a Sub 20 parkrun – how long will it take me to run 5k in less than 20 minutes?

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

a Sub 20 parkrun – how long will it take me to run 5k in less than 20 minutes?

5K runners often have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they can improve. When you first start running, your improvement is dramatic. But the improvement slows quickly, and the training effort required to improve increases. This is a fairly obvious statement, but it’s important to remember.

With committed training and lots of caveats, I estimate that it will take an averagely good person at least a year and probably 18 months to get from a 23-minute 5K to a sub-20-minute 5K. However, you could do it in 9 months or less. Such excellent progress depends on many factors, such as your age, sex, starting aerobic fitness level, training regime, and so on.

Are You Close? the Test-of-6

If you think you are close to achieving a Sub20 parkrun, your current times will already be under 21:00/5k. Here’s a good test you can do tomorrow to see if you are 6-weeks away


  1. Run flat out for 6 minutes. Record the pace
  2. Take a standing rest for 6 minutes
  3. Run the exact same route in reverse for 6 minutes. record the pace

Your average pace over both the 6-minute periods is close to your VO2max pace (vVO2max). If this pace is 4:00/km or better then you should be able to train committedly for 6 weeks and convert your vVO2max pace into your 5k race pace. This plan gives the training proven (by experience) to do that.

I did some research for this post by using my 38-year-old friend’s parkrun data. He went from a flat-out 23-minute 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, the improvement went in fits and starts. This was probably due to waiting for good weather and the right motivation. I trained with him a fair bit, and he trained 3-6 times a week. He trained in a fairly committed manner. You could probably do it faster.

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 each 30-second milestone time. It’s a bit all over the place until trying to go below 20 minutes:

  • 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 of a local 25-year-old male who went from 23 minutes to 21 minutes in 4 months. Another 3 months later, his progress stalled and he had not hit 20 minutes. So, I also suspect that if you are “getting on a bit,” your running efficiency/form and how fit you were in “the good old days” can each play a significant part in your improvement around the 20-minute mark. Then again, that’s just a personal opinion based on no science whatsoever.

From my own performances years ago, 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.

Other goals: A realistic goal for every committed parkrunner is to get an age-graded time of 70%. This adjusts your effort for age and sex both of which are significant factors. I’ve coached many good athletes and produced 5k plans for HUNDREDS of parkrunners. The upper end of almost everyone I have produced plans for and coached is represented by an 80% age-graded score. If you are in your 20s then 80% probably equates to well under 17:30/5k but if you are in your 60s it will be over 20 minutes….those are big differences to account for when asking a simple question like “How long will it take me to complete a Sub 20 parkrun”…of course, the hilarious answer would be 19 minutes and 59 seconds. Good luck!



5k Training Plan | Sub 19, 20, 21, 24 | running parkrun


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6 thoughts on “a Sub 20 parkrun – how long will it take me to run 5k in less than 20 minutes?

  1. I peaked at the age of 50 with a 20:15 Parkrun time. Admittedly a Parkrun, Bramhall, with a couple of hills and narrow paths (a lovely Parkrun, I really recommend it) since then, now aged 63, I have declined steadily, ane am not achieving the same age graded score. I think my achievement then was less due to structured workouts, varying pace, etc. but more down to sheer number of miles covered every week, as at that time I was training to support an extreme distance runner who was, in turn, training for the Charlie Ramsey round. Quality undoubtedly better than quantity, but you can get there just by running a lot of miles.

    1. yes most people can get to sub 20 either doing lots of miles or just shorter stuff. as you can guess it’s best to do the right combination of both
      people also underestimate the importance of strength work, flexibility, pyometrics and so on.

      the issue as we age is that your vo2max capacity naturally and progressively declines. however that should not necessarily affect your age graded percentage time…just your absolute time.

      but also as we age recovery is harder. so you might then be faced with more extreme training – either longer and easier OR shorter and faster. the former meaning you never need much recovery, the latter meaning you deliberately plan more rest/recovery days

      however if you are close to YOUR peak from those strategies probably you need to improve running economy. read the Mike Trees article, above, he covers those topics and I pretty much totally agree with him

  2. I followed a link to this article from Google Discover. Not sure if it’s you or Google doing this, but the ads:content ratio is about 4:1, and makes it look like the site is link farming.

    Essentially, you can’t tell where the ads stop and content begins. This problem is exacerbated on mobile devices because you frequently put multiple ads in a row in the middle of an article, so you lose your flow.

    I used to visit your site a lot in the past and it’s disappointing to see how heavily monetised it is now.

    1. thanks for the constructive feedback…it’s always appreciated
      i’ve been very mindful of ads and don’t want to spoil the experience.
      the site ISN’T heavily monetised for ads and makes some, but very little, from ads. with adsense i have the show-rate of ads at about 25% of what Google things is optimal. Ad rates have collapsed this year

      if you come to this site regularly then login as a FREE follower (https://the5krunner.com/follow-the5krunner/ ). Some ad units will then be removed eg the two you mention that do spoil the flow (they are in one of the few profitable locations)

  3. Hi. In September of 2023 i did 21:34 in a 5k it was 4:20 min per km. Then I got injured and just crossed trained the rest of the year, never stopped doing exercise, but I just did training with the elliptigo that is a type of street elliptical to mantain some level of fitness. Last part of the year i did the occasional run.
    This year i want to attempt doing the sub 20 but im setting realistic expectations in order to not get injured again.
    With 21:34 is reallistic to do a sub 20 in April 2024? I did 21:34 at 1800 meters above sea level and the run in april is at sea level. Or it will be better of to train consistently for a year. Im obsessed with this challenge. My best was 20:03 in 2016. Now im 44 years old. Im a fit person doing exercise most years of my life.

    1. run for 6 minutes. stop for 6 minutes. run back the exact same route (6 minutes).
      the average pace for the 12 minutes of running is probably the pace you can train for a 5k and run it in 2-3 months time. to set goals beyond that is tricky.
      at 44 y/o there is no reasona why you can’t train to go sub19:00/5k, i’d have to google the effect on altitude

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