10 years off...

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21/05/2014 at 13:01

Hi everyone,

Just signed up and this is my first post so apologies if this is in the wrong section.


I started running when I was about 13 years old, I regularly represented my county at cross country and track and specialized in middle distance events; personal bests were 2:06 for 800m and 4.20ish for 1500m @ age 16. I've never done a proper 5k or 10k so never had times for these events.

When I was 17 I tore the ligaments in my ankle and kinda gave up the running. Since then I have literally not run once other than when playing the occasional game of 5 a side. I do go to the gym regularly but only ever train with weights which I guess if anything is detrimental to running as I've put on 3 stone since then.. I have also been a smoker for the last 10 years, and still am although I'm planning on giving up soon.

The Challenge

About 6 months ago my family and I decided to arrange a holiday to the channel islands to celebrate my Mum's 70th birthday. My Mum, despite her age, is a keen runner and so suggested we all compete in a 5k race which is held on the island each year. In total there will be 9 of us competing in this race and my goal... is to win! The ability/level of the other 8 will vary greatly, but I know that the main challenge will come from my younger brother who at 28 is 2 years my junior and regularly competes at this distance. By compete I mean he does one of the park runs every Saturday and normally finishes in just over 20 mins.

We are going in just 4 short weeks so time is very much against me, but I'm hoping that given my background I should be able to make significant improvements in this time.

Journey so far...

So far I've done 4 training sessions. My first was a 5k run/jog which took me 24:18 and felt... slow. My back hurt, my lungs ached and it just wasn't much fun, but you have to start somewhere I suppose.

I've also done two interval sessions which consisted of firstly 12 x 400m @  1.40 seconds with 90 seconds recovery and 5 x 1k intervals @ 4.10 - 4.15 with 3 mins recovery.

And finally the night before last I did the same 5k in 22:25 which felt much much better than the first.

My target is to get my time down below 20 mins before the holiday, I think if I can do this I should be able to beat my brother and have bragging rights for years to come 

I only really have time to train 3 times a week so will be doing a short interval session, a long interval session and either a long(ish) run or a 5k time trial each week.

So what do people think? Is going from 24 something to sub 20 in just a few weeks realistic or even possible? Has anyone done something similar before i.e. used to run regularly and returned from a long (very long) layoff? Any advice on how best to train for this?

I will keep this updated until I go away with results from training sessions and park runs and hopefully this will be the springboard to get me back into the sport I used to love. 

21/05/2014 at 13:51

I think if you just go out for 3 easy runs a week between now and then you will get close or under 20. I think going from no running for 13 years and diving in with 2 sessions of speedwork and a long run/time trial is a fast track to a physio, but I'll wait for someone more knowledgable than me to come along!


21/05/2014 at 15:19
Once being in a semi similar position I you I wouldn't advise that..

For nearly 5 years I didn't run - I had a spell of around 6-9 months in the middle

Between April and September I ran around 20 miles a week some a little less and built up gradually to mid 30s which is where I still run now (35-45) a year later

I'd suggest a good 4 weeks of steady state running with 1 longer run to start. Intervals won't be as beneficial without a base and given your current state - any running will improve you so build the base first. Once you get into a routine you could speed up one of the steady runs and then do a interval session but not short and sharp, something like 3x 5 minutes with 2 minutes in between

Don't increase mileage by more than 10% weekly too
Good luck!
21/05/2014 at 15:25

Impressed by your mum who enters 5Ks in her 70s - kudos! Whilst it's obviously in your genes and I get what you are trying to do, I'd go with the previous advice of building your base first and going steady. The worst outcome (and the only obstacle to a long and happy running life) is injury. Good luck. 

21/05/2014 at 15:38

Similar-ish for me in that I was a junior club runner (not remotely as fast as you though over the short stuff) until 18, then gave it up totally.  Despite attempting a few very slow runs in my 20s, it never really stuck again until my early 30s, 14 years after giving up.  My first training run at that distance was about 23 minutes if I remember correctly.  I think it took about 8 months to get under 20, but I was only running once a week back then.

