I used to love 5Ks. That wasn't the distance I first tackled in a race (I went all out and did a duathlon the first time I ever pinned on a race number), but once I got bitten by the racing bug, I definitely searched out and ran as many 5Ks as I could find.
And anyone who's gone through that phase knows that if you put in some effort, your 5K times can drop pretty dramatically over the course of a couple of years - and mine did. I ran my first-ever 5K in 26:47, and a few years later, I ran a 23:39 and won my first age-group award - and that was without being on any kind of real training schedule, and never stepping foot on a track.
But of course as the times dropped, all I wanted was to see them drop more. And in the course of upping my distances to complete half-marathons and marathons, speedwork came into play, and I got even faster, until I got to the point a couple of years ago where I decided my new goal was to break 21 minutes - a time that would have seemed unfathomable when I first started out.
It took me a couple of tries, but I finally did it in December 2012. To say that was an awesome day is an understatement.
Since then, though, my focus has really shifted to half and full marathons, with almost no speedwork designed for shorter races, and very little drive to compete and race a 5K. And after running a few subpar 5Ks in the past year and a half (slower races, and ones where I just hated every single second I was running), I had gotten a serious mental block about the distance, and was feeling no love at all for the 3.1.
Over the course of the past year, that turned into something verging on fear of the 5K. I didn't want to run a 5K, I didn't want to race a 5K, I wanted nothing to do with the 5K. My only exceptions were when I ran two of them with Dante, which was of course way more fun than running one myself.
And with last fall/winter's injury, and subsequent buildup to and recovery from Boston, racing was the furthest thing from my mind. And when I did start to race again, I dove right into the longer distances again.
But now that I've been training for Philly and back to doing regular track workouts, I was feeling pretty good about the amount of speed I've been building, and was tempted to test it out at a local 5K.
I had run the Schonning 5K a few years ago and enjoyed it, and I decided it would be a good place to try to learn to love - well, maybe love is a strong word, but at least like - a 3.1 race again.
I got to the start with plenty of time to spare, and got in a good 2-mile warmup with the rest of the running club folks who were there - we had a good group, and it was nice to see so many familiar faces.
I was definitely nervous. I wasn't anticipating a PR - I knew that was probably a bit of a stretch. I did hope I might be able to break 21 minutes again, but wasn't even sure about that. But my main goal was to not let the negative thoughts get the best of me as they had in the last few 5Ks I've run.
Racing a 5K sucks. It hurts from the second you cross the starting line to the second you cross the finish line. There's no gradual buildup, no time to 'settle in' to a pace, no chance to back off for a few minutes if you're feeling tired. You hear that gun, and you go, and you go with all you've got for 3.1 miles.
I knew it was going to hurt, and I knew I needed to be ok with that, so I had been mentally preparing myself all week.
The first mile is mostly downhill, and I wanted to run it right around 6:50 pace, so when it came in at 6:48, I was very happy.
The second mile is where you hit a couple of the rolling hills on the course, and mile 2 is always the hardest for me in a 5K, so I'm not surprised I slowed to 6:59 for that mile. I was tired, I was hot, and I was doing a good job winning the mental battle, but it was definitely taking a lot of effort.
I knew the only way to run mile 3 was to ignore my watch and just use up whatever I had left in the tank. As I tell myself in every race - either it'll be good enough, or it won't, but I'm giving it my all, and that's all I can do. I managed to get back down to 6:47 for that final mile, and 6:07 pace for the final .1, but the slower middle mile threw me off too much to get a sub-21, and I crossed in 21:38.
Not even close to a PR, and not under 21 minutes, but still a victory, in my book, because as much as it sucked to push myself that hard, I fought off all the negative thoughts that kept trying to push their way in. It hurt, and I hated how much it hurt, but I knew I just had to suck it up and keep going.
It was also a victory in the sense that I placed first in my age group, and was the third female overall. Granted, it was a small race, so the odds were in my favor, but it's still nice to see your name in that spot in the results - well worth celebrating.
I can't say I'm eager to run another 5K right away, but I'm no longer intimidated by it. I kicked the mental monkeys to the curb, and the next time I line up at the start line for a 3.1-mile race, I'll be ready.
That being said, I don't plan to race another one during this marathon training cycle. I shifted my workouts a bit last week, but still ended up doing a tempo run Tuesday, and then two days after the 5K, I was out for a 20-mile training run (and two days after that, the schedule called for 3 x 1-mile repeats).
Tuesday's tempo was tough - humidity was high, and even early in the morning, it made for very rough running - but I was able to hold my usual pace, with my tempo miles coming in at 7:15, 7:15, 7:00, and 7:02.
The humidity was actually even worse for the 20-miler on Sunday, even when I set out at 5:30am! I was lucky enough to have company for all but 4 miles of the run, though, which was really nice - and averaged an 8:40 pace, which I was thrilled with, especially given the conditions.
So another successful week of training is done, and just like that, I have one month completed, three more to go. Three months seems like a long time, but I think it's going to fly by, especially now that the kids are back in school and afterschool activities are starting up, and everything seems to shift into high gear.
I also have several races coming up, and am figuring out how to work them into my training schedule. First up is the Surftown Half in Westerly in two weeks. I ran this one as a warmup to the Hartford Marathon a few years ago, and it was a great race, and I'm looking forward to running it again.
It's going to be very hard to not race Surftown, as it's a really flat course - perfect for PRs - but I have a 20-miler on the schedule that day, and I know getting in those 20-mile runs is so important, so I'm going to run 7 before the race and use it as a training run.
After that is the Ocean Road 10K, which will definitely be just part of a long training run, since I want to really race the Newport Half the following week. I'm currently in first place for my age group for the RI Triple Crown, and I'd like to keep it that way, so I'm giving it my all in Newport, and looking forward to it.
And then a few weeks before Philly, I've got the Gansett Half as a tuneup race - I'll likely run 7 miles beforehand, and then aim to run the race at my planned marathon race pace. Perfect practice!
Lots more work to do, but lots more fun to be had, too.