“Just” a 5k?

Recently the 5k has gotten a bad rap. With the increased popularity of couch-to-5k programs and untimed Color Runs, the 5k has become the newbie distance, and the “well, at least you’re running” distance at events with a longer race available.

I’m not a good 5k runner. Or even really a halfway decent 5k runner. And I think that positions me well to defend the distance’s reputation. Since I’m not a talented 5k runner, but I’m an otherwise not-totally-embarrassing runner, even in longer distances, I can appreciate that the 5k is a different breed of cat with its own unique training demands.

Just finishing a 5k is a major accomplishment for a lot of people. They get motivated to get serious about their health and completing a 5k, even if they have to walk some of it, is a tangible goal to work towards.

However, for a lot of runners, a 5k would be an easy recovery day workout. Barring some sort of injury, such a runner would have no doubts about his of her ability to finish a 5k. But finishing strong, with a competitive time is a whole other matter entirely. Shaving a couple of minutes off of a marathon time is easier than dropping 30 seconds off of a 5k time.

There are plenty of couch-to-5k first time racers in a typical local 5k field, but there are also a lot of local-level elites. People train diligently for this distance, fine-tuning their mechanics, strategy, strength, and endurance with targeted workouts. These people do (gasp) speedwork. Lots of it, I bet! I think that sounds miserable, so more power to ’em. Not all running talent gravitates towards, or is even suited for, middle- or long-distance, but that in no way diminishes it; it’s just different.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that part of maturing as a runner means stepping up to progressively longer distances. It’s natural to want to test one’s mettle against more miles and run further than one has ever run before. Moreover, as runners age, it can be easier to stay competitive at longer, slower distances.

But that doesn’t mean that the 5k is only a newbie distance, or something from which seasoned runners should graduate and never look back.

I generally don’t start feeling good in a race until I’m about eight miles in, and the first three miles can be a slog. However, I still find the 5k distance to be fun and worthwhile. It’s a challenge for me to push through that slog feeling since the whole race is slog-miles for me, and it’s a real gut check for me to see how not-spectacular I am at short distance running. My 10k PR speed is significantly zippier than my 5k speed; in no way have I tamed this beast!

So tomorrow as I’m straining my eyes in search of my long-lost mile marker friends in my local Turkey Trot (“Come on, 2, where are you?!” Seriously, that will start about 0.5 miles in), you can bet that I won’t be thinking, “Well this is just a 5k.”


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