Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Firecracker 5K

In response to last week’s query, I’ve discovered I can run two miles around six minute pace. I cannot, however, run three.

But before we get into last week’s race, let’s talk 5Ks.

In last month’s Runner’s World, Lauren Fleshman outlines “why the 5K is freaking awesome.” She makes some excellent points; compared to marathons, they are cheap, easy to get to, cause less chafing, retain more toenails, and while they are not quite quick and painless, the painful part is quick.

But here’s the problem with 5Ks: I hate them.

I don’t mean I hate them like I hate kale, mushrooms, and kale-smothered mushrooms. I will run them (I will not eat the aforementioned dish), although not often, and usually in the off-season or beginning of the season, calling them “just for fun.” Fun shmun.

There are a number of reasons I don’t like them: they are tempo-run-esque in their requirement to go relatively fast for a relatively long time, they don’t require a marathon-like commitment (so I’m able to run them when I’m out of shape, but then inevitably berate myself when I run poorly), and they pretty much suck from the gun to the finish line.

But, truthfully, the reason I don’t like them might be an egotistical one: I’m just not good at them—the same reason I don’t particularly like playing softball or anything that involves hand-eye coordination. I start well, at what seems to be a pace I should hold given my longer distance PRs, but slow in the second mile, and completely fall apart in the third. In the end, I always surprise myself with a big kick, which actually annoys me and makes me wish I could spread out my effort more evenly in the final mile. Which brings us back to last week’s Firecracker 5K.

The mile markers were a bit off, which caused me a great deal of mid-race panic when I came through the first “mile” thirty seconds over pace. Am I really running that slowly? This *feels* fast. Wow, I must be crazy out of shape. But I couldn’t speed up, and my Garmin continued to tell me I was running under my goal pace, as it had for the entire first mile. Okay, so maybe that mile marker was wrong.

The second mile marker confirmed my suspicions, as I came through that “mile” thirty seconds under pace. Right, so we’re back on track. (The possibility remained that the second mile could have been much too short, but I didn’t dwell on that idea.) The race was salvaged; I was apparently running well. (Two miles at goal Army Ten Miler pace, check.) But right on cue, in the third mile, I unraveled. My Garmin no longer provided comfort; I was slowing, badly. At about 2.5 miles, I tried motivating myself by attempting to catch the closest woman, Lululemon Skirt, not far ahead. As I was unsuccessfully trying to gain on Lululemon Skirt, Pacers Chick—who had been swapping places with me for the entire race—passed me. Crap. C’mon, Teal, it’s not that much further, stop giving up. But my legs wouldn’t go...

...Until we made the final turn to the finish, when I summoned a kick and passed both Lululemon Skirt and Pacers Chick. I was way off my goal time (closer to the pace I ran for a half marathon only a few months ago, yikes), but the final kick renewed my spirits slightly. My legs had something left. I could have gone faster. But then my spirits sank again: I should have run the third mile faster. Why can’t I run these things well?

It all seems mental; I just can’t wrap my marathon mind around the brevity of a 5K. Also, I’m out of shape. But the best argument Fleshman makes about 5Ks is this: if one goes poorly, you can run another a week later.

So—just like two years ago—I’ll run the Twilighter 5K in a few weeks. I may hate it, but it will be over quickly, and my toenails should remain intact. For now.

Dream big,


  1. In addition to your amazing accomplishments, you also inspire folks at the other end of the spectrum (that is, me) to give running a try. That is: jog very slowly and tentatively, walk, jog a little more. Thanks to your encouragement, I'm in the middle of Week 5 of "From Couch to 5K" and surprised by myself! I'm on track (yea, because it's a very forgiving surface) to run 3.1 miles on August 1. I think of you every time I feel like quitting and stick with it instead. THANK YOU RunnerTeal!

    1. That's great to hear! Thanks for sharing: inspiration goes both ways :)