Short sprint – Ordinary speed

In True Speed I wrote about the high speeds at which elite runners run their races; speeds which ordinary runners can barely hit in a sprint. Today we’re going to look at what ordinary speed looks like. Outside of an elite race, most runners are running somewhere between six and ten miles per hour. Even the guys and gals up the front winning the prizes in your local race aren’t running much faster than this. Sometimes it’s even true for elites too, when Gwen Jorgensen was winning her Olympic Gold for triathlon, her 10K was ‘only’ around 11mph, so there’s no shame in not being super fast; only an attempt to better understand what’s going on.

Let’s begin with parkrun. In the table below I’ve listed the times between sixteen and thirty minutes as all but a few parkruns are run in that range. Of course quicker times are available, Andrew Baddeley holds the world record time of 13:48 while Lauren Reid ran 15:45 earlier this year to set a new women’s record.

Parkrun timeMphKm/hMin/mileMin/km
1611.718.85min093min12
1711.017.65min283min24
1810.416.75min473min36
199.815.86min073min48
209.315.06min264min00
218.914.36min454min12
228.513.67min044min24
238.113.07min234min36
247.812.57min434min48
257.512.08min025min00
267.211.58min225min12
276.911.18min415min24
286.710.79min005min36
296.410.39min195min48
306.210.09min396min00

If you want to train to get faster, it’s a useful table for understanding what speeds and paces you’ll need to be running. Once any initial burst of training sees your times levelling off, you have to start training smart.

You do intervals at paces a little quicker than you’re currently running while keeping the majority of your running at paces for a parkrun that’s 2½ – 3½ minutes slower. That’s 2½ minutes for the runners near sixteen and 3½ for those at thirty  If you’re currently running 22-mins at 7min/mile, you’ll want to be training no faster than the pace of a 25-min parkrun (three minutes slower). Even more of your training should be at the pace of a parkrun that’s five minutes slower than you’re currently running.


But we’re not only parkrunners so let’s have a look at what speeds we’re running for different race distances. The vast majority of runners are barely hitting 8mph in any of their races; most are even slower. The top end are the elite values to give you an idea of where there’s capacity for improvement.

4 mph5678910111213
parkrun46min3937min1931min0626min4023min2020min4518min4016min5815min3314min21
10K1hr331hr151hr0253min1946min3941min2937min1933min5631min0628min42
1/2M3hr162hr272hr111hr521hr381hr271hr191hr121hr061hr00
Marathon6hr335hr154hr223hr453hr162hr552hr372hr232hr112hr01

Of course reaching the highest speeds takes lots of dedicated training but certainly isn’t impossible if you understand what you need to do. Most people can run at 10mph (or 6min/mile pace) if only for twenty or thirty metres. If you can do this, then it’s probable with good endurance training you can improve to run times you wouldn’t have considered possible.

Most runners I see are good at unlocking their natural talent but then spend their training time reinforcing it without notable improvement. They seem happy if they’re knocking a minute or two off their marathon after months of hard training. My 10K went from 48 minutes to sub-40 when I got my training right. My early half marathons all came in at 1hr50 but when I took up running seriously I got them closer to 1hr30. I still believe there is significant room for improvement in all my races when I’m done with 800m training. I won’t settle for less, will you?