5K Thoughts and How I Won a Turkey

I think 5Ks are HARD.  There is no race distance that I don’t love (that is the honest truth – I love races!), but I find that the 5K is the most challenging distance for me.  Yes, I know it is one of the shortest race distances out there, but if I am going to race it and try to do the very best that I can, it is incredibly tough for me.  Physically I am pushing myself nearly as hard as I can, mentally I am battling internally with whether or not I am going too fast or not fast enough and praying that it will be over soon.  The burn and the pain doesn’t happen so much in my legs, but in my chest.  Controlling my breathing is an added challenge.

As difficult and uncomfortable as I find the 5K to be though, I think they are very good for me – for my overall running and for my mental game.  When running a 5K I’m outside my comfort zone physically and mentally from the time the gun goes off until I cross that finish line.  I have to work on my speed, my form, my focus and control myself the entire way.

Here are a few lessons I have learned about how I can run my best 5K race.  These may not apply to everyone, but I find they work for me and give me my best results:

  • Warm Up.  My legs need some time to move before I ask them to race and give me everything they’ve got.  If I don’t warm up before a 5K then it usually takes a mile or even two miles into the race before I feel like I’ve got my turnover where I want it to be and by then the race is practically over!  I think warming up for 1-3 miles beforehand and finishing it off with a few strides (30 seconds of harder running) would be ideal.  That way my legs will be ready, my mind will be ready.
  • Go out FAST, but not TOO FAST.  This is really a struggle for me.  When racing other distances I try to start a lot slower and then pick up my pace as I go, usually saving my blasts of energy until the second half or the very end of the race.  With a 5K though, if I go out too slow I will not have any hope of making up the time – the race is just too short.  So when I race a 5K I go into it knowing that I am going to basically be uncomfortable the whole time and I want to run a fast pace that I feel I can maintain until I cross that finish line.  Ideally I have it in me to gun it towards the end of the race, if I pace myself correctly.
  • Run FAST, yet RELAXED.  The best way I’ve found to harness this skill is through practicing it in my training – on the track and on the treadmill.  Form is always important in running but when I’m running fastest I notice it’s easy for me to lose control and self awareness.  There is no question – I have got to stay focused on my form and check in with my body – make sure I am not tensing my face muscles, my shoulders, my hands.  Know how I am carrying myself while I push myself.  It I am relaxed and focused, I am most efficient.
Here are a links to some great articles I have read about race pace strategies in the 5K:

So … with all that said regarding my thoughts on the 5K, now I will tell you about the one I ran this weekend and how I won a 20 pound turkey.

All week long last week I was debating whether or not I would participate in a local 5K this weekend, the Herndon Turkey Trot.  I ran it two years ago with my sister and it was BRUTAL. In addition to all the things that I think are super tough about 5Ks, this race in particular is not my favorite.  The course is hilly and the terrain is tough – over half the race is on a grassy and hilly golf course.  What’s worse is that it has a 4:00PM start time, and I am definitely a morning runner.  I have trouble knowing when/what to eat before an afternoon/evening race, and I usually get side stitches and feel off when I run later in the day.  There was an option to sign up an hour before the start so I decided I would just wait to see how I felt on Saturday before committing to it.  If I decided not to do it, no problemo.

I woke up on Saturday morning with a headache.  The baby was up and ready to party before 5:30AM.  Not long after that, my other two kids were awake and demanding for me to make them breakfast.  Not exactly my favorite way to start my day, racing or not!  I drank lots of water and Nuun and took some ibuprofen for my head and tried to just let it all go.  There was no pressure and if it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be.  A few hours later my headache was gone, but I was still feeling groggy and just “off.”  I was really sleepy and still felt dehydrated, yet somehow I found myself at the race site later that afternoon getting a race bib.  I decided I would just go anyway and enjoy the experience of being a part of a race.  My current PR in the 5K was a 23:08 and I wasn’t certain I could top that on Saturday but I did feel confident that even feeling the way I was I could surely get a course PR – when I ran this race for the first time two years ago I ran it in 27:34.

About 15 minutes before the start I did my usual pre-run dynamic stretching and then warmed up with about 5 minutes of light jogging.  I would have liked to run (a lot) more for my warm up but  I just didn’t have the time on Saturday.  Robert and the kids came to the race with me and I was so happy to get to spend time with my family before I ran.  Small races like this are so great in that way – I really feel like it is something for the whole family to enjoy.  My kids got to see my running a race up close and personal – and they got all their crazy energy out by running on the golf course while I ran.

When the race started I found myself feeling off from the get-go, unsure of my pace and just trying to get a hold of an even effort.  The course begins with a big U-turn and it was a little confusing for everyone.  Most of that first mile was along a road and paved trail before we came to a grassy golf course.   After the U-turn things started to feel smoother and I was getting into my groove.  I thought my pace was something I could maintain for another 2.1 miles.  When I my watched beeped after the first mile though I was surprised at how fast it was.

