The 20 Minute 5K
By: Geoff Dunbar
Hi UVRC, time for a letter from a board member. Not feeling inspired to write a motivational manifesto about the club, I’ve decided to write about my favorite subject: me!
Let’s go back to the late 1990s, as I was in my late 20s. I wasn’t a runner growing up, but as adult life began to take shape, I added running to playing rec-league soccer and pickup ultimate frisbee. My memory is a little hazy (and training logs sparse) but my first actual motivation for running was to run a half marathon, and perhaps a move up to a marathon. However, balky IT bands, a recurring theme through my running life, made training for and running the longer distance races difficult. At some point I decided to focus on shorter distance races, and decided that a 20 minute 5K would be a good goal.
When I first worked on the 20 minute 5K, I really didn’t have much idea what I was doing. I do have some running logs for that time, and there was a lot of running the same route over and over, but just trying to do it faster and faster. I didn’t really understand speed workouts or long runs, let alone periodized training or anything advanced. However, through some combination of youth, hard work, and athleticism, I got there! December 2000, the Seattle Jingle Bell Run 5K, 19:50. Yay!
The next several years were tough on speed, as we had our two children in 2000 and 2003. I actually was a pretty consistent runner through these years, as it became hard to do any other sort of sports due to time and scheduling. One great thing about running, is that putting on a pair of running shoes and getting out the door needs less planning and preparation than just about any other sport. Plus the baby jogger meant I could combine child care and exercise in one package. However, these years had a lot of short, slow runs pushing a heavy load, and any 5Ks I did were nowhere near the 20 minute mark.
Things changed a bit once the kids hit the pre-school/elementary school stage. With some more “me time”, and a middle aged body that was better suited to endurance sports than youthful team sports, this is when I really decided I was a runner. I also started to understand some more about how to train for running. My wife Nancy (an excellent high school runner) got me a Hal Higdon book, I think it was “Run Fast”. It explained pretty well the principles behind training to run faster; spoiler: just running farther and faster every day is _not_ the way to go. Also, we connected with a running club, ChuckIt, that had a Tuesday night track workout, a group coach, etc. Once again, I set the goal of running the 20 minute 5K.
However, this time, with training properly, the 20 minute 5K was pretty easy! January 1st, 2006, the Resolution Run 5K in Seattle, WA, 19:52. Equipped with a weekly track workout, a weekly long run, plenty of easy-run miles, it turns out that 20 minutes was nowhere near the limit. I quickly dropped down in the 19s, and pretty soon into the 18s. I think this progress shows the importance of intelligent, directed training vs. just running. So, if you want to get faster, educate yourself. The UVRC coaches are an excellent resource, as are any number of books, websites, podcasts, etc. You’ll be surprised what you can do!
We moved from Seattle and ChuckIt running club, on to California, and then New Hampshire. In California, I ran with the Tamalpa running club, a great club. Then here in Hanover, I was one of the founding members of the UVRC (another great running club). Through all these years, the 20 minute 5K has not really been a goal, but I’ve run one every year from 2006 to 2019. My PR when I feel like bragging was a 16:55 at the Hollis Fast 5K. But honestly, between you (my close friends) and me, that is a BS downhill course. My real PR is a 17:39, run for UVRC in a NHGP race, the Manchester Run For the Fallen 5K 2011.
In 2020, things got tricky again. I turned 50, and that is not a friendly age for running fast! Also, due to some pandemic thing, there were no races. However, one day in October I set out on the rail trail and ran a 5K time trial. Downhill, GPS measured, but I came in just under 20. For 2020, I’ll take it, and claim 15 years in a row. Going forward, I’d like to keep it going for a few more years, but a 20 minute 5K is definitely a challenge again due to aging up. Time goals can be really rewarding, and a great way to keep up consistency and motivation. I hope to see you guys out there soon at TNT again, grinding away. Listen to your UVRC coaches, and you get really desperate, find a nice downhill race.