Four runners running on a bridge in what appears to be a race.

I Trained 3 Months to Run a Sub 20-Minute 5k and This is What Happened

I unexpectedly experienced these three major benefits.

Four runners running on a bridge in what appears to be a race.
Photo by Candra Winata on Unsplash

Competition is the best form of motivation. — Cordae

EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: Any advice or recommendation given in my writing is what works for ME and may not be the best regimen for you based on your psychological or physiological makeup and stability. Please consult a doctor when making decisions about your health.

When I was 14 years old, I fell in love with running, which has been a part of my life since.

As shared in a previous post, I’m one of those interesting people who found solace and a friend in running, as opposed to all of the people who hate it.

It wasn’t something I did every day from the time I graduated college, but it remained a regular part of my life. I never allowed too much time to elapse before I would lace up my shoes and see how fast I could get the legs moving.

I would also run the occasional 5k just to see how fast I could go if I pushed myself and where my fitness level was in comparison to my high school glory days. My times were never anything amazing, but I was usually able to muster up something in the mid 20-minute range (20:36 was my most recent time in 2017).

At 42 years of age, however, I recently began feeling I needed something new to jolt my overall fitness and help me raise it to the next level. It wasn’t that it was bad, but I still felt like there was another tier of performance and overall health that I was consistently missing, confiding myself to the rung below.

Therefore I thought, instead of just haphazardly deciding to enter a race and see what the “racing gods” decided to bestow upon me that day, what if I actually spent three months training for the race to see what happened?

Thus began my three-month journey to run a sub-20 minute 5k (which would put me in the Advanced category for my age…Elite is 18:36), and here are the three lessons I learned from it.

I learned how to run and train properly

When I used to go for runs after college, my thought process would be just to run like I did in high school.

Go out at one speed and try to come back even faster.

I figured that if I wanted to run faster, I needed to spend as much time and energy as possible trying to do just that…run faster.

As I started researching and began to understand that this line of thinking was a bit old school and now just plan wrong, I decided I needed help to ensure I wasn’t setting myself up for failure.

I decided to sign up for a coaching duo out of Denver, CO, called the Aerobic Monsters, and they are amazing. Not only did they help me understand that this thinking was wrong, but they ensured me that I needed to spend more time running SLOWER to get faster in the long run.

I also needed to be very careful about how much I increased my mileage from week to week to ensure that I didn’t injure myself unexpectedly, as this is one of the significant mistakes of novice runners who decide to up their mileage to train for a race without realizing how to do it the proper way.

The rule of thumb was to add no more than 10% mileage from week to week and to be mindful of NOT making the majority of my runs fast or (what would be considered) “hard” runs.

This made my runs more enjoyable and easier to do each day, and I found myself not dreading them. This lead to the second benefit.

Having a competitive goal in mind makes training more fun

When I would run in the past, it was basically to try to do everything I could to prevent becoming one of those people who is deathly afraid of any intense physical exercise.

After reading the book Younger Next Year about three years ago, I committed to consistently pushing my physical fitness to stay at its peak for my age for the rest of my life.

However, this typically turned into me running 2–3 times per week and sometimes dreading the absolute cold mornings or blistering hot afternoons I had to force myself to get out there.

I would typically keep the mileage low (2–3 miles) because I wanted to keep it light and something I could look forward to. Anything more than that seemed like it would be too intimidating and not something I would enjoy.

Fast forward to now, in which I’ve been training for the past three months, and it’s incredible how my mental approach has changed dramatically. Whereas in the past, I could only muster the enthusiasm to complete a 3-mile run or so, I find myself now able to run double that with little to no issue.

Because I’m focused on the long-term goal of hitting a specific time, the thought of running each day excites me because I can see my improvement from week to week, and I know it’s getting me closer to my goal.

No longer do I think of a run as one-single moment in time that I have to “get through,” but instead, it becomes a stepping stone to a much bigger journey and goal that I’m pursuing, so it’s much easier and more exciting to embark on each day.

Having a long-term plan and vision keeps me focused in other areas as well

The last area was one I didn’t expect at all, but it’s been a very pleasant surprise that I have welcomed.

Not only has my goal focus allowed my daily runs to become more fun and focused, but it has seeped into other areas of my life in a very good way that I couldn’t have expected.

Because I started running more, I wanted to ensure that I was eating the right things to give myself the best chance of success in reaching my goal.

In turn, this led me to stumble upon the story of Rich Roll and how he went from a sedentary overweight 41-year-old lawyer who could barely carry his son up a flight of stairs in their home without getting winded to an ultra-marathon runner who was ranked in the top 10 in his age group in the world.

Inspired by this, I found myself exploring the concept of vegetarianism (I’m not quite ready to make the leap to veganism yet, richroll) for the first time since I was 16. I’m over a month in, and I’m starting to truly believe in the short-term and long-term benefits.

My runs are better. My energy level is higher, and I just feel better overall.

I also began researching how much sleep runners need to be successful and learned that I was probably getting less sleep than I needed to optimize my recovery and performance.

This also has been a game changer because not only have I realized much better runs as a result of this, but my cognitive clarity and function have improved dramatically to a level that I can only remember having immediately following my decision to stop drinking.

Conclusion and final results

Well, the race was on October 1st, and I’m happy to share that I was able to hit my sub-20 minute 5k time. I came in at a decent 19:39 and took second place overall in the event.

The person who beat me was 16-years-old, so I didn’t feel too bad, but I knew that with more consistent training and dedication, I could easily lower my time to achieve much better results.

With that being said, the focus of training for the race had so many significant benefits that I’ve decided to continue training for future races. The focus that it allows me to maintain to make better decisions related to my overall wellness is more than worth it, and the satisfaction I felt from having set a goal, executing a plan, and achieving it was just a great feeling.

Now, I’m on to the next goal of running a sub-18-minute 5k from the next six months of training. I’m excited about the journey and interested to see where this added focus can take me on my wellness journey.

If you haven’t set a competitive goal before related to your fitness, I would highly recommend it for all the benefits listed above and the chance that you might even shock yourself with the results.