Big news, friends! I’m running in the Olympic 5K Trials this weekend! WOOT!
Okay, not really.
What I’m doing on Saturday is running in a 5K in Delaware that—as long as I finish in the top 3 of the women in my age group who have paid $30 to join Delaware Senior Olympics (if there are even three such women)—will qualify me to run the 5K Road Race in the 2019 National Senior Games, in Albuquerque in June.
And no, I don’t live in Delaware, I live in New Jersey, but NJ doesn’t have a qualifying 5K, and Delaware allows out-of-staters. Got all that?
This is not my dream. It’s my mother’s. She is running her own qualifier in her home state of North Carolina in November. My big sister (who is 69) and I will join her in the Games next June. My mother is 90.
(The National Senior Games holds competitions in 20 sports--including swimming, tennis, golf, track and field, a 5K and 10K road race, and, yes, pickleball. You have to be at least 50 to compete. The oldest competitor is usually in his or her late 90s.)
I realize this makes us sound like we are some kind of rock star athletic family like New York City marathon champ Shalane Flanagan and her mother, Cheryl Bridges, who set the world marathon record back in 1971.
Mostly what we are is stubborn. We just keep showing up.
Mother has been competing in the Senior Games since the 1990s, when she played softball and basketball. She quit those sports in her 70s and 80s when it got too hard to field a team. In the 2017 Games, she took the silver medal for the 85-89 group with a time of 50:24. She is (obviously) fiercely competitive. But she also has the health issues common among a generation that grew up smoking packs of cigarettes and drinking pots of coffee, which will make running a 5K in the Senior Games in Albuquerque at altitude in the heat of June ... interesting.
So what are you waiting for?
Here are five important truths—and a few real tips—about running a 5K:
1. If this is your first, you won’t be last.
The beauty of the 5K—especially the local benefit race—is that it attracts all-comers. Yes, there will be whippets on the starting line, whom you’ll never see after the blare of the start horn. Ignore them; they’re a different species. There will also be families with strollers and small children who alternately dash and dawdle. And maybe you will see someone like my mother. Cheer her in, okay?
2. If you show up, you might win …
Your age group or even the race overall! This requires some effort. And I don’t just mean the training. You need to do your research and pick a small race—first year is always good—on a busy fall weekend packed with well-established events. Bonus if it’s raining AND the high school cross-country team is away at their own meet.
Why yes, I do speak from experience. I once won a debut local 5K in which only five other women had entered—and four of them were walkers.
Real tip: In a half marathon you can use the first few miles to settle into your pace, but not in a 5K, because the race will be over by then! So before a 5K, it's a good idea to warm up with a mile or two of jogging and even a few striders, if you want to look especially BA.
3. If you want to go fast, you can go fast
All joking aside, the 5K is an awesome way to test your speed (if that’s your thing). My former Runner’s World co-worker Heather Irvine, mom of a 1-year-old, put aside marathons to put laser focus into breaking 20 minutes in a 5K (I know: Makes you want to faint, right?). Her “long runs” became 8-10 miles. She also went to the track at least twice a week. (Faint.) It worked well for her; she clocked 19:46. Wow. That’s a pretty cool stat to have on your running resume.
Of course your time goal can be whatever you want: break 25, 30, 35, 40 minutes. My mother hopes to come in under an hour. (Fingers crossed for good weather and good health come November!)
Real tip: There is (scary) research that says if you aim to run your fastest 5K, you should go out as hard as you think you might maintain and try to hang on.
4. Training is manageable
When our very own Dimity interviewed former elite middle-distance star Ceci St. Geme for a RW cover story, Ceci—a mother of six—talked about how much more manageable it is to train for a 5K than it is for distance events. Ceci still ran 45 miles per week (which is a lot for mortals but less than half of what elite marathoners log), but she didn’t come home Saturday mornings trashed after a long run. She could race nearly every weekend and not have to walk down stairs backward! I was almost convinced!
5. “The 5K is freaking awesome!” -- Lauren Fleshman
For so many runners, the 5K is a gateway drug to longer distances and gets forgotten amid the “glory” of half and full marathons. Lauren Fleshman, former US 5000 meter champion and mom of two, was hilariously condescended to by a casual runner man who did marathons. That’s funny, but only ironically, and she wins because she’s the baddest of BAMRs.
The 5K is worth all of our efforts. It’s fun to try to run fast every now and then.
But if you’re in the 55-59 age group, do me a favor and stay out of Delaware this weekend, okay? Thanks!