I’m a bit run down, but I’m okay.
I just feel like calling it a day.
But you send me back to the start.
You drive a hard bargain.
-- Ron Sexsmith, Hard Bargain.
For almost a year now, I’ve been chasing the elusive 25-minute 5K. Unfortunately, I never seem to get any closer. Recently, I looked back on my entire relationship with this short but frustrating distance.
First date: My first run ever was the Cookie Run, a Fall event that was the culmination of the “learn to run” group I joined in 2005. The clinic introduced newbie runners to the sport gradually. The first week, we ran for one minute and walked for one minute, for a total of about 20 minutes exercise. The next week we did “2 and 1s”. The following week, “3 and 1s” and so on, until we had mastered the “10 and 1” method of running that was one of the key components of the running clinic’s philosophy. I remember how endless that extra minute of running seemed, when we added it each week, and how proud I was of my progress. I never thought about how long it took to run each kilometre – I just concentrating on actually making it through each kilometre. On the start line of the Cookie Run, I turned to our clinic leader and asked, “What would be a good time to complete this race?” She told me that somewhere around 30 minutes. My first time? 32:26. Was I disappointed? Nope. Never even occurred to feel let down. I was enthralled by this new person – this runner – I had discovered living inside my own body.
Honeymoon period: Having achieved one 5k race, I now felt like I had “been there, done that”. I moved on to ever-increasing distances – 10K, half-marathon, marathon – hardly looking back. Every once in a while, I’d find myself registered in a 5K run, and I always tried to improve my time just a little bit. However, the 5K always felt like it was not a “serious” distance and my efforts to improve my time were “just for fun”. Often, if I ran a 5K, it was simply because I hadn’t been training hard enough to run anything else. Although my times gradually improved, sometimes, I was just “getting out there”:
2007 “Emilie’s Run” – 28:00
2008 “Emilie’s Run” – 26:46
2009 Fall Colours 5K – 28:56 (a lazy period)
Commitment: Last year, in the midst of a serious effort to improve my marathon time, I started to think of the 5K differently. It became a natural extension of the speed training I had incorporated into my training schedule – a way to measure my progress. I set the goal of a 25-minute 5K – the predictor time for a 4-hour marathon. I have yet to achieve either of these goals, and eventually the 25-minute 5K became a goal in itself. However, my progress towards this goal has felt like one step forward and two steps back:
June 2010 Canada Day Run – 26:14
July 2010 National Capital Run – 27:28 (with as-yet-undiscovered low iron levels0
September 2010 Army Run – 25:39
March 2011 St Pat’s Run – 25:54
Today’s Ottawa Physio Run – 26:34
Recommitment: Today’s run was frustrating. I thought I’d be able to at least match or improve on the 5K time I logged just a month ago. It was the exact same course, and I’ve since run the 30k Around the Bay race, and been training pretty hard. But it was a rainy and windy day, I’ve been fighting a cold, I’m still recovering from logging 30K three weeks ago. I realized only a few minutes after I started the race that I didn’t have it in me today. And I was right. I ran almost a minute slower. In spite of that, I am not ready to give up on my 25-minute goal. Part of me wonders if I’ve plateau-ed. But another part of me thinks that a summer of speed work and a recommitment to my training schedule will allow me to, at least once, see the finish-line clock reading a time that starts with “24” as I pass by it.*
Why does it matter? It doesn’t really. That, and $4.61 will get me a coffee at Starbucks (or, rather, a grande tea latte, half-sweet with skim). But it’s exciting to have a goal. And I have to admit to getting a little kick out of being in the top 20 or so percent of my age category. Today, I actually finished third in my age group. Yeah, it’s cheap thrills because I think most people in 5K races are like me when I started – just in it to feel that sense of accomplishment from being able to run five kilometres. A little part of me still feels like that, too.
And … Ron Sexsmith: He is wonderful. A largely-undiscovered Canadian treasure. Here he is with Elvis Costello, who appreciates him, too: