5 Things I Learned Training for a 5K Race

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I spent the last few months training for a 5k run. I've run close to half a dozen of them in recent years but I've never actually trained for one before. I'm not saying that I'd just pop out of bed on race day and go run but calling what I did real training was a bit of a stretch. I'd run once or twice a week but really only if I was in the mood for it and I didn't run very far. This spring I decided I wanted to give this whole training thing a proper shot.

Part of my motivation to actually train is that I've spent the last couple of years watching Jenna train for races. She went from having a serious back injury to training for half marathons and in May she ran her very first full marathon. She's shown me what someone can do when they train and I've envied the pride and accomplishment she feels upon starting a race knowing she's prepared for it.

I'd never felt that way. I really wanted to know what it was like to queue up for a race knowing you were prepared.

5 Things I Learned Training for a 5k
Image: Shutterstock

I ran this particular 5k race last year and it was a disappointing experience for me. I found it hard. Really hard. While my time last year wasn't a personal best it wasn't bad either. Or at least so I thought until looked at the results after the race and noticed I was the sixth slowest runner in my age bracket. That stung. I knew I wasn't the Flash but I didn't realize I was truly at the back of the pack for my age bracket. Adding insult to injury, I had pushed myself on the course and ended up with a minor post-race asthma attack. The race left me feeling bad about myself, bad about running, and completely discouraged. I kept running last year, knowing that I never wanted to feel that way after a race again.

When I signed up for races this year my goal was to do better. I wasn't aiming for a series of personal bests -- though I'm not going to pretend that I don't hope for faster times -- but better for me. I needed to prove to myself that it's okay to take myself seriously, even if in the end it is something I'm not especially talented at doing. I don't have to be good at everything I do, but I need to feel good about doing it. With this particular race, which is the first of three I'll be running this year, my training goal was to feel better when I crossed finish line than I did last year. This is what I've learned from the process:

Training Plans are Meant to be Broken

I know there are people for whom the training schedule is everything. I am not one of those people. I did follow the plan, most of the time, but I quickly realized that I had to leave some room for flexibility. The very first week of training we went on a whirlwind mini-break. I didn't pack running gear because we were only going to be gone for 48 hours, we were packing light, and vacation for us means we walk everywhere. I decided two days filled with of lots of walking would make up for skipping a run.

I also had some weather-related running delays. I managed to get ahead of some of the thunderstorm warnings but there were days where it just didn't happen. I'm okay running in the rain but running in a thunderstorm while surrounded by trees seems like a Bad Choice. Overall, I crossed off more runs on my schedule than I missed. Even though I didn't stick the schedule, having it helped me a lot. And having those two big and bolded "REST DAY" notes on the schedule stopped me from trying to squeeze in one last run the day before the race.

Cross-Training Helps. A Lot.

Did I mention I'm lazy? I am. And sedentary. As much as I enjoy being lazy (and I'm really quite skilled at it), my body doesn't like it when I sit on my butt. On non-running days, and on those days I didn't go out on my scheduled run, I wanted to do something so I started working in other forms of exercise. I found workout videos were the easiest way to squeeze some extra exercise into my day. I also went to an outdoor yoga class. My husband and I took more walks together. These things made me feel stronger. I started getting muscles you don't get if running is all that you do. Cross-training helped me learn when I could push myself in a race, and when I had to slow things down. Most of all the extra exercise helped my endurance and my confidence.


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