All summer, I’ve been training to PR in the 5K. Until this summer, it’s a distance I’ve rarely run. I had hoped that by focusing on this distance in training, and given the corresponding gains in speed that I’ve made, plus my increased mileage, that breaking 20:00, just a four-second PR, would come easily.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Last weekend, I ran my second 5K of the summer. The first one hadn’t gone well, I started way too fast for my fitness level and blew up. But since then, training has gone well. My coach bumped my mileage up a bit to 50 miles a week, and I’ve hit nearly all my paces save for one ill-fated tempo. I went into the SARR (San Antonio Road Runners) Women’s 5K feeling confident.
I’d learned my lesson from the last race, and swore to stare at my watch the entire first mile to ensure I wouldn’t go out too fast. My coach gave me a great tip: jog the first mile of the course and find a landmark indicating the 1/4 mile mark. At that point I needed to look at my watch and make sure I wasn’t going faster than 93 seconds. If so, I needed to pull back immediately so I wouldn’t blow up.
After a two mile warm up, I was drenched in sweat. San Antonio’s humidity had not miraculously let up, and I knew the race would be a struggle before we even started. I changed into racing flats and nervously started eyeing up the competition. I knew one girl who typically beats me in shorter distances, but didn’t recognize any of the other women standing near the front. I figured I should stay behind the girl that I knew, as she typically runs her 5Ks under 19:00 and I knew I didn’t want to blow up again. The gun went off and I tucked in behind her and took off.
The first mile was almost entirely downhill, giving me even more opportunity to go out too fast. I was on pace at the 1/4 mile mark and right behind two women: the girl I expected to lose to and a younger girl who looked like she was in high school. I was maybe 15 feet behind them and breathing pretty easily before I realized that we were maybe running TOO easy and I should probably pick up the pace.
I passed them both right before the first mile marker and I looked at my watch- 6:28. I panicked for a few seconds, this was about 10 seconds slower than I wanted to be, and then I decided that starting too slow was better than starting too fast, and I still felt pretty good (a stark contrast to June’s 5K when I questioned my ability to finish after the first mile!). At that point, I decided just to try to hang on to my lead.
The second mile came and went uneventfully. I didn’t look back to see how much of a lead I had, but I didn’t hear anyone directly behind me and still felt pretty strong. As soon as I began the third mile, we started retracing the route we’d already run, which means that we were going uphill. For the entire mile. My quads were burning and I was struggling to inhale in the thick, muggy air.
At mile 2.5, I heard footsteps behind me and realized I was getting passed! Another lady I’d seen at the start (whose name I later discovered was Tanya) trotted by me while going uphill as if I were standing still. I had no kick left, and realized I was going to lose this race in the last three minutes. We turned right and kept climbing the last 1/4 mile to the finish, when I noticed she was slowing down and I was reeling her in. I passed her around mile 2.9 and she said “Go, girl!” as I ran by. I sprinted to the finish and crossed in 20:15, and Tanya finished right behind me in 20:18.
Was this the time that I wanted? No, not even close. But I have a few things I’m happy about. Obviously, I’m happy that I won. I’ve only ever won one other race overall, and there were only 15 people in that one! This was the last race I’ll run in San Antonio before we move in August so I was glad to go out on a bit of a high note. I’m happy with how strong I felt during the race. Although I was off pace the whole time, I felt so much better even though the course was much harder than my last 5K.
And finally, I was happy to run such a fun, supportive race. Women’s-only races get a bad rap sometimes, but this one was competitive, well-run and fun without being too cheesy or stereotypical. There was a great sense of camaraderie and sportsmanship among the women, and it was fun to see groups like Black Girls RUN! and some Oiselle Volée members out there supporting each other, but supporting all of the other runners too.
So I’ll walk away from my 5K PR goal for now, but I’m keeping my chin up knowing that I still did strong work that will pay off one day. Up next? I get to graduate to a 10K after my move in August!