My quest to get better at running 5Ks

I hear it all the time when I talk about how difficult I find 5Ks.

“But you run marathons! 5Ks must be a breeze for you.”

Well, sure, a 5K would be pretty easy for me if I run it at my marathon pace! But that’s not how you are supposed to run 5Ks — you are supposed to run them as hard and fast as you can, and they hurt like hell but are over quickly. The marathon, on the other hand, is a slow burn and a whole different kind of hurt. If I had to pick which one I prefer, I’d say the marathon, but I can only run so many of those a year (my limit is two) while I can bang out multiple 5Ks a month if I feel like it.

In fact, I decided to run a 5K last weekend as sort of a comeback race after Boston. My coworker had told me about the Champions for Children 5K at Quiet Waters Park, one of my favorite places to run in Annapolis. The race raised money for the county’s Family Assistance Fund, so it was for a good cause.

Naturally, I’d also checked out last year’s times and thought I had a good chance at winning my age group, and maybe even placing overall. But I also knew that I was less than two weeks out from Boston and my body was still recovering, so I wasn’t sure how fast I could run it.

Well, I ended up finishing in third place overall, about 20 seconds behind a young man and woman who were both Naval Academy students. (When I told my mom about this, she said, “Great job! You are like twice their age!” Haha, thanks. It’s true.) My official time was 21:17, but the course was short. I logged 2.8 miles per my Garmin. Shrug. I’ve run 5Ks in Quiet Waters before, and for some reason, they are always short. So the race results list my pace as 6:52/mile, which looks great but is not accurate!

That said, I did a decent job pacing myself in this race. As I’ve said before, I have a bad habit of going out at a sub-7 pace in 5Ks and sometimes even 10Ks, but then can’t hold it and crash bad in the last mile. This time, I ran the first mile in 7:20, the second in 7:22 and the last 8/10 of a mile in 6:35. I imagine if the race had actually been 3.1 miles, I would have finished in the 22:xx range. Not the 21:35 I ran in the Barlowe Bolt, but a time I could be proud of!

Since I frequently run in Quiet Waters, I know the paths really well, but I was also afraid of tripping and falling if I ran too fast. (I fell and scraped myself up good on one of my 20-mile training runs for Boston, and I was definitely not running a 7:xx pace then!) That fear probably kept me from going balls to the wall right out of the gate, which was good.

I was actually leading the race for the first half mile or so, then the mids passed me and I was never able to catch up to them. But I did keep them in my line of sight for the entire race! I wish I could have outkicked them in the end, but sprinting is definitely my weakness as a runner. Afterwards, I congratulated them and the guy said he was looking over his shoulder the entire time to see how close I was! As the third overall winner, I took home a bunch of swag from The Greene Turtle, including a gift card, pint glass and two T-shirts (both of them are sadly way too big for me).

Getting better at running 5Ks is one of my running goals for this summer. I think with proper 5K-specific training, I can more consistently go sub-22– I know I have it in me, it’s just a matter of sucking it up and being more comfortable with being uncomfortable for 3.1 miles. So now I am on the hunt for a training plan geared to helping more experienced runners improve in the 5K. I’ve actually never followed a training plan for anything but a marathon, so I have some research to do. Any recommendations? Hit me up in the comments!

Right now I have three 5Ks on my calendar for this summer:

June 1: The Herald Harbor 5K. I ran this last year and it was hot as hell, and the course was short (again, about 2.8 miles.) I was the first female and sixth overall finisher.

July 6: Red White and Blue Mountain 5K with Staci in the Poconos. This run is at a winery– what’s not to love about that?

July 21: Ellicott City 5K/10K with Rip It Events. I ran the 10K last year and finished as third overall female, but my God, this race is hard. I decided to stick with the 5K this year and see what I could do with it. As a Rip It Events ambassador, I am running this race for free and have a 15 percent off code to share if you are interested in running, too– message me for details!  

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