Let's take a look at some times in my best event in HS, which was the 800 meters:
-1:40.9- Current World Record set by David Rudisha
-1:45- Olympic hopeful
-1:50- Top collegiate runner.
-1:55- All-State in HS, Strong D-II or III runner but mid-back pack at a major D-I school.
-2:00-2:05 Top HS runner, Good D-II or III competitor but not good enough for D-I.
2:05-2:10- Wins most dual meets in HS and might place in a small invitational. Competitive in D-II and D-III but near the back of the pack on a good team.
2:10-2:15- This was me in HS. Will usually place in a dual meet but that's it.
2:15-2:20- Mid-pack in HS, usually good enough for Varsity and to participate in invitationals but will score few points and usually finish about 5th in a dual meet.
2:30- Competitive in HS. By that, I mean you won't be dead last in a meet and you can train with the team but you won't even sniff the Varsity.
I had a best of 2:13 and averaged 2:15 by my senior year. Even on a bad day, I was under 2:20. That's why I say that being 5% off is a red flag that something is wrong. At the professional level, it's the difference between a WR and failing to make the finals in the Olympics.
I don't kid myself, I never had what it took to be a top collegiate runner even if I was healthy. Still, given that I was still growing and hadn't filled out at all, I was certainly capable of further improvement. Also, my pacing was poor with my 1st lap at least 5 seconds faster than my 2nd. Given better coaching, pacing and natural growth, I believe that I could have averaged 2:05 in college but probably not broken 2:00. I would not have been a star even on a D-2 team but certainly would have enjoyed the camaraderie of the team. That's all in the past now and the only good that came out was that I never developed the arrogance that is common among elite runners.
Let's shift gears now.
I find it interesting that those who are the best in the world in their 20s and 30s are not the best in the Master's ranks. The world's best 50 year olds usually were not the greatest in their 20s-30s. While there are exceptions, the nation's top high school runners are rarely the best ten years later.
Anyone ever heard of Obea Moore? I thought not. He set national records in the 400 every year from age 10-17. As a junior in HS, he clocked a 45.xx and raced against Michael Johnson in the '96 Olympic Trials. He never improved beyond that. Sadly, I heard that he never even competed in college because he didn't have the grades and it was rumored that he got messed up on drugs. Still, if you look at age group record holders among say 13-14 year-olds, you won't find any that did anything at the professional level. That's interesting to me and I often wonder why that is the case. I'd say that in many cases, it is simply accelerated physical maturity and in the late teens-20s, others simply "catch up." Burnout due to over training at a young age is also possible.
Growing up, I knew of the Christiansen running family. One kid could break 20:00 for 5K at just 7 years old and by the time he was 9, he was in the 17s and he had a younger brother that did the same. Neither one of them did anything major as an adult runner and the last I read, both did run in college but not at the D-I level.
If you keep running consistently as an adult, you should be able to maintain or slightly improve your HS Mile-5K time through your early 30s especially if you are not obsessed with the LSD of marathon training. Your times at distances 10K and above should be better than you were capable of in HS. In spite of my issues, I've fit that description.
It is common that runners take a decade hiatus from running after HS them come back 10 years later when they are pushing 30. Some are able to pick up right where they left off within a year or 2 even if they took up smoking during their hiatus. Others struggle to match their 9th grade times despite steady training for several years. Why is that? It could very well be due to slower oxidation rates or activated genetic mutations. I believe the world class Master's runners are blessed with better genetic material and they are only now training at a world class level. It is commonly believed that world class fitness can only be maintained for 10-15 years before burnout sets in. That may very well be true.
As for me, at 34, age related decline should be negligible if it even exists at all. Tulsa last November was my last race as serious runner. Do I want to be competitive again? Hell yeah! I don't just love racing. I love to train and push myself to improve. I miss the camaraderie of the group runs and would really miss the travel to places that I would not normally visit. That said, it's not why I am pursuing the genetic solution. I just want to be free from this awful instability, I want to have a few dates and eventually get married and would like to help raise a child or two. That's more important to me than racing but as of now, it's not an option. My health coach consult is on Monday the 18th after work so stay tuned.