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!  

I won a 5K! Kicking off December with the Reindeer Run 5K in Edgewater

Exciting news for me — I won Edgewater Fitness’ Reindeer Run 5K last weekend!

OK, so it wasn’t a “true” 5K — my Garmin logged 2.95 miles — but I was still the first female finisher, I think by about a minute or so! Official time was 21:08, so I might have still been able to come in under 22 minutes if the race had actually been 3.1 miles. No complaints, though. I was super happy!

I won a medal, a gift card to Chic-fil-a (which, full disclosure, I’ll regift because I’m a pescatarian who hasn’t eaten chicken since the 1990s), a gift card to Weis and a Blender Bottle for shakes, plus some shake mixes. It was quite the haul, especially for a small neighborhood race!

In fact, that race, which is organized by the gym I belong to, goes right through my neighborhood, on the streets I run on. We even ran past my house! I think that gave me somewhat of an advantage.

That said, I was a bit nervous going into the race. Because it is a small race, I thought I had a good shot at an age group award, but since my Turkey Trot was such a tactical disaster, I worried that I once again wouldn’t be able to stop myself from going out too fast.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen! I ran the first mile in 7 minutes flat, my second in 7:22 and my third not-quite-full mile in 6:48. Not perfect splits (who does that, haha), but much more even than my last 5K. I’m registered for the Resolution Run 5K in Baltimore on New Year’s Day, so we’ll see if I can make that happen again.

The description for the Reindeer Run described the course as “rolling hills,” but I didn’t find that to be the case. My neighborhood is a little hilly, but the race didn’t follow any of the hillier roads. Totally fine by me, and it definitely helped keep my splits from being all over the place.

I ran with three friends, two from work and another from the neighborhood. My friend Eileen was third overall female, and my friend Ariana came in second in her age group!

Reindeer Run

It was a fun way to kick off the month of December and the busy holiday season!

 

My sixth consecutive A10: At least I finished!

I’ve almost puked in the Annapolis Ten Mile Run before.

It was back in 2013, my first time running the race. I had spent the day before boozing it up on my then-boyfriend, now-husband’s boat. Things got kind of crazy — my sister fell off the boat right into the Chesapeake Bay at one point. When I got up the next morning to run the A10, I think I was still drunk. Once I started running, I felt absolutely terrible and the only thing that prevented me from emptying the contents of my stomach onto the road at mile 5 is that there were a bunch of little kids watching. #rolemodel

I ran that race in 1:24:59, not bad at all for feeling like hell, and I vowed to never make THAT mistake again.

And I never have. But on Sunday, I ran the A10 for the sixth time — and almost got sick again, this time at mile 8.

Why? I wish I knew. It was humid that morning, but I’ve run in worse conditions. I had black coffee and a bagel with sunflower seed butter and half a banana for breakfast — my typical pre-race fuel. I only drank one beer with dinner last night — again, very typical before a race. The only thing I can really think of is that I strayed from my usual veggie burger and ordered a “sushi burger” — essentially, an ahi tuna patty. I’ve been leaning more toward a strict vegetarian diet lately after living the pescatarian life for the last 20 years, so maybe my body just rejected it. But it’s so hard to say.

atLures

Maybe I’m getting too old for these shenanigans.

I finished in 1:23:29, which I know is still a good time! But last year, I ran a 1:15:37 and felt amazing (the weather was pretty perfect last year, though.) I finished 13th in my age group last year out of 235 women, and this year, was 16th out of 187. Like I said, still a decent time. I was just really hoping to be under 1:20 and am reasonably sure I’m in shape for it — but something went wrong for sure.

If you’ve followed my previous race recaps, you’ve probably noticed that the common theme is that I tend to start out too fast. So I told myself I would stick with the 1:20 pacer and hopefully hold back for at least the first half of the race, then run ahead of then.

This is the strategy that helped me run a 3:35 marathon last December, and I do think it’s a smart race strategy — if you stick to it.

I didn’t.

I stuck with my pacer, who was a familiar face — he also ran the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler and the Rehoboth Marathon last year, and led the 1:50 group in the Annapolis Running Classic. The first two miles felt super easy, exactly what I was going for. But then, going into mile 3, I got cocky and decided I could push it. I surged ahead and kept probably about a minute or two ahead of the group, until I stopped at the water station shortly before the Naval Academy Bridge. I’ve yet to master the art of drinking while running, and decided to walk for a few seconds. The 1:20 group passed me, but I totally figured I could catch back up to them. Then I hit the damn bridge.

When I lived in Annapolis, I used to run over that bridge all the time. Last fall, when training for Rehoboth, I ran hill repeats on the bridge every three weeks. But this year, I’ve gotten away from training on the bridge and it shows. I didn’t feel prepared physically or mentally, and had to stop and walk up part of the incline. I’m going to need to start incorporating the bridge into my long runs again if I want to be prepared for the hilly Baltimore Marathon (just two months away!)

At least the decline felt good. Once runners get to the bottom of the bridge, the course makes a right turn into the Pendennis Mount neighborhood (and up another hill.) And at that point, you’re nearly half done with the race. Most years, I’m like “yay! Just five more miles!” This year, I thought, “crap, five more miles?” I was discouraged after feeling like the bridge kicked my butt, and my stomach started to feel — not great. The bagel I ate felt like a brick just sitting in my tummy. The 1:20 group was only about a minute or so ahead of me, maybe less, but that gap would widen as we ran through the neighborhood.