So you've got a chance, but I suspect it's more likely that you won't quite get down to 20 in that timeframe. With your background though I would guess it won't take too long afterwards though, if you're minded to keep going.

If you're really keen to get back to the sport though, I wouldn't set short-term time goals like that.  The reason my return to running actually worked this time is I was just doing it for fitness for the first year or so, and only started trying to get faster when I realised my times weren't too bad considering.

21/05/2014 at 16:03

Thanks for all the replies, much appreciated.

It seems that the overwhelming response is to ditch the intervals, well the short ones anyway and just to focus on getting the miles in for now. So with that in mind I will do one long run, one longish interval session and then either another long run or a timed 5k each week for the next 3 weeks.

It also seems that knocking off more than 4 minutes in just over 3 weeks is a long shot to say the least but I'll keep that as my target for now and re-access in 4 weeks time when i return from holiday and then set a new (more realsitic) goal and give myself plenty of time to get there.

Tonight I'm going to do the same 5k run and see if I can shave off a bit more time, sub 22 would be nice and I've entered a 5k park run for a week on Saturday which should be interesting. The 5k I've been running I measured myself using google's map pedometer so it probably isn't 100% accurate, although it should be close.

21/05/2014 at 16:19

If you were such a good runner, you should well know that you need to save your peak performance for race day.  So NO MORE TIME TRIALS...  you haven't got time.

Agree that intervals isn't the way to go, when you haven't worked on your base.  Sure, you'll probably see improvements (assuming you stay uninjured)... but I doubt it's optimum.  You should focus heavily on some slow miles for a little while.  Given the compressed programme, I'd focus on this for the next 2 weeks, Get out there four times a week... (forget the 3 times a week maximum!)..  So that's 8 runs... of which 6 should, IMO, be done no faster than 9:15 minutes per mile... and if you find 5-6 miles comfortable, do that... but if it's not comfortable, then run less distance.  For the other 2 runs, allow a bit more speed to be around threshold.  Perhaps go for 1.5 mile warm up, 3 miles at 7:40 pace (if that's manageable... a bit slower if not)... then a mile warm down.

Then, in the 3rd week, introduce a couple of interval sessions... but forget 400m intervals... go for 1km intervals... initially at around 7.05 minute per mile pace with 2-3 minute recoveries.  If you can do 5 of those then adjust the pace for the second interval session (about a week before the race).   Intersperse these with some more gentle recovery runs.. leaving a couple of days pre-race free.

Injury is your big enemy... and you're taking a risk.  But I'm sure you know that.  If you think you're in danger, then get some low impact cardio stuff done... cycling.  Maybe swimming.

I hope your brother knows nothing of your training regime! Keep it a surprise.

It's a bit of a long shot... but with clear natural talent, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of you pulling it off (if you stay uninjured!). Good luck and report back on progress.


then perhaps do a threshold run at around 21 minute pace....  an then (and only then) bring in those intervals

Edited: 21/05/2014 at 16:23
21/05/2014 at 16:22

So did you know about it five or six months ago, do 4 training sessions in that time and now come on here asking for wonder advice to make you amazing in 4 weeks?

No agenda... i'm just curious

21/05/2014 at 16:25

... won't let me edit my last post...  the last line was supposed to be deleted.

21/05/2014 at 16:45

@ Nows Nowt - Thanks for the advice. I agree that just getting the miles in for now is the best way forward and so I'll focus on this and up it to 4 runs a week. And yes my brother knows nothing about my secret training yet and I plan on keeping it that way (just wish I'd started sooner). I suspect he is doing the same anyway as he claims to be able to run 5k in 22 mins but having checked the ParkRun website I know he clocked 20:32 a couple of weeks ago. I see your point about not doing any more time trials - I've agreed to do a 5k with a friend who runs tonight, she races often and normally finishes in 20 - 22 mins, but after that I'll just focus on getting some miles under my belt. 

@ Booktrunk - In a nutshell yes. I've known about this for 6 months but only began training two weeks ago. Not going to make any excuses at to why... as I have none. I do hope though that this (rather silly) short term goal will motivate me enough to get back into it properly.

