This month I finished my second 5K summer series. In the last race, I missed a PR by 36 seconds! So you could say I was feeling pretty good about myself. Oh, but not today.
No, today, because I was feeling so good about myself, I searched for what people consider a “serious” 5K time. I had in my head 25 minutes, which I can do (I hesitate to say easily) just about every time I toe the starting line these days. Boy, was I wrong, according to “serious” runners on the internets.
The “serious” runners think that any 5K over 20 minutes is not serious. That serious runners could cover 5,000 meters in 20 minutes as a warm-up nursing an injury on an off month. Never mind that I may never get to that easiest of thresholds—healthy, in the best shape of my life—no matter how much I train.
I’m sure these “serious” runners would prefer that I join the Clydesdales.
See, there is talk among these “serious” runners that seriousness is a result of effort. Because I haven’t broken 20 minutes, naturally I’m just not trying hard enough. Maybe that’s it, “serious” runners. Or maybe it’s genetics.
Look, guy, let’s not be so negative.
Deep breath. After grinding my teeth a bit, I turned my frown upside down by thinking about how far I’ve come in 5K Land. In 2004 I finished my first one in 28:20, after kinda-sorta training on the treadmill for all of eight days. I remember feeling this monumental sense of accomplishment—and also rewarding myself with utter laziness for the rest of the weekend. I ran another race in 2007 (29:26) and another in 2008 (33:49) before finally cracking the 25-minute mark in 2010, when I caught the running bug.
I know I’ve come a long way in 5Ks, and I decided to prove it. I jotted down every one I’ve run. My finish times for those 18 events over the last 10 years graph like this:
It’s a nice downward trend, don’t you think? But there’s a plateau starting to form at around 23 minutes. I’m confident that I haven’t yet run my fastest 5,000 meters, but it has me thinking I may never do it in 20 minutes.
What’s Holding Me Back?
My dedicated 5K training is virtually nonexistent. Basically, for a couple weeks before a 5K, I readjust the speedwork I’m already doing for a half or full. It’s never been dedicated “get fast for a 5K” training. And the increased speed is not necessarily good for my distance training, either.
When I AM training for a 5K, it’s in the summer. I’m never going to be as fast as I’ll ever be when I’m trying to be as fast I can be in 88 degrees (at 6 a.m., no less). Your body loses efficiency the hotter it gets. According to one Runner’s World article, your marathon times are 1.5 to 3 percent slower for every 10 degrees above 55. I would guess the same holds true for other distances, including 5Ks—and if it’s true for 5Ks, too, then I’m losing somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of my speed.
Can I, Will I, Break Through?
I crunched some numbers. Hey, maybe there’s something to this after all!
This winter, if I can train at least as much as I did for my last summer series race (23:11), and I can run 5 to 10 percent faster because of the cooler temperatures, then I can finish in 20:52 to 22:02. Both are PRs.
And—AND!—if I can find a way fine-tune my training (harder, faster, smarter), I might come dangerously close to 20 minutes.
Now that’s serious.