My Postpartum Comeback: Triple 5k Race Report

The medal from the Fast 5k was particularly delicious.
The medal from the Fast 5k was particularly delicious.

Although my major (running) goal for the next two years is to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon, my true race love is the 5k. It might be a case of familiarity breeding affection (after all, I spent 7 seasons of high school and college cross-country racing 5ks), but I love the blend of speed and endurance. It doesn’t hurt that 5ks are plentiful; if you have one bad day then redemption is right around the corner.

In my first installment of my postpartum comeback I had raced 3 5ks: 20:58, 19:55, and then 19:07 on the track at 11 weeks postpartum. Since then, I’ve had some great workouts and a couple setbacks including injuries due to chafing and pulling my shoe off wrong (I’ve been running since I was 12 and still do dumb things). Fortunately, these injuries were short-lived and now I’m healthy and ready to run hard!

On Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to race twice. Saturday was the Coughlin Fast 5k on a course I’ve run at least 4-5 times the past couple years. Looking at my recent workouts, I thought I had a good chance to run close to or maybe under the 18-minute barrier, even on this rolling course. Because the first mile is significantly downhill, I made sure to hold myself back and let others go out hard. By the mile mark, I’d passed at least 5 women and moved into 5th place. The middle part of the course has some mild ascents and descents and I was excited to test myself, setting my sights on the woman in third place. However, just a couple minutes later it was as if I was running on fumes. I puttered my way back to the finish line miserably.

I probably did go out to fast since I finished in 19:11 somehow and held on to 5th place. I was disappointed to be so far from my goal time and to have run even slower than a month ago, but I learned a good lesson about being more careful about my caloric needs as a nursing mom.  Fortunately the chance to put my new-found awareness into practice was just two days away!

About a half mile into the Lou Cox 5k. Can you spot me in my new singlet?
About a half mile into the Lou Cox 5k. Can you spot me in my new singlet?

On Memorial Day, I ate a solid breakfast and drove to Dayton for the Lou Cox 5k, a notoriously fast (but certified) race attracting a competitive field. In addition to a couple teammates racing, I also bumped into several running friends from all over Ohio, chatting right up until the starting gun. Again I made sure to start conservatively, hitting the mile marker in 5:48. I continued to pass people steadily through the second mile, navigated the hairpin turn and tried to accelerate out of it. Mile 2 was 5:59. The fatigue was starting to set in during mile 3 (as it should!) and I could tell one of the girls I’d passed early in the race was creeping closer. There was a short downhill with less than half a mile to go and she passed me there. No! I accelerated and ran the last 1.1 at 5:54 pace, but she was much stronger. Finish time was 18:17 for 7th place and a 50-second postpartum PR!

Five days later, I toed the line for the Dexter-Ann Arbor 5k. I had fueled myself well and had confidence from Monday’s solid performance that I could dip under 18:00. Patrick and I had walked from the finish line to the start so I knew that the course was net downhill, making me even more excited.

And holy downhills! In the first mile, there were two hills that would have been great for sledding in the winter, but caused me to pull back, afraid I’d lose my equilibrium and tumble forward. I missed the first mile split but after a gentler second mile I was at 11:21. Sub-18 was within reach…if it weren’t for that pesky uphill finish! I felt pretty miserable the last half mile (but I guess that’s how a 5k is supposed to feel!), running just 6:45 pace for the last 1.1. I even got passed by a woman just before the finish. Ouch! Final time was 18:45 for 5th place, initially disappointing, but considering how oddly challenging this downhill course was I’m satisfied with the result now.

So now JB is 4 months old! My next race will be the Columbus 10k followed by a slew of 5ks (did I mention I love them?) and a road mile (a distance I could love more if there were more of them!).  I’m sure that sub-18:00 is right around the corner as long as I can continue to work out consistently and learn from the bad days.

Anyone else working toward a 5k goal? What racing lessons have you learned recently?

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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  1. I really wish there were more road-mile races in my area too. I think that would be an awesome distance to train for – and I’ve never done it as I did not run competitively when I was younger.

      1. Thanks, Garlic! I am as surprised as anyone! I feel like I am being very conservative (only ~50% of pre-preg mileage and workouts at 4-5 day intervals instead of 2-3 days) and still having decent results…crazy stuff.

        We have just one local road mile. It’s an evening race with a great party afterward. I’ve run it 5 times now and finished 2nd three years straight. So fun, but it is nerve-wracking, especially the start.