult, and you’ll repeatedly suffer the realisation at 2km or 3km that you’ve already blown it, or sprint the last half a kilometre to realise that you must have gone far too easy at the outset. But the beauty of learning to run a good 5k is that not only will it translate into faster sprint tri finish times (where the run leg is usually 5km or thereabouts), but also it can act as a quick and easy gauge for how your running speed training is going. It’s a distance you can race every single week without impacting on your training, as it’s short enough to recover from in a day or two. And once you’ve got that pace nailed perfectly, you can use online calculators to predict race pace for other distances, and use 5km pace as your long speed interval level.

Now for the tricky bit: finding and holding your 5km pace. Chances are you’ve been running it too slow in your tri races. Consider that half-marathon pace is generally the point at which most people near their lactate threshold and you’ll see that a good 5km should feel hard for at least the last 3km of the race – you should start off feeling fast but easy, and end up feeling you have nothing left to give. Typically, you’d be running at 90-95% of your maximum heart-rate for the duration. In a triathlon race you’re likely to run a bit slower, of course, because you’ve been on the bike beforehand, but learning to push your limits like this will certainly help. Add in some triathlon-specific brick sessions (running fast off the bike repeatedly) in training, and you’ll be hurting all the way to the finish line – and enjoying every step.

Make it work – 3 ways to hit your 5K race pace

1. As with any race distance, faster-than-race-pace intervals will help you build speed. For 5km these should be really fast reps of 200m to 800m or 30secs to 3mins. Take long recoveries so that you can really attack the fast reps.

2. If you’re currently running for 30 minutes, three times a week, unless you’re very fast, you’ve may barely cover the full 5km before you get home. Commit to building up one run each week to an hour so that you have a solid endurance base.

3. The very best way to hone your 5km pace is to race it regularly, even if it’s just you and a group of mates with a stopwatch. Ditch the GPS and race with kilometre markers so you can learn to pace by feel, which will be crucial on race day.

Team Talk: Racing Long – “Your 5k pace is perfect for long intervals of 5-10mins when you’re training for Olympic distance or longer.”

Words: Liz Hufton, Triathlon Plus Magazine Editor