22/05/2014 at 09:42

Did another 5k last night with a friend. Felt better again, and as she had a Garmin we were able to pace it properly. We set off at 22 minute pace and picked it up in the last 2k to finish in 21.34 so another step in the right direction.

I've entered the Burgess Park 5km park run a week on Saturday so between now and then I'm just going to try and get the miles in with 3 longish runs and one long interval session of either 5 x 1km or 3 x 2km.

23/05/2014 at 09:44

Took Nose Nowt's advice and went for a long/slow/ run last night; 6.5 miles in just over 57 minutes. I think that's probably the furthest I've ever run, even when I was doing a lot of running in my teens I never really went further than 10km during training sessions.

I'll do the same session twice more before next Saturday. If it feels easy should I up the pace and do the 6.5 miles in a quicker time? Or should I keep the time the same and up the mileage, so next time aim to do 7 miles in 57 minutes ? Or is there a reason to do these runs at an easy pace even if I feel I can go faster?

23/05/2014 at 11:26

Dom...  I'm glad you went some way towards taking my advice  I did say don't go faster than 9:15 per mile, but I'll not quibble  

This answer is a bit long... but I don't have time to edit it to smarten it up... but read carefully, and you'll get my point.

I'll stick to my original advice.  Stick to slow runs for most of your runs in this fortnight.  There is a reason. In simple terms, it is best to build a base fitness before moving on to speed work. This involves laying down systems for blood supply to muscles.. systems that are specialised in transferring oxygen in and waste products away...  good aerobic systems.  Once you've got the systems in place (extra blood capilliary etc),, you can tune them to be more efficient as you increase your speed, which has particular impact on the removal of lactate (and other) waste products.

If you train "too fast" (7 miles in 57mins)...  your body is under pressure and has to use the network of capilliaries and cells that are already in place. It won't really add to them but will tune them a bit to make them a bit more efficient... so you will see some improvement.  

Much much better if you increase the size of network before thinking of improving its efficiency.  But you're in this ridiculous position of wanting to do it all in 4 weeks!  I really don't know the perfect advice.  At one extreme, you could concentrate solely on slow running and building up the network... and maybe you end up with decent endurance, but not the speed for the task.   On the other hand, you might do all your training as fast as possible... and get some great speed... but then conk out in the race after 3K.  

You need to find a compromise... and my suggestion was an attempt to do a bit of both.  It's accepted that your body takes 2-3 weeks to adapt to "slow" training... which is one reason I'm saying don't waste your precious time on fast stuff yet... because you only have a limited window of opportunity to build that base network of capilliaries etc.  Focus  now on slow training speeds that do not recruit your 'fast' systems.   Then, in the 3rd week have a go at improving the efficiency of your newly-built networks. 

Other people would perhaps offer a different compromise solution, and they may or may not be right... but I'd just warn that intuitively, when faced with training, we tend to think faster is better... but, for the reasons outlined, it can be far far better to be patient and intelligent with your training.

I'm trying to think of an analogy (and failing to get a realistic one)... but imagine you had a battered 1000cc car and knew you had a race in a week's time - but you're not sure of the quality of the opposition. Maybe you could choose to spend all your time tuning every component of that 1000cc engine to be as fast as possible.  But you don't know if you're up against 2,000cc engines... in which case, it doesn't matter how brilliantly you fine-tune the small engine, you're going to lose (and also by screwing everything out of your small engine, there's more chance of a breakdown!).   Maybe it's better to invest time in installing a bigger engine before thinking of fine-tuning.     Not perfect.. but there's something in that analogy - and highlights the dilemma.  In my opinion, you should invest at least some time on increasing the size of your engine before trying to make it fast.

23/05/2014 at 14:29

Thanks for the detailed reply Nose Nowt, that makes sense to me.

Apart from the 5km parkrun that I've entered next Saturday all of my runs over the next 10 days (all 5 of them) will be long slow runs - 6.5 miles no quicker than last nights 57 minutes.

After that I may introduce one interval session a week of either 5 x 1km or 3 x 2km @ 20min 5k race pace but we'll see how the next couple of weeks go and how I do in next Saturdays 5k. 

