I hate 5k’s.
I hated them in High School Cross Country. There was nothing appealing to me about 3.1 miles of racing. It was too fast to settle in. Too long to sprint. Nothing about it ever felt right. I was over-trained, peaked too early, and after winning a big freshman meet early in the season, the expectations left me too nervous to enjoy it.
I avoided 5k’s after high school until the Mission Beach Sand Pit obstacle run about 5 years ago. I ran it with my friend Brooke, one of the most talented runners I know, after reuniting with her for the first time since high school during the SoCal Ragnar Relay Race. I killed myself trying to keep her blistering 6-something pace through the sand, until the obstacles in the last mile got the best of me and I was outrun by Brooke and a couple high school girls.
With the army crawls and fence jumps and rope climbs, our time was incredibly slow, and we didn’t think much of the results until, on our way out, the person hosting the awards ceremony called my name. I won my age group. (I tried to find my time on their website and I couldn’t find the old race results, I would have loved to share what the winning age group time was for 26-30 year olds. Slow.).
With the 5k age group win under my belt (and hanging on my wall), and some new running friends because of Brooke and our church, I began to gain confidence and run for distance instead of speed. I trained for my first marathon (Seattle Rock ‘n Roll), my fastest ever half marathon (Wild Animal Park with the absolute worst hills I’ve ever experienced in a lifetime of running) and then the ultra.
The ultra was an ultra-ambitious 50-miler in the Frances Marion forest, the Wambaw Swamp Stomp, a go-big-or-go-home effort that helped me regain focus on things I love after moving across the country for my husband’s orders with no job, no friends, no running group and no idea what to do next. In contrast to the 5k, everything about the Ultra experience felt right. I loved the pace–slower than normal–the camaraderie, the feeling of having accomplished something huge, and, most of all, the time spent training. It gave me several months of purpose, goals and challenges that I had been missing since leaving San Diego.
Then I got pregnant. Running changed course from gaining to maintaining. I was coming off a year of doing nothing but working out and training for the ultra, so I didn’t lose much fitness, and was able to run until the day I went into labor, with very little pain other than swollen feet. (Which was much less painful than my lingering plantar fasciitis).
But in the year since my daughter was born, running has stayed stagnant, mostly becoming my escape from how busy life has become. There hasn’t been time to train for anything substantial–or what I had decided was substantial–and I’m tired of running half marathons on base training alone without the time to focus on a PR.
So I decided to do a 5k.
For a lot of people, a 5k is a jumping off point to a lifetime of building mileage. For me, this is the most challenging and terrifying race. But, it’s short. And I have time to train for short.
When I decided to do the 5k, I looked up training plans. I’m all in. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right, and I’m aiming for at least my not-too-impressive high school time, if not a PR. I want to break 20. The training plan I found to kick this off is on a quirky website, the 5k runner. The title of the post intrigued me “5K: Straighforward | Sub 20 | minute 5k running training plan program – 19 too.”
My main focus is the three days of outlined speed intervals suggested by the wordy 5k runner. I know my body, and I know I can’t over train, even for a 5k, without running into knee problems and plantar fasciitis. So I’m planning on following the speed work and taking the majority of the slow or rest days to cross train with yoga, barre and spinning.
I did the first speed workout on the list Monday at lunch. Lunch is an hour, so I couldn’t abuse the 2-3 minute rest in between each set like I normally would (by “forgetting” what time I had stopped and taking an extra minute or two). The workout was 3-4 x 1k at 5-10 minutes slower than race target pace. I ran a mile and a half warm up to a stretch of sidewalk I knew didn’t have any intersections.
My watch said 6:15 pace, and my body said WOAH! What the heck are you doing?? The 1k could not be over fast enough. And then I couldn’t even fathom doing 3 more. My pace didn’t last, I dipped into the 6:30’s for the middle two, then a 7, but I finished. Extremely pleased that I had survived and extremely discouraged that I’m so out of speed shape.
The race is at the beginning of March, a trail 5k–I run faster on trails and they also seem to go by much faster–about 30 minutes from our house. It’s a low pressure race, but I’m already nervous. The 5k just isn’t my niche. But I need something to train for, a challenge, something to get out of the steady maintenance phase, to end the excuses that I just had a baby or that I was just pregnant or we’re probably going to get pregnant again soon. Something to renew the excitement that comes not just from running, but from racing.
Even if that race is the dreaded 5k.