Mile 1 – 6:42.  This is the fastest mile I have ever run in a race and the first time I ever ran a mile that began with a 6 in a race.

Mile 2 basically sucked for me.  It was very hilly and grassy and there were a LOT of turns.  I could feel my pace slowing – a lot – though I still felt like my effort was the same.  At this point, the cold air in my chest started getting to me and I was feeling frustrated with the course.  I quickly tired of the grassy, twisty and hilly terrain and wanted to be off that golf course.  I was getting a bit grumpy.

Mile 2 – 7:33.

The third mile was more of a mental battle for me.  I stopped looking at my watch and just plowed ahead, telling myself not to give up.  Ignoring the fact that I had serious postnasal drip, watery eyes and my shorts were cold and wet.  the route continued the loop on the golf course until just before the third mile marker.  I was relieved when we got back onto a paved path.  I passed a few people towards the end of this mile and felt really good about that.  There was a young girl ahead of me and I put all of my focus into catching up with her.  When I passed her before that mile ended, I was thrilled.  My family was on the golf course cheering their hearts out for me.  I could hear Abby yelling “DO YOUR BEST, MOMMY!” and Will screaming out “MOMMY! MOMMY! GOOOO MOMMY!” 

Abby cheering for Mommy

I will never forget that feeling.  That feeling of having my children right there in that moment – supporting me and encouraging me to be my very best.  They don’t really understand what my running means to me or why I do it, but some day I think they will.  Some day they will know that I do it as much for them as I do it for myself.  I am so proud and thankful to be their mother.

Mile 3 – 7:22.

The last bit of the race was, if you can believe it, back on the grass again.  I gave it all I had and picked up my pace to a 7:11 for the last .1 of the race.  I crossed the finish line with a time of 22:34, averaging a 7:17 pace per mile.  This was exactly a 5 minute course PR for me and more than 30 seconds faster than my old 5K PR!

I was so happy when this race was over.  I found Robert right away and he told me he thought there was a chance I placed in my age group.  He said there weren’t that many women ahead of me and that the ones who were all looked really young.  The age group was women 30-39 though and I just sort of doubted that all of the women who beat me were under 30 years old.  But we went back to the community center where the post-race festivities were and looked at the results board.  Sure enough – yours truly actually came in first place in my age group!

The prize was a 20 pound frozen turkey.  I don’t even eat meat – I have been a vegetarian for years and try to eat vegan as much as I can.  But I really wanted that turkey for my family (they all eat meat)!  So we stayed for the awards ceremony and I got that turkey. 

I was proud.  My kids were proud.  My husband was proud.  We all had lots of laughs about “Mommy’s prize turkey” and I am still giggly about it just thinking about it.  I have won my age group twice in my life.  My first prize was a lava lamp.  This time, a turkey.  Seriously, I will add to the list of why I love local 5Ks – the prizes are creative and fun! 

me and my turkey!

I left the race feeling happy about my results and also very confident that I do have a better 5K time in me.  I think the next 5K race I do I will be sure to warm up better, pick a race that starts in the morning, and one that runs along a road.  I should be able to shave more time off my new PR that way.  There is always room for improvement!! 

So, tell me, what do you think about the 5K?  Are they hard for you too, or do you prefer shorter/faster races to the longer/slower distances?  Have you ever won a fun prize in a race?  Tell me about it!

6 thoughts on “5K Thoughts and How I Won a Turkey

  1. Great job. I hate, and live 5k's for all the same reasons. I always warm up either too much or not enough, then just feel awkward and clumsy for the first 2 miles or so.
    Congrats on the bird, that's enough turkey to feed the neighborhood.

  2. Awesome!! I'm with you – I love all distances! (Although I have yet to tackle a full marathon.) The last time I did a 5K, I PR'd (25:59) but during the race I was trying to decide what's is harder for me, a 5K or a half marathon. At least with longer races you aren't pushing yourself to your limit the whole time. However, I have only been able to place in my age group in small local 5Ks. So for that reason, 5Ks are fun! So far all that has gotten me is medals or a little trophy.

  3. Really good thoughts about the 5K distance! I think your point about being relaxed is really, really key. During my best races I feel focused and relaxed and I am not thinking about how hard it is. Once those negative thoughts creep in then it's really tough to hold on.

    I like 5Ks. My least favorite distance is the 10K. It just feels like a really long time to be pushing that hard! Congrats on the PR. You have gotten so fast with this past training cycle!

  4. Congrats!!! That is wonderful!!! And now we have exactly the same 5K PR (of course mine is 7 years old…..)

    I like 5Ks–I crank up the music and go. Now, hard courses like that might be a different story…..

  5. I've only run two 5ks….I liked em though because I felt completely out of control and like I might thrownup, which I did after my second one. They are really hard as you have no wiggle room to back down. I might do another one in march…it's hilly which makes it a bit more challenging. Immaynchange my mind next time I race ine though, on me liking them!

    That must be so fun hearing your kids cheer for you!

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