What is VDOT Running? – A Scientific Approach to a Sub 20 5k?

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You can get your VDOT from a recent race or PB and you can use that to give you your training pace.


That’s it really. You don’t need to know what it stands for.


Here is a table (below). Find your 5k PB and look across at the last 3 columns


So, for someone looking to run a sub-20 minute 5k, you should be already fairly close to that level of performance. Let’s assume your 5k time is 20:39 (6:38/mile or 4:07/km). IE you look at what you’ve achieved and not what you aspire to.


You would do one or two long runs a week at 8:49/mile (5:23/km) pace – say 80 minutes each


You would do a tempo run at 7:02/mile (4:22/km) pace – say 1 session of 40 minutes OR 2×20 minutes with 2-4 minute recovery.


You would do intervals at 1:36/400m (4:00/km) pace – say 5-10 intervals with 2-3 minutes recovery.


Here is a link to my ‘straightforward sub 20 5k training plan‘ which is not dissimilar but different enough to warrant a read.


5K VDOT Easy Pace (Per Mile) Tempo Pace (PM) Interval Pace (400 M)
30:40 30 12:40 10:18 2:22
29:05 32 12:04 9:47 2:14
27:39 34 11:32 9:20 2:08
26:22 36 11:02 8:55 2:02
25:12 38 10:35 8:33 1:56
24:08 40 10:11 8:12 1:52
23:09 42 9:48 7:52 1:48
22:15 44 9:27 7:33 1:44
21:25 46 9:07 7:17 1:40
20:39 48 8:49 7:02 1:36
19:57 50 8:32 6:51 1:33
19:17 52 8:16 6:38 1:31
18:40 54 8:01 6:26 1:28
18:05 56 7:48 6:15 1:26
17:33 58 7:34 6:04 1:23
17:03 60 7:22 5:54 1:21
16:34 62 7:11 5:45 1:19
16:07 64 7:00 5:36 1:17
15:42 66 6:49 5:28 1:15
15:18 68 6:39 5:20 1:13
14:55 70 6:30 5:13 1:11


All of these VDOT sessions should be well within your capability. You should really try to run at exactly the ‘right’ speed if you are following this method. As you are within your abilities then exactness and technique should be your focus. You wanted a scientific approach after all?


Analysis: VDOT running is supported by many coaches. I think the important thing is to make sure you do all 3 run types each week. Once you are getting close to an important race then you will drop at least one of the longer easy runs. You can get to a sub 20 minute 5k ‘easily’ without >1hour easy runs. However others would argue that this VDOT approach would get you to your goals quicker.


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Matthew King

I just did a 5K at 20:47 and I felt pretty good after, do you think that using this VDOT method will get me to the sub-20 minute goal and how long do you think that will take? Thanks!!

tfk, the5krunner

it’s a method of determining your efforts. you could equally determine those by hr or pace.
what will make you faster are the inputs ie the speeds and durations that you run for and the recovery you allow. look for the sub-20 thread on this site. especially if you have a good base you can mostly work on speedwork to get faster in the short term

Matthew King

Thanks for the response. Basically what I was wondering is that in your post you state “So, for someone looking to run a sub-20 minute 5k, you should be already fairly close to that level of performance.” Do you think a 5K at 20:47 is close to that level of performance? Thanks again.

tfk, the5krunner

yes! good luck