I’d like to think that I’m a reasonably knowledgeable runner and racer. I’ve read countless articles about running form, volume, intensity, and training plans. I know all about intervals, hill repeats, tempo runs and even fartleks. I have no problem rolling out of bed at some ungodly hour of the morning and logging six, eight or even ten miles. I’ve done four half-marathons and one full marathon. But one thing totally baffles me.
How the heck do I run a 5K?
I signed up for the fifth annual A Walk to Believe, which added an official 5K for the first time this year. As a Rutgers alumnus and longtime football fan, I am continually inspired by Eric LeGrand, and I wanted to be a part of this event. One little problem: I don’t have the first idea of what I’m doing at that distance.
First, there’s race prep. What do I need to do ahead of time to make sure I’m ready to rock it? Do I need to carb load? Well, I shouldn’t have to for 3.11 miles, I guess. I should be across the finish line long before I run out of glycogen, right? Do I need a Gu packet? Do I need to rest up for a few days before the run, or does it just fit into my workout schedule? If I have a couple of beers the night before, am I totally screwed? Aaargh!
I have no idea if these are the right answers, but no, I didn’t carb load. No, I didn’t use an energy gel. Yes, I rested a few days beforehand, but mainly due to life getting in the way of my exercise schedule. And no, those two beers the night before weren’t a disaster.
OK, so I managed to wake up the morning of the race feeling like I might even be able to do this thing. But of course, that was just the start. Because I had no idea what to do on race day, either.
Unlike most long races, this one wasn’t scheduled to get going until 10:30 a.m. And bib pickup was day-of only. What time do I need to get there? Do I eat before I leave or bring something with me? What should I eat? Will I be standing around a long time? Should I go sit in the car for a while to rest up, or will I be OK since it’s just 3.11 miles? And the sun – do I have to worry about a sunburn? Did I hydrate enough? I definitely don’t want to have to stop to pee in such a short race. Help!
I got there more than an hour before the race. My pre-race meal was Kashi GoLean Crunch, which I ate at home before I left. I did spend some time standing around – not to mention chit-chatting at the RunJersey.com tent. I kept mostly to the shade before the race, so I didn’t get a sunburn. But I did need to find a bottle of water before the start of the race – and thank goodness, it didn’t make me have to pee.
So finally, I headed to the starting line, right outside High Point Solutions Stadium, with the 175 or so other runners. But it’s not like I was all good to go now. I don’t know how to race plan for a 5k, either.
Where do I want to line up? How important is it to get out of the gate fast and avoid traffic? I’m used to long races where I start out slow – can I get myself into a rhythm quickly enough? How much of a warm-up do I need for such a short run? And when do I start pushing the pace? I don’t want to wear myself out on the course, but I don’t want to feel like I could’ve gone faster, either. Uh-oh!
Sheesh. This is awfully complicated for a run that should take less than a half-hour!
The race started, and I was immediately passed by what seemed like half the field. Great – I’m that slowpoke. And after a couple hundred yards, I started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t my day. My legs seemed tight, and my breathing felt labored. The course didn’t have any distance markers except for the halfway turnaround, but by a mile or so in, I started feeling OK. I got my stride right, and I found someone moving at about my clip that I could pace off of.
But at some point, I realized I was moving pretty fast, at least for me. I don’t use a GPS, so I was running by feel. I started to wonder if I could keep up that pace – or if I was going to make it at all. Maybe I’d just gone too hard. I eased off the throttle just a bit and focused on my form to help me keep pace. I waited for the last quarter-mile or so – when I was back in sight of the stadium – to put it into high gear. Because I just wasn’t sure I could do it.
And then a funny thing happened. I came around the last corner, about 50 yards or so from the finish, and the race clock said I was under 25 minutes. I have no idea where I found the energy, but I went into an all-out sprint and crossed at 25:00 on the nose! A personal record! Seventh out of 35 men age 40 or older and 31st overall!
Of course, I could barely breathe for about five minutes after I was done. I couldn’t even get down a sip of water for a couple minutes. And it was getting warm in the sun, so I needed to find some shade. But I managed to recover. And that was a good thing. I got to talk to Head Coach Kyle Flood and the man himself, Eric LeGrand.
So I still have no idea how the heck to run a 5K, but I know one thing: I can do it.