31/05/2014 at 13:41

Did my first proper 5km race this morning; the Burgess Park Run.

I'd only managed to get in one run over the last 8 days due to coming down with something last weekend and spending much of last week in the toilet so I wasn't expecting to run a fast time, I just wanted to get a feel for it and put a time in.

I arrived at about 8.30 and did a quick warmup and some stretching, then a couple of strides and took my place on the start line. There were well over 100 entrants which surprised me a bit for a race that started at 9am. All of the first timers had a volunteer go over the course and pointing out roughly where the 1km markers were before we set off.

I started too fast. 3:50 through the first km so I slowed it down a bit and tried to find a nice rhythm over the next 2km. By the 3km marker I was starting to feel it a bit but knowing I was over half way helped me keep pushing and I found another gear over the final 1km to finish 20th in 20:15.

Despite just missing out on breaking 20 mins I was really pleased with this. I'll do it again in 2 weeks just before I go away on holiday so hopefully I'll be able to do it then. In the meantime I'm just going to go for a long run every other day if I can and maybe do one interval session next weekend.

01/06/2014 at 20:31

10 miles in 90 mins tonight.

I'm going to try and get in another 30 miles between now and a week on Saturday when I do my 5km race, probably split into 4 runs. I'll also do 2 interval sessions of 5 x 1km this week and 3 x 2km the following week both at slightly faster than 20 minute 5km pace.

02/06/2014 at 12:05

Keep the updates coming!

I know I said earlier that, in terms of risk-reward, you need to take some risk if you wanted to achieve your goal. But maybe you've taken enough risk now.   I'd say that a hard 5K park run should have been followed by a rest day... not such a long run!  It would be a shame to pick up an injury now.

I'm sure I've read that 4-8 weeks into a new training programme is when you're particularly vulnerable to injury - the time where micro-damage accumulates to the point of breaking down if you're not giving enough time for the body to repair itself.

You've done well.  It sounds like you're might be there ... and maybe the added competition of the "big" race will take you to victory.  Could be time to ease back and be a bit more pragmatic.

02/06/2014 at 12:58

Nose Nowt - you need a new forum name.  You know lots.  

I need to slow down, but it's hard when you only have x amount of time and you want to run as much as you can in that time.  Might need to start the 6am runs after all.......

Will be watching with interest to see if you go sub 20 in your A race, Dom, and, more importantly, if you beat your brother!

02/06/2014 at 14:56

I was going to go out for a run this evening (7.5 miles) and do intervals tomorrow but I'll take your advice again Nose Nowt (served me well so far) scrap the intervals, take an evening off and do the 7.5 miles tomorrow instead. Then it'll just be doing medium/long steady runs between now and race day.

Just been to runners need and bought two new pairs of trainers, one for training and a lightweight pair of racers. The trainers I'd been using were falling apart and I'd had them for years.

Thanks for the encouragement Nessie, I'll keep this updated until I get back from holiday and then set myself a new goal to focus on for the rest of the year.

04/06/2014 at 11:05

Went out for what felt like a steady 60 minute run last night, I checked the distance when I got in and according to google I'd run 7.6 miles which is way too quick I guess. It felt comfortable the whole way round and I felt like I could have kept going for another 30 mins or so at that pace without too much difficulty but I guess that's not the point. I've ordered a Garmin which should be with me soon so that should make pacing the long runs a lot easier.

I'll probably take the evening off tonight and then either do intervals or another steady run tomorrow. If I do do intervals they'll be longish ones 5 x 1km or 3 x 2km @ 20 minute 5km pace with a good warmup before and cool down afterwards.

In fact below is what I plan to do each day up until race day next Saturday, feel free to critique:

4/6      Rest
5/6      Intervals (5 x 1km with 90 secs recovery) or 5 miles steady
6/6      5 miles @ 9min/mile pace
7/6      Rest
8/6      10 miles @ 9min/mile pace
9/6      Rest
10/6     Intervals (3 x 2km with 2 mins recovery) or 5 miles steady
11/6     Rest
12/6     7.5 miles @ 9min/mile pace
13/6     Rest
14/6     Race Day

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