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The 5k Race – Time to Suffer

This article was inspired by the Jordan 5k. May Jerry (Subaru Series Race Director) rest in peace. And also a nod to Paul Leduc who chatted with me one day about just how hard it is to run a 5k well. We are both still searching for that perfect race.

In golf, the Tiger is nothing without his short game. No matter how far he can hit it, it is always that final short stroke that drops it in the hole. Same can be said for marathons, except so many of us have stopped caring about our own short game – the 5k race.  For many the 5k race is just a stepping stone to longer distances, in progression to marathons and perhaps ultras. There is just something to be said for desiring the accomplishment of longer distances. But in doing so, we are skipping over mastery of the shorter distances. Being able to complete a 5k is just not the same as racing a 5k at our peak potential. Maybe its time we get acquainted with its nasty side.

Most elite distance runners spend years perfecting the 5K before moving on to longer distances. Why? Could it be deliberate practice? The 5k is a great way to learn to suffer well, a valuable skill that transfers easily to longer distances once you are truly ready. Once you have learned to race a 5k all-in, you will have the last 5k of any marathon under your thumb. The 5k is the most mental effort you can put into a race, and mental effort is an essential ingrediant of deliberate practice. So here is a km by km playbook for running a full out 5k. Did I mention it? This is going to hurt.

Km 1: You have bolted off the start line at a foolish pace. Why is that first km marker taking so long to arrive? By the time it does, your watch is providing good news – you are slightly ahead of goal pace and feeling pretty good. Still, there are a lot of people ahead of you.

Km 2: Working hard to hold the pace you set during the first km. It was tough but you did it, and have picked off of a few runners. Praying the half-way point comes soon.

Km 3: Heart rate and effort all at 100%, legs are complaining and now you are mentally forcing everything to stay on pace. You could still be in bed sleeping right now. Signing up in advance was a good idea at the time. What were we thinking?

Km 4: You convince yourself that you are running toward the 4k marker as if it was the finish line. This is misery. Certainly there is something better we could be doing today…maybe just quick stop for a breather. Oops someone just passed, have to stay focused! Unfortunately the hurting has just begun.

Km 5: Hopefully you have set a final landmark (such as a turn in the road) where you are going to start pushing with everything you have left and a few things you don’t have. Do it! Heart rate exceeding 100%, a foolhardy move unless you have had an ECG at your annual physical and you are in top cardio shape. Every part of your body is screaming, but your mind – in total focus – pushes past it all to get you to the finish line.

The Finish: Even after all that suffering, there is still something left for a kick down. Have to pass that guy just ahead! You knew it, your body was holding out on you – good thing you were staying focused. That was just as much mental effort as physical, a mind over body experience.

The Aftermath: Throw up if you need to. Grab a drink, jog the race route again to cool down and keep stiff legs away. Stretch. Attend presentation and receive your award. Or, in my case, just watch the others get theirs. Clap politely, then leave empty handed. Have got to stop being a wuss. Next time I will really suck it up, and stop letting my body set limits.


Here is my original article on the Jordan 5k: Subaru Series – Jordan 5k/  Jerry liked it.

How do you set a good 5k goal time? Take one of your best long performances and plunk it into a pace wizard. It will spit out your theoretical best 5k time. Likely a seriously insane time, only achievable with lots of track work and more than a few missed attempts. Here is my fave:


Born and raised in Hamilton & Stoney Creek. Ran X-Country in high school, but not really special at it - a middle of the pack finisher. But then again, really didn't know how to train. Didn't run after Gr 12 due to nasty shin splints. Really never ran in proper shoes back then. Didn't try to run again until age 30. Then tried. And tried. And tried. Shin splints every time. Finally got it going for good at 38 in proper shoes and I have vowed never, ever, to stop running again.

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