5kAfter getting home from a local Black Mountain, NC 4th of July 5k race on Friday, I looked up previous race results to see my most recent 5k time.

Turns out it was back in 2009. That’s five years ago.

I couldn’t believe it had been that long, but the more I thought about it, I realized that I hadn’t raced anything less than 10 miles since 2010.

After completing my second marathon in October 2010, my training shifted from roads to trails and road races to trail ultramarathons. Sure I’ve run a few road marathons and half marathons since 2010, but apparently I hadn’t raced anything shorter.

So it should have come as no surprise that I would end up learning a lot from that small town 5k. Even if it did take roughly 0.01% of the time it took me to finish my most recent race before this one.

I think I’m doing that math right…

So what can 5ks teach an ultrarunner? Frequent 5k runners could probably tell me all this before I had started, but for the rest of us, here’s what I learned:

Lessons from a 5k

1) 5k races are hard.

I sent out an instagram photo following the race with the comment, “Man that was tough,” and almost immediately someone sent me a messaging back upset that I was making fun of people who run 5ks.

Boy were they wrong. I suffered from the very beginning of that race.

It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to run multiple sub 7-minute miles in a row, so when I did, it didn’t feel what I would call good.

As ultrarunners we pay a lot of attention to effort instead of pace. In order to maintain for 30, 50, 100 miles, it’s important to keep a consistent and manageable effort throughout.

That means avoiding spikes in heart rate and speed by letting the terrain dictate how fast you’re going. That could mean running an 8 minute mile, or it could mean running an 18 minute mile. It all depends on the terrain.

I knew I could really push myself for 20 minutes, well above that manageable effort I’ve grown to love in ultra training, so that’s what I tried to do. Immediately my mind and body reacted negatively, asking me to slow down.

2) Trail running communities are great, but so are local road running communities.

Trail runners love to talk about how great their community is. I do it all the time.

“Trail runners are so welcoming and encouraging.”

“The low pressure in trail races makes it that much more fun.”

“Trail runners are just as excited about the post-race beer as they are the race itself. It’s great!”

These are all things I’ve said on many occasion, you may have even seen me say it on this blog.

I like to compare the trail community to the road running community. Almost as if I was saying, “hey, look how cool we are.” But this weekend’s race was a great reminder that while the trail running community is amazing, so is its road counterpart.

This 5k was a completely free race, where you just showed up that morning and toed the line. I’d say just over 100 people entered the race, and every single one looked happy to be there and happy to see others there. It was welcoming, low key, and had it not been finished by 7:30 am, I’m sure people would have been just as excited about beer as me.

It isn’t the surface we’re running on that makes this community so great, it’s the fact that we’re runners. And I’m happy to have had that reminder.

3) To be a well-rounded runner, you need to act like a well-rounded runner.

I try to be well rounded in regards to everything I do with running:

  • I cycle through multiple shoes each week.
  • I try not to run the same routes too often.
  • I calculate the perfect amount of hard and easy effort runs for each week.
  • I incorporate a number of workouts and tracking runs to mix up my routines.

I like to think that has made me ready for just about anything. This weekend, however, I was put to shame.

I wasn’t ready to push hard for 5k because I hadn’t considered preparing for that distance race very important.

But if I want to be as well rounded as I thought I was, I need to change that attitude and bring in more road, more speed, and more high intensity.

The question now is whether on a daily basis I’m more interested in running long and slow through the mountains or making myself more well rounded. Either way, this experience brought to life a new weakness.

4) Hills are hills. Regardless of the surface.

Last week I made a dig at road runners saying that road hills aren’t nearly as intense as trail hills. While it’s still true that trails don’t have to follow the same guidelines as roads, and are often much steeper, frequent and difficult, that doesn’t mean road hills aren’t their own beast.

I remember turning a corner about 2 miles into the race to find a large, steep hill waiting to make us suffer. I let out a moan, questioned why I was up so early doing this, and painfully worked my way up the hill.

That hill, at that point in the race, moving at that intensity, was tough. Just as tough as any hill I’d find on the trail. It’s time I give road hills the respect they deserve.

5) The 5k race is a wonderful distance.

One of my favorite things about this sport is how it brings people together. People of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, together in one place working for the same goal.

No distance does that better than the 5k.

Even at a 5k as small at this one, college elites were lining up next to runners out to complete their first race and kids barely old enough to understand the distance. 5k races are a family affair, and it’s fun and exciting to be a part of them.

Bonus Lesson: Don’t wait 5 years before signing up for your next 5k.

I know I wont make that mistake again.

Announcement: Custom Training Plans and Coaching

coaching_adSince releasing the Discover Your Ultramarathon: A Beginner’s Guide to Running an Ultramarathon training system, several runners have asked about custom plans and additional one-on-one coaching.

They were looking for a more personal touch as they took on such an enormous goal.

I’m excited to announce that within the next few weeks, Rock Creek Runner will start offering that personal touch through custom training plans, designed specifically for your ability, race goals, and history, as well as one-on-one coaching for certain distances.

My intention with these new offerings is to assist runners, especially beginners looking to tackle a new ultra distance race, feel confident, strong, injury free, and as prepared as possible on race day. Every runner has unique needs and goals, which is why general plans aren’t always the best option.

If you’re considering an ultramarathon or trail race in the future, and want to be the first to receive information on how you can run a strong and smart race through custom training and coaching, sign up now.

As a special thank you for expressing interest ahead of time, you’ll receive a 15% discount on RCR training plans and coaching. For life. Plus an even more special offer to be announced once RCR’s coaching services go live. Neither of these offers will be available to those who don’t sign up ahead of time, so sign up now.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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