a Sub 20 parkrun – how long will it take me to train for that 5k milestone?

Mike Trees parkrun stryd
Mike Trees (Mr parkrun) – Interview Below

How long will it take me to do 5k in less than 20 minutes?

5k runners often have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they can improve. When you start out the improvement is dramatic. But the improvement slows quickly and the training effort required to improve increases. It’s really a statement of the fairly obvious but don’t forget it.

I reckon it will take you at least a year and probably 18 months to get from 23 minutes to sub 20 minutes with committed training. BUT you COULD do it in 9 months or less. Of course, this depends on VERY many factors like your age, sex, starting fitness level, training regime and the like.

I’ve done some basic research for this post by using a mate’s data. He went from a flat out 23 minutes 5k to an 18:30 5k in just under 4 and a half years. I’ve tried to smooth out his improvements and extrapolate some results but as you can see it went in fits and starts – probably dependent on finding a suitable PB-day with the right motivation.

I train with him a fair bit and I can assure you he trained at least 3 times and up to 5 or 6 times a week for the period in question. Usually in a fairly committed manner. You could probably do it faster.

He was in his late 30s when doing this.

Starting from being very averagely fit and with no specific running training other than the occasional jog here are the approximate dates and the time taken to achieve the next 30-second increment. It’s a bit all over the place until trying to go below 20 minutes, fatigue states are not recorded:

June/year 0 22:59 0 days (flat out)
June/year 0 22:29 2 weeks
August/year 0 21:59 2 months (6 weeks since start)
August/year 0 21:29 1 month (10 weeks since start)
October/year 0 20:59 1 month (14 weeks since start)
February/year 1 20:29 4 months (7 months since start)
April/year 1 19:59 2 months (9 months since start)
October/year 1 19:29 6 months (15 months since start)
March/year 3 18:59 18 months (2 years 9 months since start)
October/year 4 18:29 18 months (4+ years since start)

parkrun masterclass – Mike Trees on parkrun, training and STRYD

Must Read: STRYD Review

Having said all that I know the story of a 25-year-old male who went from 23 minutes to 21 minutes in 4 months. But 3 months on and he has not hit 20 minutes.  I have this strange suspicion also that if you are ‘getting on a bit’ then your running efficiency/form AND how fit you were in ‘the good old days’ each can play a significant part in your improvement around 20 minutes. Then again that’s just a personal opinion based on no science whatsoever.

From my own performances as well I remember that 20-19 minutes is not a trivial thing for anyone other than a 20-something male…and even then trivial would be the wrong word to use!

Sorry if that has disheartened you. If you are younger and work harder you’ll get there quicker! Look at some of the posts on this site referring to “sub 20 5k” and search on this blog for more tips on how to do it.

How to get a parkrun PB – Top *100* Tips for your best 5K time PB PR

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65 thoughts on “a Sub 20 parkrun – how long will it take me to train for that 5k milestone?

  1. I smoked for 12 years and I have been running for 12 weeks and I ran a sub 20 5k last night for the first time since High school.

    1. I started running 2 months ago, have done my 6th run yesterday with no training other than these 6 runs, have done 2 weeks straight then miss the odd week here and there, first time 25.56, next week I ran a 23.30, took 2 weeks off, then ran a 23.00, next week a 22.23,, took a week off then ran a 22.19 decided to buy shoes without holes in them and yesterday (the next week) ran a 22.09, so that is 3:45 min improvement in 2 months. The goal is sub 20min by end of year.

      Age 29, Male. Play cricket and a bit of basketball. 76kg, 1.75m, reckon sub 20 is achievable?

      1. you are young. improving gets progressively harder.
        your 22:09 is about age graded 63% which is of an ‘OK’ standard
        20 minutes is bang on 70% age graded which is a ‘good’ standard and not that hard for someone of your age/sex.
        so, yes, you might do it this year. an excellent time for you would be 17:30
        come back to me when you are at 20:30 and I ‘ll do a plan for you to knock off that last hard 30 seconds. https://the5krunner.com/5k-training-plan-running/
        make sure you run 90 minutes as a weekly long run.

