3K Benchmark Runs

The 3K timed run has been a cornerstone of the Guelph Victors track workouts for the past decade or more. We do them every seventh week through our outdoor season as a way of gauging our fitness, and our progress. A regular time-trial like this is a staple of most running clubs and training programs. Here’s a guide to why we do it, how to prepare for it, and how to execute your best time trial.

RESULTS

Here are the results from the 2017 Benchmark Runs. Thanks to Isaac Wismer and John Marsden for the professional, chip-timed results with detailed lap splits.

Purposes

  • to monitor your progress through the season
  • to help you set appropriate race paces and goals
  • to help you determine appropriate training paces
  • to practice race preparation

Practice

Unlike other sports, running workouts aren’t typically called ‘practices’ because the primary goal is to train our energy systems rather than practice skills. However, the 3K Benchmark Run gives us an opportunity to practice some important skills necessary to run a peak performance race.

Pre-Run Nutrition

Eat ideal pre-race food the night before and the day of the run. In other words; plenty of carbohydrates that are low glycemic index, some healthy proteins and low fat. Eat light, stay hydrated and come to the run feeling light. You will likely want to have a sports gel or sports drink about 30 minutes prior to your Benchmark Run. Since a 3K run is so short, we want the high carbohydrate supplement to already be kicking in when the gun goes off. You will be bristling with energy, like a race horse who can’t wait to start running.

There are hundreds of articles on the web about what to eat before a short race. Here is one from Runner’s World: what to eat. This is your chance to experiment and practice, rather than before an actual race.

Warmup

When you toe the line, you want to have a good sweat going and your heart rate should be up. A 3K run is quite short for distance runners. Have you noticed when running track intervals that the third interval feels easier than the first interval? We want to start the benchmark run feeling like it is our third interval. The distance is so short that there isn’t time to work out the kinks in the first couple laps. So how should you warm-up? Here’s a method:

  • run easy for 10 minutes
  • pick up the pace for 5 minutes
  • execute some drills (knee lifts, butt kicks, lunges)
  • do some quick strides (short accelerations up to 80–90 per cent of your top speed)
  • no static stretching

Pre-Run Visualization

To make the most of this ‘practice’, your goal is to fool your subconscious mind into actually believing this is a race. Tap into your ‘peak performance emotion’. That is the emotion that helps you to over-achieve. There are many different emotions that athletes find effective: peace, nervousness, happiness, fun, seriousness, intense focus, etc. A small amount of ‘pressure’ is good.

choosing a Pace

During the 3K Benchmark Run, the most important aspect to practice is pace. You must know your planned pace per lap before starting the run. To determine this, Google for one of the many ‘Equivalent Race Time Calculators’ on the web. If you have an idea of what your current 5K ability is, you can use the chart at the bottom of this page to predict your 3K time and to determine the time per lap.

A Benchmark Run should be run at a consistent pace. Ideally, your lap times should be almost identical. This differs from a race, where you may have a strategy that involves slightly different paces during different phases of the race, and where you’re reacting to the runners around you (you’re racing them, not just yourself).

executing your pace

Most importantly, you should not have enough energy left to run a fast last lap. If your last lap is fast, you didn’t run a good Benchmark Run. Likewise, don’t start out fast and then fade in the last few laps, which is the most common mistake. The first 2–3 laps should feel somewhat easy, or at least controlled. You shouldn’t have to ‘dig deep’ until the at least the halfway point, about 4 laps completed. The actual 3K Run is 7.5 laps, so you will have seven opportunities to check and adjust your pace.

As in a race, your effort will feel increasingly hard with each lap, even if you’re running a consistent pace. Don’t think about the whole distance, or how many laps you have left. A good mental trick is to focus just on each single lap, keeping your form and pace consistent for 400 metres, then moving on to the next one. You may even lose track of how many laps you’ve run, until one of our volunteers tells you “last lap.”

We’ll have a timing clock and people calling times at the side of the track, but this will be your total accumulated time. If you want to know your exact time for each lap as you run, you’ll need to wear a running watch and press the lap button each time your cross the finish, then glance at your watch. This is the best way to accurately monitor your pace, and especially to avoid starting out too fast. (Tip: press the “lap” or “split” button on your watch after the first half-lap, then press “lap” each time you cross the finish line.)

Don’t Race

This isn’t a race. Yes, your pre-race preparation should mimic a race, but the actual run is not a race. You are not competing against anyone. You are simply trying to run the most consistent and fastest lap times possible according to your ability. Running an evenly-paced time trial can be very rewarding, and even fun (in a perverse sort of way).

first-timers

If this is your first benchmark run, then don’t worry about all the detail we’ve outlined here! Start off at a pace that is somewhat slower than you’ve been running for 400 or 800 metres in your track workouts to date, make sure you don’t get sucked into running too fast by the people ahead of you, and then run your best and hardest effort, especially after lap four. Once you’ve got a time trial under your belt, you’ll have that pace as a reference point for the next time around. It will typically take several tries to get the hang of pacing and especially, establishing a pace in the opening few laps — hard enough, but not too fast.

Cool Down

Additional mileage after the run is essential to minimize the effects of the hard run and add some mileage. Run 3–4 easy laps with friends, and perhaps even a  couple of laps at faster, tempo pace (a little slower than you were running in the time trial).

post-run results

We time our benchmark runs electronically, using a chip time system. The day after our time trial, we’ll publish the results online, and send you a link. These aren’t “race” results! In fact, the “winners” are the people who run the most consistent pace, no matter what their finish time. You’ll be able to see your precise lap split times online, and how consistent you were in pacing. This is excellent feedback, and a guide for the next benchmark run in seven weeks!

more resources

3K benchmark run pace chart

If you know your 5K pace (or your target time for that distance) use the chart below to find the 3K equivalent, and then to find your pace per lap (400 metres). Memorize this number, and try to run your first full lap (after the initial 200 metres / 1/2 lap) at that pace. If you’re too fast (the most likely scenario), then adjust your pace on lap 2.

3K Time 5K Time 400m Splits 200m Splits
10:30 18:19 1:24 0:42
10:45 18:45 1:26 0:43
11:00 19:11 1:28 0:44
11:15 19:37 1:30 0:45
11:30 20:03 1:32 0:46
11:45 20:30 1:34 0:47
12:00 20:56 1:36 0:48
12:15 21:22 1:38 0:49
12:30 21:48 1:40 0:50
12:45 22:14 1:42 0:51
13:00 22:40 1:44 0:52
13:15 23:07 1:46 0:53
13:30 23:33 1:48 0:54
13:45 23:59 1:50 0:55
14:00 24:25 1:52 0:56
14:15 24:51 1:54 0:57
14:30 25:17 1:56 0:58
14:45 25:44 1:58 0:59
15:00 26:10 2:00 1:00
15:15 26:36 2:02 1:01
15:30 27:02 2:04 1:02
15:45 27:28 2:06 1:03
16:00 27:54 2:08 1:04
16:15 28:21 2:10 1:05
16:30 28:47 2:12 1:06
16:45 29:13 2:14 1:07
17:00 29:39 2:16 1:08
17:15 30:05 2:18 1:09
17:30 30:31 2:20 1:10
17:45 30:58 2:22 1:11
18:00 31:24 2:24 1:12