Ticket to Ride the Bullet Train to Pain Central Station

by klassman

Tonight I have several odds and ends to get down but really only one genuine insight.  Running a 5k is torturous.

A few weeks ago at the urging of the good people at NOVA Running Club I entered the Jingle All the Way 5k.  It is local, the race is short, and it has a cute name.  How bad could it really be?  It was my first ever 5k that wasn’t accompanied by a minor or a part of a sprint triathlon.  (Early this summer I ran a 22:28 at Montclair as the last leg of a 1:08:+.)

Answer: It can be really hard.  At least I got a nice long sleeve shirt for my effort of 20:53.  Pro Tip — If you go out too fast the last mile is tremendously uncomfortable.  Underscore tremendously and double underscore uncomfortable.  My splits were 6:10, 6:39 and 6:58 before finishing the last couple blocks at a 6:45 pace.  As context my best ever “mile” before this race was a 6:09 by running 1600 meters on a track.

Turning past the Capitol around the 2.5 mile mark it was like I had a ticket for a supersonic train that was taking me to an ugly, ugly place.

I punched my ticket to Pain Central Station and still had almost a mile to run into the freezing wind.

I punched my ticket to Pain Central Station and still had almost a mile to run into the freezing wind.

But I think I get it.  I understand the attraction to the 5k.  Certainly it is a “starter” race for many people.  They can imagine themselves going from the couch to a 5k.  It is a reasonable goal for someone who is inactive or coming off of an injury.  It can be walked in an hour by most everyone.  It is also a good distance for people that really don’t want to race but want to participate in an event.  Thus, it has joggers, strollers, dogs, costumes, dogs in costumes and is also the distance for a variety of color/mud/urban/whatever type races.

Yet, if you want to really put yourself in a hole the 5k is perfect.

In her book length love letter to all things aquatic, Swim, Lynn Sherr recounts a telling conversation with Olympic champion Cullen Jones.  Jones is a sprinter and specialized in the 50 and 100 meter freestyle.  At that level, the men swimming the 50 are like human rockets.  The whole race is over in about 21 seconds.  Jones described for Sherr what it feels like to go from perfect stillness on the blocks to the absolute maximum of performance in the span of a few strokes.  He doesn’t breath and after just four or five strokes his every muscle is at its limit — screaming out for mercy from his brain and begging for a respite.  He must overcome the natural signals to keep the pressure on in the face of maximum discomfort.  It is difficult to train for that feeling because rarely in training can you make it hurt — can you bring yourself to exert as much — the way you can in a race.

That is what the 5k does to your body.  It gives you a race situation where you will go to the pits of muscular and aerobic hell and then have to keep going, and going and going.

I’m sure that it is very hard and uncomfortable for the people who run even splits.  I messed up my tactics; my pacing was amateurish at best and as a consequence was passed left and right as we charged down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the finish.  Regardless of my mistakes, I don’t think other distances are quite as good for guaranteeing that you’ll put yourself in a bad, bad spot and then have to hang on, stay in that bad spot for some time before the finish line even comes into sight.  The 5k is the best thing going if you want to practice the mental strength it takes to try to lift the pace at mile 22 of a marathon.  Sure your marathon pace may be a minute or 90 seconds slower per mile than the 5k pace, but the anguish of trying to drop someone after 2 1/2 or 3 hours of running can be approximated in a 20 minute race.

Odds, Ends and Such

  • I swam 6×100 on 2:00 the other night.  I started at 1:02, did several 1:04-5 and finished with a 1:06.  It was hard and I really hauled the piano at the end.  But it is nice to swim fast instead of always dragging along at a hard aerobic pace.
  • I wore my new New Balance 890s tonight.  They were designed as a special edition for the 20th Rome Marathon.  When I enter them into Training Peaks, I think I’ll label them my Gladiator Shoes.
  • For tonight’s run I tried something new.  I decided that I’d attempt to descend every mile until failure then I’d start over.  I failed on number five after running 8:48, 8:47, 7:57, 7:23 and dropped back to 7:29.  I immediately walked for about 25 seconds and then finished the sixth mile in 9:04 before coming back down to 8:43.  It was a good set and I’ll try it again.  Ideally, I’d like to be able to run by feel and bring the pace down by 10-15 seconds per mile instead of having such large jumps.
  • I’m overweight.
  • Three times I’ve taken Esme out running — two of those times with some girls with whom she ran track/cross country in the fall.  She seems to enjoy the outings and we’ll try again this Friday.  We go between 2.5 and 4.5 miles.
  • I’ve finally figured out how to ride the trainer for more than an hour.  I need to use headphones for the computer.  Without them I cannot hear over the trainer and need subtitles but reading subtitles from the bike gets tedious after about 45 minutes.
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