  2. It can easily be done if you’re a young male. I’m 25 male fairly fit before started running daily 5ks 8 months ago. Started at 25mins can now do 18:30 most times. I’m on to 10k now – nearly sub 40.

    1. Indeed. I’ll be 50 next month and until 10 years ago existed on a diet of saturated fat, refined sugar, 40-50 fags a day and extreme amounts of alcohol (it’s a cultural thing). I weighed over 100kg until I became ill with acute pancreatitis caused by a rogue gallstone.

      The succeeding years have been spent in search of redemption and to that end I ran my first parkrun in January this year after 18 months or so of aimless treadmill activity. I did it in 29:03.

      I’ve since done five more, so I’ really averaging only one per month, and have done little in the way of focused training (hence my pitching up on this blog). But I’ve still trimmed five minutes off that original time; twice improving by around two minutes and once by a minute. Conditions have been poor – wet and very muddy – but I’m hoping to go under 24 minutes this weekend, and after reading around this site I’m encouraged to think 20 minutes won’t be beyond me.

      Just think what a young, fit lad could do.

      1. sod the young fit lads…you’ve done a pretty fantastic job of knocking off 5 mins. That’s more than half way to 20 mins 😉 just keep improving and don’t get injured (unlike me)

  3. Why thank you. 🙂 Actually, as much as I enjoy the personal challenge, I really like the social aspect of parkrun – I do it (Wimbledon Common) with my two daughters and a friend, and we usually repair to the Windmill Cafe for a coffee afterwards. Funny how it always seems to rain the day before, though. :/

  4. Just done my 11th parkrun (I’m the Moose and Stewart Hunter of previous postings) so still averaging just over one per month; got below 23 minutes for the first time. I guess improvements will come in ever smaller increments now, but I’m hoping to step it up over the coming months. I’d settle for sub-22 by Christmas. 🙂

    1. if your endurance base is good then you should still be able to improve quite noticeably by Christmas…. If you think you won’t improve…you won’t. BELIEVE & TRY. keep up the good work.

  5. Ran XC in HS and ran sub-20 exactly… once. 19:56 was a true achievement. Now I’m 34 and have been running 5k’s this year since I’m uh gettin’ on. Basically sitting in a cubicle all the time led me to realize I’d better start moving or else. I’ve also been training the past few weeks for my first Half Marathon. Did a 5k this past week and hit my (adult) PB of 24:12. I want to get to a sub-20 again. I can run 3x a week, plus a LSR on the weekend and a cross train like a bike ride. You think I can get to a sub-20 by the spring 5k season?

    1. Hi Mark

      it would be a big ask for 6 months time. Normally I would say no. HOWEVER people have done it and you also have the possible advantage of being fitter when younger. One thing is for sure; if you don’t try to do it you will certainly never do it.

      Set a sub-23 goal first, then a sub22. Achieve the milestones one by one. 4 times a week might be enough run training. If you want to do more cross train, as you say. Don’t get injured by training too much as when you are injured you can’t train at all. You might want to think about your technique NOW before it is too late similarly STRENGTH in the gym and flexibility. You might want to do lots of endurance work over the next 3 months – this might impact negatively on the RATE of lowering your 5k PB – HOWEVER over 6 months it is a good bet to get miles done at least in the first 3. It pays off eventually.

      when you train, record your HR and analyse your fitness/fatigue using TRIMP (trainingload plugin for sporttracks software will cost you virtually nothing to do that). Know when to UP your training and know when to hold back and recover and avoid injury.

  6. Hi 5K runner,
    I’ve just discovered that I am currently leading our club Parkrun division 2 (just).

    There are only a few more opportunities to better my time before the end of the season and after finishing a 5K last night (5K club races can count towards the Parkrun competition) which was only two days after a hard 10K my time was ok 21:33, my PB is 21:11.

    Problem is the guy in second got a great time yesterday and is now more than likely in the lead.

    So my question: Is there anything specific training wise that could help me in the next four weeks to get under 21:00.


