I hate running fast.
This may seem like a weird thing to read on a blog for a road race, but it’s true. Me personally, I cannot stand it. I LOVE distance running. I’m completely happy to plod along at a crawl with music in my headphones for hours without ever really breathing too hard. That sounds great to me. Running so fast I’m panting and my lungs are burning and everything aches? No thanks. I’d rather be stabbed in the eye with a fork. Well not really, but you get my point.
The 5K is a mysterious distance for me. This ever-popular event, of turkey trot and fun run lore, is a 3.1-mile jaunt that can be a great activity for recreational runners and a huge distance milestone for beginners.
For experienced runners, the 5K is held in a bit of a different regard: a true test of speed. A race in which you “run until your eyes almost bleed and then hold that pace,” a race in which you push yourself to your absolute physical limits and pretend it isn’t making you want to die, because hey, it’s over so quick you barely notice.
Some people get excited about this as a change-up from the normal, long slow distance run. Me? It strikes fear into my heart like mysterious bumps in the night. Yet, in the name of conquering fears, I dragged myself out of bed this last Sunday morning to jog to the park to participate in this torturous activity that so many people seem to love – the 5K.
The race was the Pre-Resolution Party 5K put on by Picnic Dash (for SF runners, these guys put on several fun, small themed races in the city for good causes). My goal was to keep an average pace of <8 minutes a mile. Now, several of you probably run marathons much faster than that pace, but for me, running a mile in under 8 minutes is hellacious and 3.1 of them in a row, seemingly impossible. We lined up in the starting coral and then we were off!
I went out in front attempting to hold a pace I knew I couldn’t sustain. My lungs were burning by 0.2 miles and I knew this would be the longest 20-something minutes of my life (or so it would feel). I finished the first mile feeling strong enough but dreading needing to run 2 more at that pace. Halfway through mile 2, my body, unaccustomed to running fast, started protesting – knees hurt, lungs burned, breathing was labored. Keep going. I hit the two mile mark feeling like I’d already run 20, but new I only had 1.1 miles left to go.
The last mile, I felt terrible. My legs were lead from a 30 mile bike ride the day previously, which saw me so out of shape that I at one point was crying on the side of the road not thinking I could finish it. I did finish that bike ride, but it left me feeling wounded – not because of my strength, but because of the lapse in my mental toughness that had allowed me to become so discouraged by the ride.
I would NOT that let happen to me during this race. No matter how quickly it would be over, to me it was the same challenge – something that hurt. Something I didn’t feel like I could do. The last mile became a simple cadence in my head. Do. Not. Quit. Do. Not. Quit. Which each breath I repeated this to myself. Knowing I could finish this thing.
I crossed the finish line much quicker than I had expected to, given my distaste for sprinting and the fact that I hadn’t run a quick mile in months. It was good enough for 3rd place in my age group, the first time I’ve ever placed, which was exciting but not the best part. I didn’t quit. I pushed through a challenge. And I made it through.
Am I going to give up the marathon junkie life and become a 5K runner? Probably not. That lung-burning feeling just doesn’t do much for me. But will I make more of an effort to add more speedwork and short races into my lineup to challenge and push myself in different ways? I will. And maybe I’ll grow to love the pain of the sprint, after all.