The last time I ran a 5K race was in 1991. As a long-distance touring cyclist and occasional marathon runner, I don’t participate in many short-distance running events. I have many excuses for this: the price per mile is high compared to a marathon or a brevet; I’m not fast; and mostly, I prefer endurance stuff.
However, this year, Felkerino and I thought it would be a fun family activity to run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K , sponsored by Pacers. Felkerino recently took up running again to diversify his physical activities and see what it is people like so much about running. We lined up together at the starting line, but agreed to run our own paces.
After two days knocked out with a cold, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body and, having only run two other 5K events before in my life, I was confused about how to pace myself.
As I brooded about that, the race announcer said, “Irish you a good run!” (runners love their puns), and yelled “Start!” explaining that their air horn wasn’t working because of the sub-freezing temperatures.
Over 1,700 runners ventured onto the course. As I took my first steps, I resolved that my strategy would be “uncomfortable.” I would move at a pace faster than my whatevering run pace, but where I could still control my breathing and avoid panting. My goal was to use up all the snap in my body by the time I crossed the finish.
With no time to waste, I wove around a few people and enjoyed the rapid turnover of my feet. I was wearing my lightweight “Diva Pink” Brooks Pure Flow shoes, which I learned don’t suit me for marathon distances due to their lowish heel to toe drop, but are perfect for shorter runs like this.
My breath momentarily got away from me, and I regulated my speed back to uncomfortable. One mile done. How fast? I didn’t know since I hadn’t brought my watch.
The course travels from the Washington Monument down Independence Avenue and around the John Ericsson Memorial (or as Felkerino calls it, the Propeller Memorial, because Ericsson invented the screw propeller) to Ohio Drive. After circling the Jefferson, runners go over a gentle rise past the Bureau of Engraving and head back to the Washington Monument to complete their 3.1-mile loop.
Sleet and snow peppered us intermittently and temperatures refused to rise above freezing, but winds were light and, all in all, running conditions were pleasant. No worries about overheating on this day.
The hardy volunteers along the course shouted encouraging words as we ran by. Without my watch I had no idea how fast I was moving, except to say uncomfortably fast. I was running a few feet behind a leggy eight-year-old girl who ended up winning the 1-10 Years Old Age Group (no kidding!) and I used her swinging pony tail as my bunny rabbit.
Mile marker two appeared before we circled the Jefferson Memorial and I still had no idea how fast my feet were going, except they were not as fast as that little girl. With about a half-mile left in the race my body started direct messaging me. “Walk. WALK.”
Queasiness gripped my stomach, and my legs didn’t feel so fast anymore. Soreness ripped my throat when I took a breath. My uncomfortable run plan had worked perfectly because I was feeling awful in several places.
I thought about walking, but couldn’t bear the thought of my fast footwork going to waste. Some people passed by, but others kept pace with me. The eight-year-old was still well within sight. Maybe despite going to pieces internally, I was doing okay on the outside. I couldn’t know for sure without a watch to time myself. (Note to self: next run, bring watch!)
A voice in my head shouted, “That’s how you’re supposed to feel! You’re supposed to feel bad if you run uncomfortably!”
It always surprises me when a voice in my head manifests and tells me things, but it seemed like sensible feedback. I continued to run as hard as I could, while I idly pondered whether I would use a different strategy for the next short run, one that didn’t include words like uncomfortable.
The gentle hill by the Bureau of Engraving appeared and I ignored the road’s incline working against me since it is an old friend I regularly encounter on my bike commute. After crossing Independence Avenue, I made for the finishers’ chute.
I heard the emcee say something about us coming in below an eight-minute pace and that motivated me to push the final meters as best I could on my fatigued legs. At 23 minutes and 55 seconds overall, I ran 7:42 per mile.
I’ve never “officially” run a 7:42 mile ever, and while it was certainly uncomfortable at the time, afterwards it felt awesome. And fast, which is a word I would never use to describe my running. The voice inside my head was right, after all. Uncomfortably fast feels uncomfortable, but it delivered good results.
I grabbed a bottle of water, my discomfort ebbed, and I stood at the spectators’ side of the finishers’ chute, expectantly awaiting Felkerino. He ran the remaining steps to the finish with gusto. His body was relaxed and he was smiling. Yeah, I was pretty proud.
We hung out with our BikeDC buddy, Katy, who had also completed the 5K and was preparing to put up a personal best on the 10K race (which she did. Go Katy!) that started immediately after the 5K ended.
As Felkerino and I walked the mile-plus home together, we discussed the miles we’d just done and tossed around future running plans. While I imagine that riding bikes together will always be our thing, the idea of participating in local runs together also appeals.
Many thanks to Pacers and the excellent volunteers for organizing the event and cheering us!