What I Learned From Running My First 5K

Paul L. Underwood
by Paul L. Underwood
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What I Learned From Running My First 5K

I did it. I woke up early, drove through the darkness to Austin’s downtown marathon course, met a bunch of like-minded crazies and ran up and down the drizzle-soaked streets for 3.1 miles. I received a surprisingly hearty medal for my efforts — and a meaningful feeling of accomplishment. I also learned a few things you might find useful.

TRAINING IS KEY …

There’s an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” where Barney runs the New York Marathon by accident. That works well if you’re a sitcom character (and/or have a body like Neil Patrick Harris), but the rest of us need to train — even if we’re only running 3 miles and change. My regimen was to build up to a point where I could comfortably run 4 miles 2–3 times a week. This was pretty much what I was doing anyway, so it didn’t take that long to get in race shape. Your mileage may vary, but that got me to a place where I finished the course with energy left in the tank. (More on that in a minute.)

… BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO GO CRAZY

My theory is that we call them 5Ks because it sounds more impressive than “The 3-miles-and-change race.” So while 5 kilometers isn’t nothing, it’s still roughly 1/9 the distance a marathoner will run. Again, if you aren’t running at all right now, you’ll need to build up to it. But if you’ve been running regularly and are looking to try a formal race, you probably don’t need a formalized training plan.

TRAINING AND RACING ARE DIFFERENT BEASTS

I typically run on a flat track or on a trail with very mild elevation. (And I’ll be honest, I try to plan my runs so the weather is more comfortable — preferably mild and with minimal precipitation.) Austin’s 5K route was different — basically, the first half was one big uphill climb and the second half took you back down the hill. This turned out great — I was amped up at the start, which made the climb easier. And then coming back down kept me from burning out. The biggest problem was the track narrowed at the finish, so I couldn’t execute my habitual strong finish due to runner traffic. Oh well. Also: It was a little rainy but mercifully the roads weren’t slick.

Gratitude is a powerful motivator.

ANYONE CAN DO A 5K

As I stood smiling in the “corral” — basically a holding pen for my fellow 5Kers — I spied people much older than I am, people much younger than I am (in some cases actual children), people pushing strollers and at least one visibly pregnant woman, who I think finished ahead of me. Some people were ready to run the hell out of the 5K, while others looked like they’d be lucky to finish walking a 5K. But we were all out there, and almost everyone looked happy about that. It was a good reminder that, whatever your age and fitness level, you’re fortunate to be out there at all. Gratitude is a powerful motivator.


READ MORE > YOUR FIRST RACE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A 5K


YOU’RE NOT A MARATHONER

“Running the marathon?” the man handing out T-shirts asked me. “Nah. 5K,” I replied. “Oh.” His shoulders sunk a bit as he pointed me to the table with free shirts, where they didn’t even have my size. You also don’t get a goodie bag — those are for marathoners and half-marathoners only. What I’m saying is: There are definitely some class distinctions among the running crowds, and you don’t have to look hard to see them. That said, all of that goes away when you’re on the course and the crowd is ringing cowbells, holding up signs, cheering you on. And hey, people who stay at home on the couch don’t get anything.

IT’S DOABLE

Whether you’re a lapsed runner looking to get back in the game, a first-timer looking to test yourself or someone who needs a goal to start getting in shape, a 5K is exactly what you need. I’ll confess to some serious jitters on race day, along with some outlandish fears related to falling, getting hurt, etc. It all went away once the pack was moving, and The Big Race turned into A Nice Run.

YOU’LL PROBABLY WONDER: WHAT’S NEXT

As I crossed the finish line, I felt a feeling familiar to anyone who has completed a video game, or a big project at work: A fleeting feeling of accomplishment, immediately followed by a craving for the next challenge. I’m eyeing 10Ks and thinking about some more ambitious projects, too. I’d also like to get my time down — while I beat my usual time on the track, thanks in part to that conveniently placed downhill slope, I know I can do better.

It turns out the end of this particular project might actually be the beginning.

About the Author

Paul L. Underwood
Paul L. Underwood

Paul is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He tweets here, he Instagrams there and he posts the occasional deep thought at plunderwood.com. He’s probably working on a run mix as you read this.

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