Road to Sub-20 5K

A sub-20 minute 5K is probably up there as a goal for both seasoned runners and those aspiring newcomers. It’s a barrier that mainly psychological but the desire to break through it is there, and it’s strong.

I’ve already chronicled my first year in running so you may already know that I first laced up my trainers for a road run back in February 2016. Prior to that, and only four months into my bid to get fitter, I had a go at attempting a 5K on a treadmill at the gym and managed to finish in 36:20. I was ecstatic that I could run that far non-stop and ecstatic that I conquered the boredom of running on a treadmill for 36 minutes.


parkruns tend to be a monthly affair for me due to other running commitents but I do find them great for speed sessions when I’m training for longer runs. I’ve completed enough over 2016 to calculate my progress over the distance.

Back in March when I completed my first parkrun in Newport I finished in a respectable 24:45. Between my first treadmill 5K and parkrun I had continued to do some interval training on the treadmill, swimming and plenty of long hill walks in the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains which I believe would have all contributed to an increase in speed.

By June I had started to take running a little more seriously and had completed a couple of 10K races, both trail and road, and my parkrun time had now improved to 23:15. I also had my sights on longer races such as my first ultra marathon in August so was running more each week and completing longer runs. During the second week of August I had knocked almost another minute off my PB recording 22:27 at Newport.

Close But No Cigar

Just a week later, and paced by a Parc Bryn Bach Running Club member, I ran 20:27 at Cardiff. I had set out to try and get under 20 minutes but just didn’t enough in the tank and found the second half of the race tough. However, it was a HUGE step closer to the 20 minute target.

I completed parkruns in September and October but each time didn’t have the intention of recording a sub-20 time. Then in November, a week after my Gower Ultra, I met up with the same person that had paced me in Cardiff back in August. I never had the intention of giving it another go but thought why not?

Newport parkrun is different to Cardiff in that there are off road sections including a narrow bridge that you have to navigate across more than once whereas Cardiff is completely flat. Like the Cardiff parkrun, he did a great job of pacing and by the long finishing straight I was running on empty and crossed the line in 20:25 – 2 seconds ahead of my previous fastest time.

For over a month I didn’t run another parkrun, although I continued training with a good mixture of cross country with the club, fast runs and late in December a lot more club runs which included some faster runs and hill efforts – just what the sub-20 doctor would order!

During the break between Christmas and New Year I continued my training and one of my goals for 2017 was to break that barrier. Due to the parkruns that have decided to run on New Year’s Day starting at different times, it’s possible to complete two in a morning and with Cardiff being up first, the first 5K in 2017 and the same pace maker attending, could this be a good opportunity to go for it?

‘Pre-Race’ Jitters

Waking up the morning a little groggy from some beer the day before I immediately started of thinking to postpone it for another day but made the effort to head down there. Whilst warming up I was convincing myself that I wasn’t quite ready. Did I just feel a niggling pain in my leg? You know, the usual pre-race jitters, even though this wasn’t a race and I was only racing myself.

Can you ever be ready? There are always going to be reasons why you may not be ready but if you waited for th perfect opportunity it would most certainly pass. Let’s do this! Due to the odd start at Cardiff I ensured I started as close to the front as possible.

Wait, Have I Got a Chance Here?

At the ‘gun’ I set off at a much faster pace than usual maintaining a sub-19 minute pace for the first mile. I was ahead of my pace maker at this point and was running my own race (I was keen to run my own race for the entire 5K). I was trying to run to a pace that I felt comfortable with rather than what my watch was saying. Comfortable is probably a word I wouldn’t have used at the time but at this point I was able to maintain the pace.

I passed the first mile at 6 minutes so was going well and I was holding on until 2 miles although I had slowed down to around 6:19m/mi by this point. The third mile was tough, tough, tough. My pace maker had passed me at this point but I tried to keep him in view. Overall the third mile was at a pace of 6:40m/mi but as I was getting closer to completing I knew I would be able to get under 20:00 but wasn’t sure by how much. At the 3 mile mark I found some extra juice and picked up the pace for towards the finish line crossing in 19:33 on the watch and 19:37 officially.

So Much More Than a Physical Race

It was tough; of course it was tough, it’s meant to be tough. On the starting line I told myself that I must try as hard as possible to think as positively as I can and just think of how I will feel when I get under 20:00 (even if I’m not successful). Back in August when I finished in 20:27 in Cardiff I remember it being both tough physically and mentally. Trying to master the mental side is so difficult but so important.

What’s Next?

The thought of specifically trying to run a sub-20 minute run doesn’t appeal to me right now. I have confirmed to myself that I have the ability to do so but in future runs I will just focussing on improving how I run, improving how I run at speed, ensuring I maintain a varied training programme and trying to remain positive during running. If I get under 20:00 again I will see it confirmation that my training is paying off.

[Photo courtesy of Marcus Meyrick]

About Author

I once didn't run, then I started to run and got addicted. Then Crohn's Disease put a stop to my running adventures. Now I'm back with a new bum (colostomy) and starting to embark on new running adventures.

No Comments

    Leave a Reply