Running a 5k - Can I Be Faster at 30 Than I Was at 18?

by Sarah
(Granville, NY)

I started running at 13 in high school. I ran cross-country, indoor and outdoor track. My track coach was very informed and my PRs were 800 - 2:22, 1500 - 5:04, 3000 - 11:04 (though I did that as a sophomore and never really revisited it). My best 5k in high school was about 19:20, though I never had great coaching here and did a very modest amount of summer training.

I ran in college too but did not do as well because I became a pole vaulter and that was my focus. After college I stopped running to get a breather, then had 3 children! At 30 years old I am getting back into it. I coach high schoolers and have a pretty good idea now how to really train for 5ks. What I am wondering is if I really train hard - could I be better than I was in high school in 5ks?

I know it's a long shot, but I really believe if I had known how to train properly back then I could've been much faster. Just wondering what your thoughts are. Thank you for taking the time to look over my question.


Answer by Dom:
Hi Sarah,

Thanks for your 5k running question. This question reminds me that I should really put one of those age graded calculators on my site. This calculator calculates an age-equivalent time and takes into account that as you get older... things get harder. Unavoidably, biologically, changes happen in terms of muscle mass, hormones et cetera that mean that it becomes much harder to beat PRs set at a younger age.

Now, the very good news for you is - most age equivalent calculators do not make any or only very small adjustments between age 18 and 30! And also from a biological sense, the body is much the same at age 30 as it is at age 18. It is only later in life that a decline starts and that you need to work much harder than before to keep at the same leve. I noticed this first in my mid to late 30s.

Now, a few caveats. You have had three children in the mean time; that would have caused some changes to the body for sure. And you have not done any / much running in the last decade. Whereas during high school you would have been training pretty consistently. Even though you set your 5k PR at a time when you were not running as much, a base of running established over a number of years would have helped carry you through to a certain extent.

So, the challenge ahead is still pretty big.

And don't expect results within twelve weeks. Of course, you could surprise yourself, but I would be way happier with you allowing yourself to get back into a running routine and building a proper base for a number of months. And only then put in a block of training specific to the 5k. I will not provide further training advice as you said you know what to do, other than leave a link to my 5k running tips section.

All the best, shoot for the stars!
Kind regards,

5k running tips

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