What’s up everyone, I plan to run a sub-19 minute 5K; that is 5 kilometres on foot in under 19 minutes.
This message will self-destruct on August 1st, 2024.
Actually, no – it will still be up and I will have either publicly failed or succeeded in my goal. It’s been a while since I’ve done a timed Man vs Clock challenge and with me turning 40 years young at the end of last year, I have been putting a lot of mental bandwidth into my health and fitness goals.
I have discovered a newfound love of running in recent years although I never took training seriously in terms of the science behind training for a running time – due to low patience and other life priorities, but that stops with this challenge; this time I’m going full-on nerd mode.
Nerd mode & beast mode. That’s quite the team.
Why I Chose a Sub 19 Minute 5K Challenge
We are all individuals with wildly different genetics, temperaments, and lifestyle choices and for some people reading this; running a sub 19 minute 5K might seem beyond their wildest dreams.
For others, they would be disappointed with this time as they like to run this pace on their slow run/recovery days!
Trust me, I’ve met some absolute mutants during my time running and climbing high-altitude mountains.
For myself, a goal has to be reasonably achievable in the future but big enough of a monster to scare me. It should come along with enough fear that at times it feels unreachable.
This recipe keeps me honest, hardworking and on my toes while I wrestle with my internal voices of doubt. Complacency is death with goals and I can honestly say that at my current conditioning, running a sub-19 minute 5k is certainly a challenge that will take some hard graft and meticulous planning.
I chose 5k because it’s a fast and furious distance, kind of in the middle of short and long and going all-out feels like hell on earth.
It’s intense, just like me.
My Current 5K Running Time
The last all-out effort 5-kilometre run was a week ago in Chiang Mai, pictured above you can see the screenshot from my Strava account that it was 21 minutes, 3 seconds.
So we are talking about me shaving 2 minutes and 4 seconds off a 5k run before the calendar turns to August.
That’s no joke, Buster.
(Follow me on Strava to keep up to date with my running & fitness activities).
My Personal Best 5K Running Time
Let’s go with 19 minutes, 41 seconds.
I have had such an odd on-and-off relationship with running all my life. I suspect that I may have run faster than this in my youth but guess what; I have no proof of this and having a “feeling” you did something doesn’t necessarily mean you did it.
Let’s go off 100% honesty with real-time recording from now on.
The time above was the fastest I recorded on Strava a few years ago when I was running most days due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during training with gymnastic rings. Running was all I could do without having any pain so I was constantly pounding the pavements for exercise.
I ran my tiny little bum off that day and vomited at the end, so it was certainly an all-out effort.
My Current Fitness Level
I’m not starting this from a point of being unfit, but I am starting it very far from the fitness level that I would like to be, if that makes any sense?
I ran my first 5K Park Run back in the cold hilly banks of Durham Riverside on Christmas Eve in 23:22, placing at 35 out of 307 people, which I was happy enough with considering I was not running fit and I had sampled way too many mulled wines a few weeks prior.
As reported in my 2023 review, I felt proud for keeping physically active during a hardcore 3-month travel stint through Latin America, except for taking a few weeks off at the end of the trip and the onslaught of those delicious minced pies coming my way, Satan cackling at every exquisite bite.
I am reasonably fit right now, although I am having a lot of trouble sleeping again, which isn’t ideal for recovery. I have high standards that I am currently not reaching, but as of this writing, I am raising the bar with this 19 minute in 5K challenge in sight.
19 Minute 5K Pace (How Fast I Need To Be Per Km)
If I want to run a 5k in 19 minutes I will have to do so at a pace of 3 minutes, 47 seconds per kilometre, which would result in a final 5k running time of 18 minutes, 55 seconds (with a few seconds to play with of course).
This would be 2 minutes 8 seconds faster than my recent effort and 46 seconds faster than my recorded very best, as depicted in the table below:
|Final Time (min:sec)
|Pace per km (min:sec)
|Difference From 19 Minute Target (in seconds)
|Last All-Out Effort
|Target Sub-19 5k
|+4 faster than goal
How I Plan To Run a Sub-19 5K in 6 Months
I am going to go for this challenge with a multipronged attack, using the same methods that most serious runners swear by. The most I have ever done in terms of training semiserious for a better 5k time is when I ran 5k every day for a month.
