Cilantro’s Race Weekend Part 1 – I Run Opelika 5k Recap

After the fantastically tough marathon at H9 Dragon’s Spine I wasn’t sure how quickly I was going to recover from the epic ascents and descents. There was a 5k the next Saturday I had my eye on, but I didn’t register right away.ย Sunday’s shakeout run following H9 was a bit of a slog, but I wasn’t prohibitively sore and had full range of motion. By Tuesday I resumed my training plan, and I even got in a great speed session on Thursday with only a little lingering quad soreness and no hamstring pain.

So it seemed there was no excuse not to run the I Run Opelika 5kโ€”except that 5ks are miserable, terrible things. And I’d already registered for the XTERRA Auburn Trail 20k on that Sunday, and I couldn’t take that back.

It still took me until Friday afternoon to enter my credit card information on the registration site. If I had it my way I’d never have to register for any race until the night before. I like to make sure I’m really, really ready to go.

Once I hit the button I immediately started dreading it. 5k’s are hard.


The heavy rain wasn’t forecasted to start until 9 am on race morning, so I picked up my packet at the start. A two mile warm-up gave me a preview of the course, and it was immediately clear that race directors hadn’t tried to avoid any of the hills in the area, meaning this wasn’t going to be fast.

My warm-up complete, I headed to the start to rehydrate and wait for the gun. It was already hot, although nowhere near normal Alabama heat and humidity, and the turnout was really good for what I’d initially thought was going to be a small, local race. A lot of the people there looked fast, including a local high school’s cross-country team. Even so, I found myself at the front of the pack as people filled in on the starting line. I kept trying to move behind people, but those runners kept moving back too, and eventually I resigned myself.

We began on time. I expected to be trampled by a pack of faster runners but just a few men shot off ahead, and there I was, leading the pack. The first mile of a 5k is always fun. I was nice and warmed up and the speed felt good. I knew the exhilaration couldn’t last, but I decided to enjoy it.

Right on cue it started to hurt toward the end of mile one. We were about half a mile into the hills, and mile two was up and down. My legs started to burn, and I felt like I was going to throw up. That’s not a bad sign, this is how I know I am pushing at my absolute limit in a 5k. Still, I knew I couldn’t maintain my pace without losing it, so I eased up to recover on the descents.

The course was an out and back, so I could see on the way back after the halfway mark how close the other women were. At the turnaround I was still leading the women’s race: one who looked strong a few seconds behind me; then third place was about a minute back. I kept my intensity but was slowing down as I allowed myself a little recovery, and I was passed by the second place woman around mile two. I was at max speed and helplessly watched her pass, but I maintained through the last mile. About three blocks from the finish there was a super steep climb that almost broke me, but it was short and I managed a kick to the finish.

I finished as second place woman overall, first in my AG, for my slowest 5k since my first 5k ten years ago. But I was happy with my performance! I went out and gave it my absolute best. I can’t control the course, and I can’t control who shows up, but I can control how I respond to course conditions, competition, and context. I gave it my best, and I was happy with it.

Post-5k, I took recovery seriously and after a refreshing mile swim (and jogged cool-down miles), I made it my goal to stay off my feet the rest of the day.

Stay tuned for Part 2, my XTERRA 20k Race Recap!

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Pinhoti FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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