      1. Wow, first day of the plan. Day 1 is hard. Set my 5-10 sec faster Kilometre at current PB which is around 4:14

        First Km – 4:03
        Second – 4:07
        Third (very hard) – 4:13
        Fourth – 4:09
        Fifth – 4:11

        Rest between where 3 – 4 minutes

        I’m going to run a Parkrun every second week

      2. warmup properly before hard sessions. that will make you a tad faster.

        maybe try 4-5 mins recovery in between and hit the speed. You need to go a bit faster. (easily said when sitting in front of a keyboard)

        rest and you ADAPT to the training. recovery IS improvement. think carefully about scheduling in parkrun – perhaps once a month for a PB attempt when you need a 3-day do nothing type taper beforehand.

      3. Didn’t mention I did 15min warm-up and 18 min cooldown.

        Wasn’t sure about the rests, I wanted to make sure it sort of felt like a hard 5K, next week I’ll go up to 5min rest on last two km.

        Yes, I know ervery two weeks is probably too many, but I have until the end of October to get at least three really quick runs recorded. It’s the quickest 5 runs that count towards the Championship and I’d like to better at least three of my current times. Hence the one Parkrun every 2 weeks, I could do a gap of three weeks once.

        Thanks for the advice. I’m excited about this plan. Can it be done indefinitely or do you put a rest week in occasionally?

      4. the plan indicates the timeframes. you can’t push yourself too much for too long indefinitely. personally I would do 2.5 weeks of the plan and then 1 week easier and then 0.5 week complete taper and then blitz a PB. trying to PB twice is not the best strategy if the ultimate PB time is what counts. but then again if your one shot is on a rainy windy day you’re stuffed 🙂
        you should have a lighter week every 4-6 weeks in any regime

  7. Just a quick question. For the first week (a tester) I’ve given myself a target time of 21:12, which is equal to my current PB, which I haven’t matched since March.

    I presume you try to get to 20 min in achievable steps, so I was thinking of around 20:55 or 20:50 pace.

    What do you think.

  8. Week 2 5 x1K intervals (target 4:04) Ran almost identical times as last week (above), couldn’t have given any more, legs were so heavy on last 2 1K intervals.

    Obviously not even fit enough to match current PB never mind beat it.

    Will keep plodding on.

  9. Yes, the plan is tough, but I’m sticking to it, plenty of people praising the plan so it obviously works. Taking the two days rest after the 5 x 1K (only 1 last week). My 56 year old legs felt that run. Thanks for all the advice.

  10. In your post dated September 8, 2014 at 11:06 pm, you mentioned doing 2.5 weeks of the plan then 1 week easier, followed by .5 week taper.

    I finish 2 weeks tomorrow (Long Run), so for the .5 week I’m thinking of doing the 5 x 1k, rest day, recovery run, 4 x 5+3 run.

    For the 1 week easier: rest, 5 x 1K, rest, rest, 4 x 5+3, rest, recovery run (1st October)

    Then rest until Saturday 4th October for Parkrun PB attempt.

    Do you think this is ok.

      1. Thanks for all the advice. As you know I’m going for a PB (20:50 – 21:00) on 4th October, but I also need to record at least another 2 good times, before the end of the season 25th OCtober, I’d be happy around 21:05 – 21:08

        Could I tick over with say 5 x 1k, rest, rest, 5+3 set, rest rest, Parkrun for a few weeks

      2. Quick update: Ran Parkrun PB attempt. Conditions were bad, raining and very windy in places. I managed to match my PB which I was happy with, as all season I’ve been slower by 20-25 secs

        I really think I can beat it within the next three weeks. I going to do two training runs a week. The 5 x 1K and the 5 + 3 run, with two days rest between them, which gives two days rest before the Parkrun.

        I really think the plan has worked very well. Thanks

  11. I’ve kept racing for a few weeks, doing as last reply, but my times are getting slower again. Think I’ve done too much, so going to take a rest week (recovery/long run only), then go back to normal training.

    I like the plan a lot, but I didn’t really have enough time to do it justice. With one week left of the season, I’m now just top of division 2 again. If the second place guy isn’t running this Saturday, I won’t have to either… needless to say, I hope he doesn’t!

    Thanks again for all the advice

    1. bioforcehrv … tells you if you are too tired to train and have not recovered form last session..simples.

      “enough time”…it is about quality sessions for a relatively short period of time.

  12. Hi, I am 50, weigh 63 Kg, 1,73 tall. Never smoked, have a pretty sedentary job and used to run the 1500 m when I was a kid. I stopped training when I was 19 (1983) but I have always run a bit off and on, have done other sports (never competitively). Since last January I have been living at an altitude of 1550 m and have decided I must improve my running. My target is to go sub 20 on the 5000 m. I started training in September and yesterday I ran it in 25,28 on a hilly course (elevation gain 50 m). I must say I am quite happy but a long way to go. I also don’t have a lot of time to train – say about 45 mins a day, 4 times a week. Do you have any suggestions for an old man like me? Thank you!

      1. Thank you! Do you think some swimming might be beneficial in the days I don’t run? (it’s pretty hot here)

      2. I don’t think swimming will help your running much,. biomechanically it is very different. there will be SOME cardio benefit/crossover. Swimming is very good for recovery after a hard session though. (after meaning “same day or next day”)

  13. I just started running again (I’m 35 and haven’t done any distance sports for 20 years). I mainly play basketball 2 days a week now. My first run almost killed me 🙂 took me 45 minutes with several stops. I was a little surprised I dropped my time from 45 mins to 29 after only 5 runs, very big gains to start. And now I comfortably do the 5kms without any stops. I am managing to keep a steady pace in the 5 min per 1km mark so my consistency is there.

    So far only 10 runs in.

    My times went like this;

    5th Jan – 45:09
    6th Jan – 38:11
    9th Jan – 32:40
    12th Jan – 31:20
    15th Jan – 29:41
    17th Jan – 28:22
    19th Jan – 26:41
    20th Jan – 30:00
    23rd Jan – 26:10
    30th Jan – 26:52

    I was going to try your interval plan this week. Do you think it would work for me? I am capable of hitting the pain barrier and working through. Just wondering though if its a form thing and I maybe have hit my limit.

    1. Also just to add further detail, I live in Perth Western, Australia. The first 5 runs were done at about 2pm during the day with temps ranging from 28 degrees to 36 degrees (Celsius) so that was also obviously a factor, the last 5 runs were done after 8pm at night so low 20s.

      1. Hi. there’s quite a few interval plans dotted around this site. I think I know the one you mean, which is really for sub23 minute runners. *ANY* training will work for you and make you faster. It’s just that there might be a better way than ANY old training. You’ve progressed very nicely. I think you will keep progressing and avoid injury by doing longer runs . This will help your metabolic and biomechanical efficiency. Work out your heart rate zones (look for RPE zones as a sense check) and do lots of Z2 runs. A couple of times a week do Z2 runs that also go into Z3 in a 2:1 ratio based on time. You should be looking at 40 mins AT LEAST for any session. Several should be over an hour when you can manage it. do lots of stretching, maybe pilates/yoga and weights

      2. Thanks, yes I’m on to yoga and a good stretch regime as I thought I had tight lower back issues but turns out it was Piriformis. My physio indicated it was because of tight muscles in my legs and not stretching enough (maybe basketball related).

      3. yes piriformis problem means you need to improve hip flexibility and strength. probably also stretching your hip flexor…which is quite tricky. work on it with some seriousness as you don’t want it to get worse. it will cause you to alter how you run and then you will get injured. stretch stretch stretch

  14. Hey, my own experience might be relevant as I’ve gone under 20 minutes quite quickly. I am a 46 year old male, light build (1.70m, 56kg) and athletic, but with only sporadic running before I began a training schedule on 16 December 2014, but I did have a reasonable level of fitness.

    First ever parkrun…
    20/12/2014, 23:03 (I had nothing left at the end)
    27/12/2014 – 21:33
    03/01/2014 – 20:31
    07/02/2015 – 20:09
    14/02/2015 – 20:25
    28/02/2015 – 19:43

    Period of time to get from 23:03 to 19:43 – two and a half months.

    I have a varied and informal training schedule which includes intervals, hill runs, tempo runs and long runs (including three runs of HM length, one of which was my first HM event).

