Friday, July 13, 2012

Race Report: 5k Flop

My 5k PR is not a time I'm proud of. I should be able to run faster, given my times from 10 miles up. My fastest time over a 5k distance is actually from the first 3.1 miles of an 8k, but it doesn't seem fair to count that. I rarely run them when I’m in good shape, opting instead for long tune-up races or longer training runs. I've only run one 5k in the last year; a cold and icy event that punished those few who were brave enough to leave their cozy cars with slipping and sliding on the ice-covered paths. My 5k PR remains something I wasn't very proud of when I ran it early last summer, let alone now. 

Last week I ran a 4th of July 5k. I thought I'd certainly break my PR. I'm not in the middle of any intense training, but I've been doing some speed here and there, including two practices with my new team, at paces I couldn't sustain alone. (Update on those workouts: The first workout wasn't as embarrassing as I thought it would be. But that may have been beginner's luck: the second and third workouts (the third was this week, after the 5k) were more what I predicted, with me getting left in the dust on the last few reps. But as you’ll see, it's exactly what I need.) Considering how far I've come in the last year and the paces I've been hitting in workouts, it seemed logical to hope for a PR. Also, I've run the race the past three years now; I know the logistics and the course well.

It didn't happen. The start was really cramped as the race has grown in size every year. In all the pictures from the start I look like I'm running crooked; I'm not sure if I can blame the tight quarters and the desire to avoid stepping on or crashing into someone (there were some face-planting incidents) or if I need to work on my start. (I say the latter, jokingly, as if I'm Usain Bolt and this is a 100 meter sprint. More on that later.) The first mile went well, right on target pace. (As per usual, my target pace was not just to break my PR by a few seconds, but to knock a good 30+ seconds off.) The second mile I slowed a bit, but not terribly. I knew the second mile of a 5k is the worst. On the first you are eager and ready to go and by the third you're almost done. The middle part sucks. I thought I'd get it together by the third (last!) mile, but I just kept falling off. Right around the start of the third mile some girls passed me, and I just didn't have it in me to stick with them. One girl looked like someone I ran with in high school; I tried to stay with her to see if I was right and stay hi. As soon as I realized it wasn't her, I dropped back. Involuntarily, of course. When my brain no longer had the incentive to see if it was her, it handed the reigns back to my legs, which didn’t feel like moving any faster. I wish I hadn't figured it out; maybe I would have stayed at her pace longer. 

My normal hit-the-watch finishing pose.
Someday I'll learn to finish "camera strong."
At the turn for home, I put down a surge, passed at least one girl back (the high school look-a-like, if I remember correctly) but I finished way off my goal time. (In actuality, only a few seconds slower than my PR, but like I said, I had hoped to crush it.) The fact that I still had enough left for a good sprint makes me feel like I should have given more, especially in the last mile. I don't know why I couldn't get my legs to go.

I caught my breath, grabbed some water, and left for a cool down, during which I felt surprisingly, perfectly, fine. Fast even. Not fast like 5k PR pace, but faster than I should have felt had I just run a solid 5k effort. I told FiancĂ©e this and he said that the 5k is like a 100 meter sprint; you can run hard but recover quickly. But I think I treat it too much like a longer distance. It's a different kind of pain than a marathon, but my marathoning legs just want to cruise at a slower pace. They can't handle moving quickly for a few minutes, because they are so used to having to move for a few hours. 

I honestly think I can do better than my 5k times suggest. And I've just begun my season of shorter races (no marathons) in an attempt to prove it. Fortunately, I have another shot at a 5k next week, in my GRC debut. I hope I can get it right, and push hard the whole way for a PR. 

Dream big, 


  1. Very interesting post.

    As a swimmer with a very similar problem -- losing often in shorter races to swimmers I could leave behind in longer ones -- I used to try to think of it as "Is the glass half full or half empty?" situation. ("They're good at one kind of race," I'd tell myself."I'm good at the other.")

    The problem with that was there were a lot more glass half-empty short races, so my friends/competitors got to lord it over me far more often than the reverse. Once or twice a summer in the long races I'd win; eight or ten times in the short races, they'd win.

    IMHO you are on the right track working on this with your team.

    In any case do not do what I'd did -- just conceding the shorter races to the other competitors.

    Dream Big & Small!

  2. Teal,
    I don't know how I happened upon your blog but glad I did. I love your aspirations and really we have a lot in common. Between you and me, I'm hoping on the 2016 trials, but not as gutsy as you to make it too public... in due time. Anyway, I'm not a doctor but maybe check your iron? I'd been doing decent training and was never able to break 21 in the 5k (pretty pathetic for a decent marathoner). Started taking Feosol last year and have dropped my 5k to sub 18. Can you believe that!? Not to mention, it helped my marathon time by enabling me to do more quality speed work. Food for thought. Run fast. Peace.

  3. I talked with RunnerTom about this, and he suggested running the course hard right before a race (if you can, I know it's not possible because of the crowded start line at many races), so you'll be sweaty with your heart pumping and your legs primed when the race starts. Thanks for inspiring all of us!