The Trouble with 5K's

In my brief three years of running experience, I've run races of several different distances--- 3.1 miles, 5 miles, 6.22 miles, 13.1 miles, and 26.2 miles. Different amounts of HURT go along with each one. You'd think 26.2 and 13.1 would be the hurtiest (yes, I made that word up), but they are not.

No distance hurts quite as much as a 5K.

In a marathon, you get to run at your COMFORTABLE PACE for about 5 hours (if you are me). As long as you are in motion, you are pretty much on pace. You can take occasional walk breaks, walk through water stops, walk up the hills, have a snack, and you are STILL on pace. If you have an aggressive time goal, you can push it just a little, but not too much. (I suppose if you were trying to qualify for Boston, you would push it A LOT, but that's not even something I let myself dream about.)

In a half-marathon, you run at your SLIGHTLY UNCOMFORTABLE pace for 2 + hours (again, if you are me). There are times that you even grow kind of comfortable with that slightly uncomfortable pace. I think these are perhaps still my favorite distance to race. You feel like you REALLY accomplished something at the end, but training doesn't take over your life and recovery doesn't take 4-6 weeks (or longer) like a marathon. You can walk during the water stops for 15-20 seconds and still feel like you are racing a half-marathon.

Then there are 10K's. This is, for me, where the "pain zone" starts. A 10K is pretty much uncomfortable for nearly an hour. I'd call that my DEFINITELY UNCOMFORTABLE, BUT MANAGEABLE pace. In a 10K, my goal is usually not to walk, while my body is screaming, "Can't we walk.... just a little bit.... for a few seconds??" But I try to trudge on. The middle miles are the worst. In miles 3 and 4, if I let my mind wander, it wanders me right off pace! After 4 miles, a 10K is no longer fun (if it ever was), and those last two miles are brutal. I think the KEY with a 10K is to run smart, run even splits, and to hang on for dear life in those last two miles!

Finally, there is the 5K. I think 5K's are supposed to be fun. (Aren't they all?) But you are basically asking your body to run at your VERY UNCOMFORTABLE pace for 3 miles. For me, I never quite catch my breath in a 5K. I probably sound like I'm hyperventilating to the other runners around me. I don't let myself walk (or mentally beat myself up if I do). My body sends danger signals to my brain, and all this negative self talk starts up, "I can't maintain this pace for two more miles. I'm going to flame out. I am a terrible runner." I don't know why the negative self-talk rears its ugly head in 5K races, but it does. The only good thing about a 5K is that it's over relatively quickly. I love getting past that 1.55 mark on my watch and knowing I'm more than half-way there.

I ran a very hilly 5K this morning. It was in the top 2 or 3 most difficult courses I've run. It was the APSU Homecoming 5K--my alma mater. I ran it as a fitness test to see how much speed I've lost with all the time off this summer. My base line was a 5K in May two weeks before my calf strain. I ran that one in 28:10, and it was a moderately hilly course. I ran it two weeks after finishing a half marathon in almost the exact time as the one I did two weeks ago. I thought there were enough similarities to give me a good test of where I am now.

I really gave this 5K my all, and I finished in 29:30. Yes, the hills might have been a factor, but I've basically lost almost a minute and a half! If I were a numbers person, I would figure out the percentage of speed lost, but I'm not quite that ambitious.

But it could have been SO MUCH WORSE. I could have lost 3 or 4 or 5 minutes. I'm not at all disappointed.

In fact, I'm proud of two things:

1. I didn't walk at all, even with the hills. That's the first time I've run 3 miles nonstop in MONTHS. A goal starting this race was to finish strong.

2. I finished strong. I trailed these 3 ladies for the entire race and on the finishing stretch (UPHILL!), I passed all three of them. I really didn't think the fastest one was within my sights. She kept getting further and further away in mile 2, but I reeled her in a bit in mile 3 and just powered up the hill past her to the finish line. Even after I passed the first two, I thought, "There's no way I can catch her right here at the end.... is there? Well, maybe I'll try."

I did run that last part so fast that when they stopped me in the finishing chute, I got really dizzy and thought I was going to pass out. I was also about to throw up. That's how I know I really left it all out there!

Oh, I managed to get 3rd place out of 8 ladies in my age group! I was really happy about that!

Afterwards, I ran 2 more miles for good measure. (Or should I say shuffled/walked? They were very slow because I was done!)

Coming back after a 3-4 month injury is going to be hard and will take time. I've just got to be patient. In two weeks, I'm going to do a 10K. (Can't say I'm looking forward to it---see above!)


Val said…
I actually had never thought about 5Ks that way, and I don't know why. It does make sense.

I'm glad you could do the race without steps of recovery. :) Good for you.
Book Worm Runs said…
I TOTALLY agree with everything you said. I am not a fan of 5k's and I am definitely built for the longer, slower distances where there is less pressure :o)