Last month, I broke 20 minutes in the 5K for the first time, taking almost a minute off of my previous PR of 20:29. I’m still pinching myself over it.
I’ve run upwards of 50 5Ks in the last decade or so, at least. If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I’m not a big fan of 5Ks, despite having run so many of them! I prefer the slow burn of a longer distance. But I end up signing up for a lot of 5Ks because friends want to run them, so I agree to run them, too. (And every time, when I’m in the red zone at mile 1.5 and I still have another mile and a half to run, I swear I’m never doing it again!!)
That said, breaking 20 minutes was always in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t a big important goal for me like qualifying for the Boston Marathon was, or breaking 1:40 in the half marathon. If I did it, cool. If I didn’t, that was fine, too.
But then it actually happened! By a pretty big margin, too. I ran a 19:37 at the Baltimore Running Festival 5K.
Here’s how it went down!
A fast 5K 6 days post-marathon
On October 9, I ran the Chicago Marathon and PR’d with a 3:18:46. After marathons, I typically like to take at least 5 days off of running, sometimes 7 or 8 (though I’ll usually return to kickboxing if I’m feeling decent.) But I love the Baltimore Running Festival, which was taking place 6 days after Chicago. I’ve participated in it every year since 2016, and have run every distance from the 5K to the marathon. I even ran the half marathon virtually on the B&A Trail in 2020. It’s a fall running tradition that I just don’t want to miss. I also had a free entry for coming in second in the 10K last year, so I used it to enter the 5K. I’d last run the 5K five years earlier, and came in second in my age group with a 21:xx – can’t remember the exact time. It’s a flat, fast course!
I genuinely had no idea how I’d feel racing a 5K 6 days after a marathon. I posted on Facebook that it would either be a PR or a complete dumpster fire. A few friends on Instagram encouraged me to shoot for sub-20. Of course it was in the back of my mind, having just run a sizable PR in Chicago. But 5Ks and marathons are completely different beasts. Still, I had nothing to lose by going for it! I also had run the Kensington 8K at a 6:30 pace just two weeks before Chicago, so that indicated to me like a sub-20 was possible.
We had great weather for the race, which is always the case with the Baltimore Running Festival. That may be why I like it so much– it always takes place on a gorgeous fall day.
The race started at 7:30 and I was in Baltimore by 6:30 or so, which gave me more than enough time to pee approximately 80 billion times and find my way to the start line on Light Street.
We went off shortly after 7:30 and my strategy was the same as it always is for 5Ks and 10Ks– go out hard and see how long I can hold on! The course, which as I mentioned is flat, goes from the Inner Harbor and then down Key Highway and back again, finishing along Pratt Street.
I tried not to look at my watch too much and worked on running by feel (and I could feel that I was working very, very hard!) I ran the first mile in a zippy 6:19.
The turnaround to head to the finish is at mile 1.5, and that’s when I saw my friend John, who runs 17 minute 5Ks every weekend. He was obviously several minutes ahead of me, and I noticed he was probably in 10th place at that point– so I knew it was a very fast field.
Somewhere around mile 2, I saw my friend Normailed, who was doing the Baltimore-on-athon, which is the 5K plus the half marathon. She snapped a picture of me where I actually don’t look like I am dying! I ran the second mile in 6:23 and thought, OK, just hang on for 1.1 more miles.
The last mile was a complete blur. I just kept pushing and pushing. It hurt like hell. I remember looking down at my watch just before I hit the 3 mile mark and saw a 6:00 flat pace. Ran mile 3 in 6:16. Then I made the final right turn onto Pratt Street and saw 19 on the clock up ahead. I had done it!
I ran the final 0.1 in 37 seconds, stopped my watch, and grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer. I couldn’t really speak for about two minutes! I hugged another runner who had also broken 20 for the first time– and then later learned she was an Instagram follower! – and then met up with John.
To say it was a fast field was an understatement! My 19:37 got me 2nd in my age group. The top three women all finished in the 16 minute range, and the top three men were in the 14s! Maybe that helped me run faster, too.
Afterwards, I spectated the marathon for a bit and saw my friend Josh around mile 9. He yelled out to me, asking if I’d gone sub-20, and it felt so good to say yes!
I joked afterwards that it’s time to retire from 5Ks, but of course I won’t. I am planning on the Greensburg Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, a Thanksgiving tradition. Of course this is only 5 days after I run the Philly Marathon, but hey, I now have learned that I can run really strong 5Ks on the heels of marathons! This 5K course is extremely hilly, though, so not counting on another sub-20!