I benefited from this training largely because a consistent anything is better than sporadic bouts of nothing, this time I am fully throwing myself into the geeky aspects of running.
Zone 2 Training
Zone 2 training has already been the most interesting and equally frustrating running philosophy to learn from.
In Zone 2 training, you go slower on purpose during most of your runs, many top athletes train in this zone for up to 80% of their training plans. This feels counterintuitive at first—like you’re not doing enough.
But what’s happening is you’re teaching your body to burn fat more efficiently for energy, improving your stamina, and increasing your heart’s capacity to pump blood. Over time, this makes your ‘engine’ (your cardiovascular system) more efficient. So, when race day comes, you can push harder, go faster, and maintain a quicker pace without burning out.
Zone 2 Training Methods
There are a few ways to work out when you are running in Zone 2:
- VO2 Max Test. Better done in a lab with a sports scientist (accurate and expensive).
- Lactic Threshold Test. Can also be done in a lab, although some sports watches have this ability (My Garmin Vivoactive 4 doesn’t, whomp-whomp) and I am learning there is a DIY option too.
- Maximum Heart Rate Method. You record your maximum heart rate after an all-out effort of the distance of your Personal Best desire, then put it into an online heart rate calculator, which will then work out what your heart rate should be in for each zone that you train in (1,2,3,4 and 5).
- Conversation-Pace Method. Some runners go off the idea that if you can have a decent natter without gasping for breath every sentence, then you are in Zone 2.
- Perceived Effort Method. Like above, it’s a more holistic approach and if you are genuinely running at a 4/10 method, you are said to be in Zone 2.
There are other methods but they seem a little outdated. I am currently using method number 3 on the list, which has resulted in my zone 2 training being painfully slow (I have to walk often to get into that zone).
After prowling the running forums there seem to be two schools of thought on this. Some say it’s completely normal and you have to learn to be patient and trust in the system. Then you have others saying your recorded heart rate is not accurate and you are better off using methods 1 and 2, while others who don’t want to get lost in too much data with an admirable “enjoy the journey” vibe opt for methods 4 and 5.
For now, I am sticking to number 3, I could use the other methods during my sub-19 min 5k pilgrimage and I will update accordingly.
Interval training is a type of workout that alternates between periods of high-intensity exercise and periods of low-intensity recovery or complete rest. This approach boosts both aerobic (cardiovascular) and anaerobic (muscle strength) systems, making it an efficient way to improve fitness, speed, and endurance.
Example of Interval Training for Running
Workout: 30-minute interval training session on a track or treadmill.
- High-Intensity Intervals: After warming up, increase your speed to a fast pace that you can sustain for only 1 minute. This should be challenging, around 80-90% of your maximum effort, where holding a conversation would be difficult.
- Recovery: Slow down to a jog or brisk walk for 2 minutes. This is your recovery period, allowing your heart rate to decrease and your muscles to recover slightly before the next interval.
- Repeat: Alternate between 1 minute of fast running and 2 minutes of recovery. Do this cycle 6-8 times.
I haven’t done this yet and it sounds like a nice level of fun and hard. Another option is to run speed intervals at a faster pace than your intended pace on race day, I will also be trying this out during my training.
Tempo runs, often referred to as threshold runs, are a type of workout designed to increase an athlete’s lactate threshold, which is the intensity at which lactate begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. This accumulation can lead to fatigue; therefore, by increasing the threshold, athletes can run faster and longer before fatigue sets in.
Example of a Tempo Run
Workout: 40-minute tempo run workout, suitable for runners of various levels.
- Warm-up: Start with a 10-minute easy jog. This warm-up period helps prepare your muscles and cardiovascular system for the workout, reducing the risk of injury and making the tempo portion more effective.
- Tempo Portion: After warming up, increase your pace to what’s known as your “tempo pace.” This is typically described as a “comfortably hard” pace — about 75-85% of your maximum effort, or the pace you might manage in a race you could sustain for about an hour. It’s fast enough that you can’t speak more than a few words at a time but not so fast that you’re gasping for air. Maintain this tempo pace for 20 minutes. For beginners, start with a shorter duration, such as 10-15 minutes, and gradually increase as your fitness improves.
- Cool Down: Finish the workout with a 10-minute jog or walk at an easy pace. Cooling down helps your body to recover and reduces the likelihood of post-exercise discomfort or stiffness.