    I’m hoping that this gives an alternative view on how long it might take for improvement. I’m pleased with where I’ve got to but as one should I’ve revised my goals!

      1. Thanks for your reply :-). I’ve kept a log of all my runs, which I think helps. Immediately before the first parkrun I had literally only run 5km total in two separate runs the week before. I had no knowledge of the parkrun course and didn’t know what to expect, also as it was my first ever event entry. I tried to catch my son running in front of me but couldn’t!

        By the time I ran the second parkrun one week later, I had run 20km during the week, including a 10km run. This ramping up of km isn’t something anyone would recommend because of the injury risk, but it probably accounts for the rapid improvement in my 5km time from 23:03 to 21:33. By the following week I had run 30km in the week before the next run where I took a further minute off my time. It took a few weeks to get the inevitable injury(s), which I have luckily been able to manage enough to run through and now that my training has settled into more of a routine I am getting stronger and far more injury risk aware. That said, I have only recently started intervals and hills, so I’m still pushing the limits. Before that I was training for my first half (a comfortable 1h37 run 10 days ago), and I have entered an 18km mountain race in April, so my training is not specific to 5k, but certainly helps it, and my most recent 19:43 parkrun was one week after the HM. Funny thing was, I actually didn’t feel like running and had picked up a mild headcold, but thought I would run for the experience of it. And not only did I go under my goal of 20 minutes, but thanks to the field of runners on the day I actually won the parkrun!

        Overall I think the biggest single factor though has been researching and applying good running form. My interest was sparked, and as I was effectively starting out I decided to put the effort in there, and as I learn and increase my awareness of it I am naturally getting faster. I am also self-competitive and self-motivated. There will certainly be a plateau at some point but I feel it’s a way off still, and, all this numbers stuff aside, I cannot describe the level of enjoyment I get from the running itself. The purity, simplicity and meditative quality of it appeals most, and I derive great satisfaction moving through the landscape (relatively) quickly under my own power. Thanks for letting me share my experience so far 🙂

      2. Hi. Again you’ve done an awesome job.
        Any training you do will take up to 2 weeks to fully impact on your body. Your 20km and 10km run will probably have had VERY little effect.
        Fatigue is a major factor and can cause you to operate many %age points below your current potential. Maybe that was a factor at times?
        Motivations…er, yes. that CERTAINLY helps 🙂
        Putting those aside. If you can make your running form more efficient in a short period then, sure, those can be big gains. You have been wise to target that. Many people train like crazy for months and then plateau only to realise that more training will only make them very slightly faster and that their technique holds them back…then they re-learn to run 🙂 So you are one of the few people to have done things the right way around…probably me included (ie I didn’t do that!!)
        Come back and tell us when you’ve done 17:59…July maybe? 🙂

  15. I think this article is very misguided. In late thirties I did sub twenty after 5 months training going from 30 minute 5 k to start with. It mostly depends on following a proper training program and putting in the work. Age doesn’t actually have that much of an effect. I can still do it well into my 40’s
    If people are willing to put in the hours and miles, just about anyone can do it. It isn’t age so much; it’s training, You have to build the aerobic base, which requires long running every day, for some it might take a few months for the sub 5k’s others it might take a few years if they are very unfit. People think to run 5 k’s you have to go out there everyday and run 5 k’s as fast as you can, which is why they’ll never do it. It is mainly long easy running that will lead to the ability.

    1. Hey Andy, I’m not sure how you come up with the original article being “very misguided”? Age MUST play a role otherwise age-grading wouldn’t exist. You being able to run under 20 minutes in your thirties and forties doesn’t make age irrelevant to the whole discussion…it only proves that you were able to do it, at that age, which is great. But that also doesn’t mean that just about anyone can do it, or that purely by running distances someone would necessarily get to a sub 20. We are all different, with differing ability, physical shape and overall potential, some or all of which decreases as we get older.

      1. thanks Bruce. yes maximal VO2max CAPACITY declines with age. I think from the mid 20s onwards (?). Some athletes PEAK later than this especially where some form of learned skill can be involved.

    2. ty for your thoughts. For sure age has an effect. Aerobic base is important, I agree. What %age of training time do you think Olympic 5k specialists put in in ‘long easy running’? Especially leading up to a race. Indeed what is long and what is easy?