Mile 6 of the race is another solid decline, with a turnaround point at the bottom of the hill. So I got to see all the faster runners as they ran back up, including my friends Daniel (another Rip It ambassador) and Tammi (who was running her first A10 and is running the Baltimore Marathon with me!) They both did awesome and finished sub-1:20. At this point, I was probably two minutes behind the 1:20 group, and my stomach continued to be cranky. My feet were hurting, too — it may be time for new shoes. Better take care of that before the marathon!

Running back up the hill to hit the mile 7 marker wasn’t too bad, but once we turned out of Pendennis Mount to get back on the highway, my stomach started churning. At the mile 8 marker, I felt like I was going to throw up for sure, so I stopped and bent over the side of the road. I just dry-heaved for a few seconds, then kept on running, then stopped again and dry-heaved some more. After that, I was like, “screw it, I have less than two miles of this s*!& left” and just powered through. Coming over the Naval Academy Bridge the second time wasn’t as bad, though I suspect that side of the bridge is a little shorter. Whatever. I needed all the help I could get at that point.

The last mile of the race was actually one of my strongest miles. There were a lot of people lining the course cheering the runners on, so the last thing I wanted to do was stop and walk. The final push of the A10 is up a hill into the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (races that end on an incline are so mean!), but you can at least see the finish, so I hauled ass as fast as I could.

Allison running

Almost done! (Tammy Sheetenhelm photo)

I crossed the finish and eagerly grabbed a bottle of water and a wet towel from one of the volunteers. I must have looked rough because another volunteer came over to me and asked if I was OK. I did start to feel better after a few minutes. I caught up with Tammi and we waited for her husband and some of our other friends to finish. Matt and Kree, who also run the A10 every year, had disappointing races, too, so maybe it was just a tough year all around.

I’m running the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler again in three weeks, so we’ll see if I can do better then. (It’s a way easier course, but sometimes the heat is downright oppressive.) I still love the A10 — I always say it is my favorite race of the year — and will look forward to the 2019 race! As I wrote on social media earlier, you can’t appreciate the good races without the bad ones!

AtGrumps

Rocking our new premiums! Apparently my stomach had no problem handling two Bloody Marys. Also, ignore Matt’s grumpy face. (Tammy Sheetenhelm photo)

A10after

A10 finishers! (Wendy Bernard photo)

My running goals for 2018

There’s nothing like running a marathon to make me want to sign up for another marathon!

I don’t have kids, but I’ve joked that running 26.2 miles is probably like birthing a child, in that your body totally forgets the pain and you decide you want to do it again someday. (Mother runners, can you relate to this?)

Assuming the Boston Marathon accepts me for 2019 (with my 5-minute cushion, I’m pretty sure I’m good!), I need to find a marathon to run in 2018– or maybe two!

I have a few friends who have expressed interest in running a fall marathon. I’ve heard really good things about the Richmond Marathon in Richmond, Va., which happens every November. It’s just a few hours away from Annapolis, and it’s a marathon that a lot of runners use to BQ. Never too early to start thinking about 2020, right? 😉 I’d also be interested in the Philly Marathon, because I love Philadelphia and have several friends who live there, but I believe it conflicts with the Annapolis Running Classic.

Many people have also raved about the Marine Corps Marathon, which I would like to run some day. However, the fact that it’s in October puts me off a little bit. It would require me to spend the entire summer training, which means dealing with long runs in the swampy humidity of a central Maryland summer, plus trying to plan around vacations, day trips, etc. A November marathon buys me a little more time!

All that said, I’ve spent the last several winters training for marathons. And as much as I stress about forecasts of snow and ice, and complain about the cold, I can’t imagine not doing a spring marathon in 2018. Mainly because I hate winter THAT much and having a goal to work toward makes me hate it ever so slightly less.

I think I’m going to sign up for the B&A Trail Marathon, run by the Annapolis Striders (who organize my favorite race of all time, the Annapolis Ten Mile Run). As the name indicates, the race takes place primarily on the B&A Trail, where I do most of my long runs during marathon training. It’s a very small race, just a few hundred runners, and it’s practically in my backyard. So why not? The race, which is both a half and a full marathon, takes place on April 8.

Has anyone ever run a marathon that small? What did you like/dislike about it?

Other 2018 goals

My friend and kickboxing coach Matt always does a running challenge to kick off the new year, so in January, I am going to commit to running 100 miles during that month. Since I’ll be in marathon training mode once again, it should not be too hard to hit that mark.

I’m once again an ambassador for Rip It Events, so I plan to run and/or volunteer at as many of the 2018 events as I can. This year, I only missed one race, and it was because it was during my sister’s wedding weekend! Coming up first is the Little Patuxent River Half Marathon & 10K on Feb. 4. It’s the second year for this trail run, and it sold out in one day! I’ll be running the half, which will also fit in nicely with my marathon training.

Then in April, we have the Columbia 10 Miler and the St. Mary’s 10 Miler. Both of these races used to be half marathons, so if you weren’t quite ready for 13.1 miles, here’s your chance to try a shorter distance.

You can find the whole schedule for 2018 here.

What are your running goals for 2018?