Long Slow Runs
Not as slow as Zone 2, but something that will be considered relatively easy and at a longer distance than 5 kilometres, once a week. I adore these kinds of runs, I rarely use headphones when I do them and it puts me in a lovely meditative state.
Most of my good business ideas and reframing personal life issues more positively come from long slow runs. Cheapest therapy out there!
I got found out very quickly on day 2 of Marathon des Sables thanks to the treacherous sand dunes considering I did zero hill work or strength training for the dubbed “Toughest Footrace on Earth.”
I hammer home in my 100 mile run training plan the importance of hill runs and I have developed greater leg strength and explosive power in my pins since incorporating them into my training.
As above! Same same.
Those legs need some muscle to protect your bones when you’re menacingly stomping those pavements. Don’t like lifting weights or calithenics?
Tough titties, bozo.
You don’t have to go gung-ho, but you do need to do some.
Osteoporosis doesn’t sound fun. Resistance training is the insurance plan against nasty stuff like that, especially as a keen runner.
When it comes to the core tenets of fitness, mobility is maybe my weakest of the lot. I have forced myself recently to do a light mobility training session every morning upon waking and I have done yoga once a week this year, I don’t really have an excuse considering I live in one of the best cities for yoga in the world.
Mobility workouts and yoga for me are one of those things that I don’t enjoy and dread doing, but am happy that I have done them 100% of the time as they leave me feeling great!
One of the best things about my running 5k every day for 30 months challenge is I focused less on time and more on form, which helped me to run in a less laboured and more efficient fashion.
I’m considering hiring a running coach solely for form as every percentage matters when aiming for a time and I don’t like the idea of being wasteful with my form and energy.
4 Reasons Why I Chose 6 Months
I considered making this challenge expire in 3 months as opposed to 6 months. For the following reasons I decided that 6 was the sweet spot for me.
1. “Burning Season” in Chiang Mai
For those not in the know, Chiang Mai experiences an awful part of the year (February-April) named “Burning Season,” where Thai farmers and nearby countries burn crops, which results in the city being the most polluted on earth for 2-3 months.
It certainly is a negative for living here, although I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Last year was terrible and the year before it was fine because we had so many rainstorms that cleared the air.
I don’t fancy running outside in that weather when it kicks off and adding to Northern Thailand’s suspiciously high lung cancer rate so I’ll be (reluctantly) training indoors for the start of this challenge.
Not ideal, but it is what it is.
For anyone wondering why the hell I wouldn’t get out of town during this hazardous period (it’s a fair point) it’s because I am trying to sell my condo and I need to be around for that (£45,000 for a duplex condo in the heart of Chiang Mai, give me a bell if you have any questions!)
2. I Want To Give It The Best Shot
I don’t want to half-arse it and regret not giving it my all due to a lack of patience, or being dismissive of anything that I find boring.
I’m going to do all of the things that running nerds do and I’m going to give it my best effort while doing so.
3. I Want To Learn More About Running Along The Way
Taking an extra bit of time means I have more time to learn about the science of running. Because I am a keen runner I often get stumped with questions by doe-eyed people who want to get started.
I never lie to them if I don’t know the answer, but in the future, I’d like to provide a concise and confident response to help other people and to also keep myself honest.
4. I Have Been Highly Seduced By The “Hybrid Training” Lifestyle
For those unaware, hybrid training is when you train consistently and regularly in two sports disciplines with a slight priority on one. It can be anything you want it to be, you can choose swimming/yoga hybrid, pilates/boxing hybrid – the most popular one that is cooking up a storm online is weight training while running long distances; this is more my cup of tea.
While I’ve never wanted to be a bodybuilding bro, I do love calisthenics-style resistance training and I can see myself getting back on the gymnastics rings alongside running once I have more room and time to play with.
For now, it’s a constant date with the dumbbells and long bouts of running. I will have to learn to be strategic with this so that I don’t fatigue, or even worse, get injured – which is utterly depressing for a hyperactive guy like me.
Also, a lot of the famous hybrid athlete influencers are on the juice… and I ain’t talking about Tropicana! I don’t have that to fall back on as I don’t currently take any performance-enhancing drugs (and if I do in the future you can expect full disclosure).
Less conversation, more action. Let’s see how I get on with a sub 19 minute 5k run… start the clock.