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Man, just as soon as I say I feel like a “lazy runner” and that I’m kind of meh about running and am just enjoying it and don’t feel a fire, I go and run a teeny tiny 5K and take it all back.
I have exactly two friends in New Jersey. One is my friend Kristan. The other is my friend Kelli. Kelli and I met last year when Ellie and I were playing in a dog park by the water and Kelli was running by and stopped to say hi. Now I call her my friend, even though we had only met IRL once and then she emailed me afterward and I am like 95% sure I never wrote back because my inbox is a black hole.
Last week, Kelli (who is still nice to me even though I’m a horrible pen-pal) sent me a message about a 5K in Hoboken: the Stevens Cooperative School 5K. And I was like, “OK.”
THIS IS SUCH A GOOD STORY.
I’ve been following a 10-week training plan for the Airbnb Brooklyn Half, and a few days ago I wrote a post about how even though I’m loosely following the plan, I don’t feel super motivated to go crush my PR at the Brooklyn Half. I’m not sick, I’m not injured, and most of my runs have felt pretty good (at least the Track Tuesday workouts and the long runs with friends — the easy runs are very blah), I just haven’t felt all fired up about the Brooklyn Half specifically.
And then, last Tuesday, I had an awesome track workout. My training plan called for 1×400, 5×800, 1×400, and I was supposed to aim for 1:45 on the 400s and 3:32 on the 800s. I covered up my watch and just ran, and when I finished and looked at my splits, I was ecstatic in a way I haven’t been in a while.
That’s a lot to look at, but my splits were 1:45, 3:29, 3:32, 3:30, 3:30, 3:23, 1:34. So two were exactly on pace — and the rest were faster than prescribed. I rode that runner’s high all day.
So that was a great boost for me. This workout made me want to care and push and reignite that aforementioned fire.
My training plan suggested I add a few tempo miles to my weekend long run, so the fact that my BFF-to-be Kelli threw a 5K my way worked out perfectly. I wanted to do 10 miles, so I could run 4 miles to the race in Hoboken, do 3.1 miles during the race, and then finish the run with easy miles to get me back home.
The last time my training plan wanted me to do mid-long run tempo miles, I struggled. I had a tough time physically (that was the whole “7:42 pace shouldn’t feel too difficult,” and it felt like a death march), and I couldn’t really get my head in the game that day. I knew being part of a race would help, and since I’m all about the 5K distance these days, I signed right up. (See, Kelly? I may not respond to emails, but send me an active.com registration link and I’ll go all-in.)
Important note: I was recording a podcast Friday night, so I was behind closed doors and unresponsive. When I finished and reentered society AKA our apartment, I was greeted by a spread of foods from Outback Steakhouse. Brian picked up my favorite pre-race foods! The brown bread, the steak and baked potato, even the coconut shrimp that I don’t share! It was great, and it was obviously the secret to my forthcoming 5K success.
I woke up Saturday morning feeling groovy. It was kind of rainy and gray outside, but I did not care. And I swear this is the truth: I wasn’t going to race the 5K. I was going to run those miles “comfortably hard,” whatever that means, and I would do it without looking at my watch. I like measuring my effort that way instead of being glued to the numbers and adjusting accordingly.
I told Brian I was doing this race and was kind of like, “If you and Ellie want to come, I’ll be down at Pier A! Race starts at 9!” And then I was gone. I didn’t actually expect them to come, so I’d follow my “run there, run race, run back” plan. But just in case Brian did decide to come, I figured I’d run as many miles as I could before the race so I’d have fewer to tackle after I crossed the finish line.
I made two bathroom stops on the way down to Hoboken. My stomach wasn’t feeling horrible, but it didn’t feel #flawless either. Outback has never let me down, though, so I knew I’d be fine for the race.
How have I written so many words about a 5K so far, and haven’t even gotten to the part where I run the race? Not my best “I’m a professional writer” work here today.
Bib pickup was a breeze, and I scanned the crowd and saw that there weren’t all that many non-family people who looked like they were going to all-out race this thing, so I lined up toward the front. There were a few fast-looking dudes (you just know a guy in a singlet and split-shorts is going to be speedy), so I was a bit behind them, and then the announcer said “go!” or “start!” or “bye!” or something, and we were off.
The first mile of a 5K is always my fastest because I get excited and don’t know how to pace myself accordingly, especially when it’s a small crowd. I knew not to go as fast as Singlet Guy, but also didn’t want to go too easy. So, without putting too much thought into it, I just ran.
Singlet Guy and a few others were out of eyeshot pretty immediately, along with Fast Girl, who cruised to a totally uncontested victory on the female side. The course is just about the same as the Party With Purpose 5K (my current 5K PR race!), so it’s an out-and-back along the water (you head north, then back south), and it’s totally flat.
Within the first mile, I had settled in and knew I was the second female…so I got a little excited. (Again, this was a small race.) I didn’t want to get too excited since I usually fade after the first mile, but I just kept running “comfortably hard” (it got uncomfortable by the third mile) and tried to hang on.
I got passed by a woman around the 2-mile mark, and she looked like she was feeling great, so I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to pass her again. She could have second, and hopefully I’d hang onto third. If not, I told myself that Desi Linden recently got fourth place in a race of her own, so if I did get passed, I’d just be one with Desi.
There were no mile markers on the course, but I felt my watch vibrate signaling I had two miles in the bag and only one to go. At this point, I was starting to hurt, but hurting in a 5K is NBD because you’re almost done! I was really close to the woman who had passed me, and as the finish line came into sight, my breathing was heavy and I debated trying to pass her and then just kind of didn’t. (I think if I had seen Brian on the sidelines I would’ve tried, but I didn’t see him, so I just ran it in.) Also it seemed a little douchey to try and pass her in the final straightaway considering there was no prize money on the line and this was just a small, family-friendly 5K.
I finished three seconds behind her, and just about gasped when I saw 21:xx on the finish clock. My 5K PR is 23:04, so finishing in 21-something would be a huge PR, especially for a 5K!
I crossed the line and uncovered my watch, and saw that the course was a little short. My watch measured it at 2.96 miles, and Kelli did say she wasn’t sure if the course was officially 3.1 miles. Part of me cared a little because I would’ve loved to declare an official 5K PR! My average pace was 7:17, and my splits were 7:16, 7:20, and 6:55 (that last split isn’t the pace, it’s the time elapsed, so the pace would be a little more than that to get me to a mile). That’s really good for me! (My official finish time was 21:32.)
Brian and Ellie did end up coming to the race, albeit two minutes after I finished! So they may not have seen my triumphant third place finish (my second third place finish at a 5K-that’s-not-a-5K!), but they did drive me home and save me from running home in the rain! I ended up with nine miles for the day and a huge boost of confidence as I keep training for Brooklyn.
Before that, I’m running the New Jersey Half Marathon this Sunday! I don’t have a race plan in mind yet. I can fun run it with friends, I can race it, I can wing it. We’ll see.
This all goes back to my theory that I run best and happiest when I’m just doing my best without putting any pressure or specific time goals on it. All (or at least most) of my best races and PRs have come from races where I haven’t planned to try and PR and have just gone out and run for fun or “tried to hang out.” Whenever I get time goals in my head, I set myself up for disappointment and get in my head. But when I just let myself roll with it, I run so much better.
My head was in a great place during this place. I ran happy.
Moral of the story: You can train hard and run fast and still have fun. And the mental stuff matters as much as the physical.
And another victory for the stomach! No thoughts of Crohnsing ever crossed my mind during those 2.96 miles!
OPERATION PR THE 5K IN 2017, STILL IN EFFECT. Stand by.
Ali on the Run Show Episode 21: Brynn Fessette O'Neill, Physical Therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy
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I said it last year, and I’ll say it again today: I love racing 5Ks. They’re short and fast and fun and the minute you’re ready to barf, you’re across the finish line — and at that point, it’s probably […]