When I started running almost 20 years ago, I didn’t know there was any distance other than the 5k. I assumed racing always meant running as fast as I could for a little over 20 minutes, fighting through that moment of I-think-I’m-going-to-hurl at the end, and doing it all over the following weekend. I didn’t mind the pain because I didn’t know any differently.
Enter the 10k and half marathon, and exit the 5k. Once I discovered I could race longer distances without so much pain, I was all in. The 5k went from being my go-to race to my avoid at all costs distance. And because I love the bling, when I found out I got a medal for just finishing a half instead of having to win it like in the 5k, that became my go-to distance. During three years of half and full marathon training, I continued to vilify and avoid 5k’s. They were too short, too painful, not worth the entry fee…and the list goes on. Those things may have been true at the time, but this was also true – as I got older I couldn’t stand seeing my times get slower, and the thought of not winning the races I had won in the past was more than enough to justify my 5k avoidance.
Well, it’s a good thing I hadn’t made a public statement about never racing 5k’s again, because sometime during last winter’s polar vortex, I got awfully sick of long runs (long being anything over 6 miles). I decided to make this my year of shorter and faster, and began the search for nearby 5 and 10k’s.
After dipping my toes in the shorter and faster races with the Bolder Boulder 10k and achieving the goals I’d set, I figured it was time to bring on the pain. My first 5k was on a local course that I run at least once a week, mostly because it’s only 5 blocks from my house. My only goal was to win my age group, oh yeah, and to finish under 24:00. I eeked out a time of 23:58, and won my AG. Painful? Absolutely! It didn’t take long to get reacquainted with the I-think-I’m-going-to-hurl feeling, and it wasn’t pleasant, but it also wasn’t fatal.
Six days later (yesterday) I toed the line at another race – the Firecracker 5k in Ft. Collins, CO. I was a lot more nervous for this one. The memory of the 5k-induced pain was still fresh in my mind, and there are a lot of fast people in Colorado! My only goal was to finish in 23-something (and not to have my lungs or legs explode).
Because I stink at pacing, I took off with the rest of the crowd way too fast and figured I’d pay for it in the end. Something happened at the start of mile 2 though. My legs and lungs were burning, but I realized it was still do-able. My mind wanted to slow down, but my body was ok (sort of). I knew the last mile was a slight downhill, and as soon as I passed the mile 2 marker, I sped up. This is huge for me! I was in pain, and I wanted to slow down, and my mind was giving me plenty of reasons why I should, but I didn’t! I pushed it hard to the end, and I can’t remember the last time I was in that much pain. It hurt, and no, it wasn’t a good hurt (there isn’t any such thing).
Finish time-23:39, only 2 seconds slower than when I ran the race 3 years ago! First place in my age group too. I came home with a beautiful hand-made pottery plate that says I did good. More importantly, I came home with the realization that I could push myself so much harder than I ever thought I could. Speed isn’t going to come as easily as it did 20 years ago, and it’s going to hurt – a lot – but I’m finally ok with that.