This study compared running velocity, physiological responses, and perceived exertion during self-paced interval training bouts differing only in work bout duration. Twelve well-trained runners (nine males, three females, 28+/-5 years, VO2 max 65+/-6 mL min(-1) kg(-1)) performed preliminary testing followed by four "high-intensity" interval sessions (Latin squares, 1 session week(-1) over 4 weeks) consisting of 24 x 1, 12 x 2, 6 x 4, or 4 x 6-min running bouts with a 1:1 work-to-rest interval (total session duration 48 min). The average running velocity decreased (93%, 88%, 86%, 84% vVO2 max, P < 0.01) with increasing work duration. Peak VO2 averaged about 92+/-4% of VO2 max for 2-, 4-, and 6-min intervals compared with only 82+/-5% for 1-min bouts (P < 0.001). Six of 12 athletes achieved their highest average VO2 and heart rate during 4-min intervals. The average RPEpeak (rating scale of perceived exertion) was approximately 17+/-1 for all four interval sessions. RPE increased by 2-4 U during an interval training session. The mean lactate concentration was similar across sessions (4.3+/-1.1-4.6+/-1.5 mmol L(-1)). Under self-paced conditions, well-trained runners perform "high-intensity" intervals at an RPE of approximately 17, independent of interval duration. The optimal interval duration for eliciting a high physiological load is 3-5 min under these training conditions. Increases in RPE during an interval bout are not associated with increasing blood lactate concentration.