  16. I have started to run 7 weeks ago, female 44yrs, and last night ran 5k in 19:00:7. I am proud of myself. 🙂

      1. Thanks! I live in the Philippines, it’s really warm and pollute, so for the moment I keep the room temp at 30C and run on a treadmill with my garmin watch on. I plan to run outside soon, but probably will have to wear a mask. I guess it will affect my time alot…

  17. I’m 34, haven’t run for about 10-15 years and am more a natural sprinter than middle distance and started with a 22:51 with zero training and have now clocked a 20:00 flat on the Saturday morning parkruns. This was my 15th week, and no training between each race. So you can achieve sub 20 mins with very little training. I would hope to go sub 19 with no training between each Saturday morning race within 4-6 weeks but time will tell.
    i’d be interested to see how long you take to get to an 80% age graded time. there’s a challenge for you

  18. I am early 40’s Male. I was (am) completely unfit. I weighed 19.4 stones (122kg) now down to about 16 stones (101kg) after about 8 months.

    I go to the gym and do a mixture of weights/circuits and running on the treadmill. Even after all these months I find it hard to run 5km non stop. I have done it about 5/6 times, but usually I need a couple of breathers.
    My fastest time is 33mins. I usually set the machine at 9mph and move it up or down a little depending on how I feel.

    I am just not seeing much improvement. Although that said, when I started, I couldn’t even run 0.5km in one go. But now, I seem to always be about the same.

    When will I find running 5km easy??? (i’m not too bothered about fast times, just the ability to do it!!)

    1. it will come ! have faith.
      it sounds like you are doing broadly the right thing.
      really try to get stronger.
      running: you should be doing aerobic stuff
      maybe for your treadmill running sometimes do 5 minutes…some weights then 5 minutes running then weights.
      try to build the total in one day progressively upwards
      you must have at least one day of compete rest a week.
      you are eating protein right? no stupid diet thing going on?

  19. I found this quite a useful post go help set my expectations. Early 49s make with a mile TT time of 7:02 in Feb 2020. Followed a Garmin coach plan and ran 5K in 23:08 May 3rd.

    Then followed Jack Daniel’s red plan where my pace plateaued for a bit. I think this was important for building my durability / injury resistance. After completing JD Red plan, I moved onto Blue and saw a jump again to 20:52 in Sept. It’s now Oct and I think I have sub-20 on me. I will try soon. I blew up on my attempt last week by going out way too fast.

    I wasn’t expecting sub-20 until at least next year. I e had to back off a few times with niggles bit so far, do good. I did not change my diet but did drop 8KG over that term.

  20. I found this really useful when managing my own expectations. It would be great to see an update on it with any new data you have or intake form. In 2020 I went from 27 to 23:12 in 3 months (aiming optimistically for 22 on garmin coach).

    In my 40’s. It then took me 6 more months to get sub-20 (19:43). I used Jack Daniels red & blue plans but I think any consistent training would have given the same result. I was training about 4 hours a week and for most of that time, my legs were not really durable enough to handle more volume without getting injured. It was only after about 10 months that my legs were durable enough for more volume.

    chasing sub-22 was too hard in my opinion. I stopped having a goal time after that and just trained with Daniel’s vdot for my condition now – not where I expect to be in 12-16 weeks. That worked a lot better for me and I was surprised sub-20 came around quicker than expected.

    1. once your improvement rate stops or declines then you need to switch your training method.
      Daniels speeds will still essentially be correct enough.
      at 40 you should be able to go sub18 as a target (80% age graded 5k is extremely hard but doable for most people)
      4 hours is sufficient to progress.
      you only need 2 hard sessions a week but they should be HARD. your easier ones should definitely be z2 and your long one should be, err, longer 😉
      that describes polarised training which generally works
      you have to improve both your aerobic engine and your anaerobic engine. though working on only one could get you sub19….just that working on two is easier

      then to get sub19 you will need to train more holistically including weights (for sure), plyometrics, stretching and core work. perhaps even more drills than normal. perhaps properly ensuring you warm up with a method.

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