The 38-Year-Old 5k Virgin: A Race Report

When it comes to running, I was a late-bloomer. I grew up in a non-athletic family; my siblings didn’t do sports, my parents didn’t play catch with us and were no athletes themselves. I didn’t start running until I was 29, convinced by my boyfriend to do a duathlon with him. I grudgingly did that, and running infected me โ€”ย hard.

In the year after that duathlon, I ran a 10k, a half marathon, and then a full marathon. The marathon distance stuck, and that’s sort of where I’ve been since then. I dabbled in ultras and ran three 50ks, but the marathon always seems to be the star I set my sights on.

Nine years later, among all my medals and age group prizes, there’s one race that’s notably absent. It’s sort of an odd one, usually the gate-way drug race for most runners but, at 38, I’ve never raced a 5k.

That’s right; I was a 38-year-old 5k virgin. Last week, I decided the time had come to get that 5k done.

Every 4th of July, Eugene starts the holiday with the Butte to Butte 10k, a race that begins with a giant mile-long hill near Spencer’s Butte and ends at the base of Skinner’s Butte. I run it, along with my husband and friends most every year and never paid attention to the 5k division.

This year, I’m in the midst of some higher mileage running and avoiding the 10k’s big hill and friendly competition with my running buddies while testing my legs in a different way sounded very enticing. At the same time, the thought of racing a distance I have never raced before made me nervous.ย How do I do this? What do I expect?

I asked my more 5k-savvy Saltines for advice. What followed were horror stories of going out way too fast and blowing up the last two miles, tales of sufferfests with lots of barfing imagery, and snarky nods to my advanced-aged virginity.

“Close your eyes and think of England,” joked Caraway.

Independence Day dawned bright and sunny. We arrived at the start of the race and I bid farewell to my husband and friend as they boarded the shuttle to the start of the 10k. I didn’t have much time, so I warmed up just a mile and did some form drills. After the call to line up, I pushed my way near the front, behind the fast guys and three young women. The horn sounded and we were off. I just ran hard and, like so many races I run, I was soon racing by myself.

The similarities ended there.

I glanced down at my watch to make sure I wasn’t going out too hard, and saw 5:45 as my current pace. Woah, Nelly! I slowed up a bit and avoided the water cups being held out to me at the 3/4 mile area.ย Who the hell needs water for a 5k?! I thought incredulously. Then two deer prancing alongside the course, in the middle of urban Eugene oddly, dashed across the road in front of me. Seriously. First mile beeped at 6:16 and my legs were starting to feel the effort.

We left the street for a mile loop out in the rapidly warming sunshine. Mile two: 6:40. Ugh.

This is hard, but only four more laps! I told myself. Just keep it under 7:00. I run faster than this in my workouts all the time! I am a marathoner! My half-marathon PR pace is 6:55 for Pete’s sake! C’mon legs! But my legs and, more importantly brain only gave me a 6:51 for mile three. I crossed the finish line in 20:33, fourth place woman behind a teen and two young twenty-somethings, 18th overall.

That’s it? But, I’m finally warmed up and now it’s just … done?! I pondered, feeling some deja vu from other firsts I’ve experienced. Ahem. Anyway, I ran back along the course to take pictures of my friends running the 10k and then ran my husband in the last mile or so, getting to enjoy the 10k atmosphere in a way I haven’t before.

***

So, the first time is out of the way. Will I do another 5k? Definitely. I know I can run faster than I did this first time, and I’d like to pace myself better next time. Additionally, I know I need to warm up more than a mile to make sure I’m good and loose prior. A race this short requires more foreplay than I anticipated.

There are things I like about the 5k distance: no worrying about fueling or peeing, no chafing because you’re out there such a short period, and so much less pressure than marathon day. I think racing more often might help my mental game and anxiety on race day in the longer distances when it really counts, too.

I am a 5k virgin no more.

What was your first time like?

I'm an elementary P.E. teacher with a long-term, ongoing marathon addiction.The next big goal? Keeping up my BQ streak while aiming for a 3:10! I write about the not-so-glamorous side of running and fitting in serious training with a family while staying sane(ish).

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13 comments

  1. All this talk about doing a longer warm-up for a 5k is really intriguing. I must admit, I don’t warm up much for races… but I’m also not super fast.

  2. I was a couch-to-5k’er so that was my first race (other than two seasons as a very mediocre 100/200 sprinter in high school). Before everyone had a Garmin, too. I pretty much yogged the whole thing and was delighted to finish under 30 minutes, which was my completely arbitrary time goal. I ran 27 minutes and something, at a very competitive race, and thought I might get an AG award. LOLZ.

    I love the photos and that you finally did it! I think 5ks are fun because yeah, you can pop one off basically every weekend and if you’re maintaining decent mileage and regular speed work, recovery only takes a day and you’re back to speed work on schedule. Typically I do 2-3 miles of warm up, depending on the weather, plus some strides. High knees and such if I’m antsy. I’ve done as much as 12 miles with warm-up and a long cool down which is obviously so much fun.

  3. I’d say a way longer warm-up – more like 3 miles and 4-5 fast strides right before. Way more helpful than drills if only have time for one or the other. Even if have to do a short warm-up, ALWAYS do strides :)

      1. Oh good, then you prob weren’t that under-warmed-up. Just gotta try some different things and see what works. I found a more moderately paced warm-up over a jog worked better and longer strides worked better too – like 45 seconds rather than 20.

  4. You’re hilarious. The 5K is my current go-to distance, so I’m finding it really fun. It’s amazing how much strategy really has to go into such a short time!

  5. You may get hooked on 5Ks- the excitement of a quickie without the commitment towards a long term relationship like the marathon. But definitely more warm up!

  6. I’m also a late bloomer, having notched a couple marathons and road & trail races of varying length prior.
    My first 5K I did for revenge. It wasn’t sweet. And, sadly, it stands as my best despite a not-entirely-irregular stream of opportunities. Maybe this really is all there is.

  7. I love that you jumped in to try something new- and you ran a stellar time too! I agree on needing more than a mile for warm-up. Years ago when I ran 5ks like every weekend I just yogged around for a few minutes before. Now that I have gained a bit more experience and branched out and like you-stuck with marathon distance focus I realize that I need more time to warm-up. Now I typically do 20-25 minutes warm-up for a 5k and I think that made a big difference for me.

    My first 5k was as many would expect. Went out at 400m pace, died. Yogged in the rest.