Starting Over: Training for a 5k

If I’ve forced you to keep up with this site through the years, you know a majority of my posts are about various races I’ve competed in. They are a huge motivating factor for me. Regardless of how little or how much I’m training–there is usually something on the horizon for me to compete in.

I used to find a race, run it, find another, repeat, etc, but since I started triathlon and learned there were “seasons,” I’ve thought about planning out these things a year in advance & being choosy about what I do. Have I mentioned how expensive these races are? I had to cut back!

My first race was a 10k in Austin in June of 1999. I had only been running for a couple of months and had probably never run that far, but I really enjoyed it. Right after that I held my own at the world famous Luling Watermelon Thump 5k (ok, maybe not WORLD famous, but I have the wooden watermelon plaque to prove my dominance that day). I loved the 5k distance. It is short enough to run almost all out, but you have to manage the pacing so that 7 yr olds aren’t passing you at the end. This happens to me at least 40% of the time.

For some reason, in the running world “challenge” is equated with “distance.” So over the years I ran longer races. I read charts that said with my 5k and 10k times, my 1/2 and full marathon times should be much faster. But they weren’t. I could never follow the training. I was never even doing half the training I was supposed to. Any excuse would derail that dreaded weekly long run. I *cough cough* have a cold. I was out late the night before. I had to be done by brunch, so I didn’t have time. You get the picture. I would search the internet for any research that would tell me why the long training run was not necessary. Or find a training plan telling me I only had to do a long run every OTHER weekend. I enjoyed running the marathons til after mile 16, and only then did I think “Oh guess I should’ve done that long run in training.”

Triathlons provided me with much needed moderation. I got to do a little bit of 3 different sports, which kept it fresh. I got a speedy bike and felt the ease of pedaling into a steady pace and going for hours. I took swimming lessons to work on my stroke, so even though I never gained much speed–at least I wasn’t floundering. I went to workouts with real triathletes who worried about their heart rates and swim speeds. My laundry doubled as I tried to manage all of the outfits and gear that go along with training for all these events. I had almost zero injuries. I didn’t work out enough in any one sport to “burn out.”

I added weight training at about the same time, which made me proud of big legs and big arms. I spent two hardcore nights a week at the gym. I was the annoying girl jumping over hurdles, doing Olympic lifts, & lunging all over the place–basically looking like a solo Crossfit class in a 24 Hour Fitness. But like anything, it grew old after awhile. The trainer was too expensive & all the heavy lifting was making my legs, glutes and shoulders sore for a few days out of every week. Also, I just hate the gym. My membership is SO CHEAP that I can’t give it up, but I hate being indoors for a workout. Or if I’m indoors, I want to be at home.

I began to grow frustrated that I was spending so much time doing different stuff, and I wasn’t mastering any of it. Story of my life! Last year I biked, lifted occasional weights & ran two slow and steady marathons. Marathons are so much fun because of the fan-fare & the epic factor & that burger and beer you engulf when it’s over. But I was tired of slugging along.

This past spring, I felt sick for 2 months, got a puppy, my work schedule kept changing & my workouts were basically the last thing on the list. Some days all I could do was make sure the dog got a walk. I wondered if all my muscles were shrinking as I sat on the couch and watched another Real Housewives episode. I tried to remember back when running was the only thing I did to stay fit. I would go out for 60 minutes 5 days a week like clock work. I could run slow and long or short and fast. I remember trying to PR for my 5ks & never getting under 22 minutes. I really really wanted to.

When things started to return to normal this summer, every run felt like a struggle. I loved it, but it was like starting over. I left the pace watch at home & just ran for time. I tried my best not to judge and instead congratulate myself for getting out there. I competed in a duathlon and had lots of fun, but I still had this urge to RUN FAST.

So over the weekend, I searched and found 2 dozen 5ks happening in Southern California next month. The beauty of 5ks is that they are everywhere! Small ones, large ones, cheap ones, flat ones, hilly ones, etc. I found one that claimed MacGyver was going to be there in person, and this sounded like the race for me. Also, you get a free pair of socks.

I quickly found a 4 week 5k training plan for intermediates & started it this week. I have only done 2 of the speed workouts, but it turns out–I can still run fast! And it is so much fun! I pump up my inspirational music & go out way too fast, but it feels good. I don’t really play air guitar, but I have mastered doing the “air egg shaker” when my songs come on. It’s still hot here, so it reminds me of those late evening summer runs back when I first started so long ago. I come home sweaty and feeling like I really did something out there.

I want nothing more than a whole year of 5ks, culminating in some amazing PR that even I thought impossible (it will happen a year from now, and MacGyver will put the medal around my neck). I still believe in moderation. I have a home gym now–with a mat, a bench, and some free weights and although the workouts are much less intense looking (yesterday I did squats while watching and SINGING to Into the Woods), turns out my legs and arms are STILL big. I moved into a place with a pool, but I enjoy skipping the laps in favor of just sort of floating around. My bike is hanging up next to me in my office, looking SO SAD–but it will eventually make it into one of those cross-training days.

To all of you who attempt to infuse working out into your days, I feel all of your frustration, guilt and lack of motivation when you can’t do everything you wanted or hoped for. Maybe your body isn’t feeling it. Maybe you are sick or exhausted. Maybe your time and energy has been sucked away by the rest of life, and the workout will have to wait for another day. When this happens to me, I do what I can and wait patiently for the motivation to return. It always does. I was going through workouts spending every minute planning what I would do as soon as I finished. I mostly thought about what was for dinner or if there was a shortcut that would make the workout any shorter. These are not FUN workouts. Today, though, I did a fast run–doing 4 min fast/2 min slow over and over & for once, I had no time to think about what would happen after the workout was done. These are the kind of workouts that really clear the mind & help me remember why I love to do this. I was on such a “runner’s high” I had to write all of this!