Workouts

Workout of the Week: Perceived Effort Ladder

This interval workout improves your ability to run hard all the way to the end of a 5K or 10K.

I love this workout because it truly improves how we race a 5K or 10K. Most of us tend to go out quick, settle into a pace, and then hope to hang on at the end. In this workout you practice going out fast and settling into the pace — but then running strong at the end. It is as much a mental exercise as a physical one.  

I originally learned about this workout from a friend who spent some time in NYC and ran with the Central Park Track Club. I have modified it slightly to fit the needs of the adult athletes of all levels that I work with.  

Even though it is designed for the track, I have also done this workout on the road with marked distances.

The author, Jenny Spangler, coaching her athletes through a workout.
Photo: Laura Kennedy

Workout Summary

  • 2 x 400 meters @ hard perceived effort
  • 2 x 600 meters @ 10K perceived effort
  • 2 x 800 meters @ 10K perceived effort
  • 1 x 1200 meters @ 5K perceived effort

Take 90 seconds of timed recovery between every repeat.

Workout Description

Perceived effort is the key to this workout: Most of the athletes that I coach are adults with very busy work and family schedules. We meet early in the morning and/or the evening. I have found that if I give them specific paces to hit that it often leads to injury. Specific times can also have the opposite effect for some: They may be ready to make the next “jump” in their fitness and to run workouts at a faster pace, but they limit themselves with a set given pace.

The goal for the first two 400 meter intervals is to run them hard but smoothly.  This pace typically ends up being their current mile/3K pace. I then emphasize that the 600 and 800 intervals need to be run at an effort that they feel they can sustain for a 10K with the goal of maintaining that pace even as the intervals get longer and they start to fatigue. Consistent pacing is extremely important. The real test of the workout comes at the end: They finish the workout by running faster — at a current 5K race pace effort— for a final 3 laps (1200 meters).

I tend to do this workout at least two to three times in the buildup to a 5K or 10K race. The number of times depends on how “smooth” the athlete gets through the workout. The first time most runners are struggling by the last 800 meter effort and have difficulty completing the 1200 as designated. Once the athlete can truly run quick during the first two 400 meter segments, and looks smooth and under control during the last 1200 meters, I feel confident that they are ready to line up for their race.  

Jenny Spangler won the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. She coaches runners of all abilities both online and in group settings throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.