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5 Lessons Learned From My First 5K in 5 Years

(Or Weekend on the Run Part II: The Part in Which We Run off Those Cupcakes. Miss Part 1? Read it here.)

I have a confession to make: for years, I have been avoiding 5Ks like the plague. I’m not completely sure where this aversion came from. I mean, before that, I’d been doing 5Ks since I was 11 or 12 years old. But then college ended, and my competitive days were over. At first I wanted a break from racing altogether. And then I convinced myself that I just wanted to try knew things, train for new distances. I told myself that I wasn’t meant for short, speedier races and I should just stick to the distance thing.

But in all reality, all those excuses were really hiding a fear – fear that I wouldn’t be good enough, fast enough to live up to my own expectations…and the fake expectations I was convinced everyone around me must have. Looking back on it now, it all seems so silly. And I’m happy for Miss Beckontherun for helping me see that.

On Sunday, after a day of coffee guzzling and cupcake eating, I ran the Providence Downtown Jingle 5K – my first 5K in 5 years. To sum it up: I had a blast! Instead of giving you a standard recap, here are 5 lessons I learned along the way.

WeekendontherunThis is how we prepare for a race in the HOTR-household

1.) Fueling before running a 5K is not the same as fueling before a marathon

Yes I know, this sounds like common sense. But it had been so long since I’d prepared for one of these things that I figured my standard pre-race breakfast of a bagel and almond butter plus a small Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee (yes, I had iced coffee on a 30-degree morning) would be fine.

For me, this ended up being too much food. Even though I ate breakfast two hours before the gun went off, my bagel was still a rock in my stomach at the start. During the last mile, I was overwhelmed by a strong desire to throw up. And I don’t mean the “I’m pushing myself so hard I’m going to lose it” kind of puke. This was a “get this food out of my stomach now” type of response. Clearly running at high speeds for 20 minutes or so requires a different sort (and amount) of fuel than running for 3 – 4 hours at a steady pace. Lesson Learned: keep pre-race breakfasts light!


2.) Jingle bells shouldn’t be tied to shoe laces

Everyone who ran the Downtown Jingle 5K received a little bracelet with jingle bells on it to wear during the race. 2,000+ people running with bells on provided quite a festive atmosphere. The problem was, the bracelets didn’t really stay put. After re-tying my bracelet for the umpteenth time, I had a flash of brilliance and decided to tie it to my shoe instead. I first thought I’d tie it into my laces, and then decided to tie it down at the bottom of my shoe. As the seconds to the start counted down, I quickly tied a couple knots in the bells and jumped back up, satisfied with my festive-looking sneakers.

Within a mile those dang bells had come loose – but not loose enough to fall off. I ran along the streets of Providence with bells loudly clanging against the ground, all the while terrified they’d get caught under my foot and cause me to trip. I tried everything short of reaching down and untying them – no matter how much I kicked, stomped, and cursed at them, those babies held fast. Until the last half mile, when suddenly the bells finally decided they had enough slamming and laid to rest on the street, safely out of harm’s way. Lesson learned: don’t try to tie a slippery piece of string to the part of your body that is moving the most and absorbing the most impact.


3.) Tying ankle loops in your shoes does more than support your ankles

In the midst of my frenzied re-tying of my shoes before the start, I accidentally forgot to tie them using my no-fail-never-untie method. With about three quarters of a mile to go, disaster struck – my shoe suddenly came untied. So not only did I have bells flopping all around my foot, but now I also had stray laces to worry about. At this point, I was way too far into the race to think about stopping to tie them. So I ran on, praying I wouldn’t trip over a lace or a rogue bell.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the way I tied my shoes was actually saving me from further disaster. I loop my laces for extra ankle support, but it also shortens the laces and keeps my shoes tight at the top.

tie shoes ankle loops

tie shoes ankle loops front
My shoes stayed nice and tight, firmly gripping my ankles as though they were still tied. And the laces never threatened to get caught under my shoe. Lesson learned: always tie my shoes with the extra loops. The extra support is more helpful than I even realized (for the full, extremely simple method, see this post).

4.) Marathons do not make you slower

For as long as I can remember, my coaches did not want any of their runners to do a marathon while they were still running competitively. The school of thought that I heard time and time again was that marathons make you slower. And it would seem to make sense – your focus during marathon training is on distance, not speed.

So although I really had no idea what to expect going into Sunday’s race, I certainly didn’t have high expectations for myself. I figured years of limited speedwork and a month of limited running after the Cape Cod Marathon (not to mention a day of being on my feet eating sugar!) would probably mean that I’d go no faster than my marathon pace.

But when that gun went off on Sunday, I shifted into another gear – I gear I didn’t even know still existed. My Garmin somehow lost satellite reception seconds before the gun, leaving me with no idea whether it was showing me an accurate pace during that first mile. So I just ran, weaving in and out of the crowd and moving as fast as my legs wanted to take me. It felt great! Besides the rock in my stomach and the clanging bells, I was having a blast. I didn’t worry about pace or pushing myself to the limit. I just ran and enjoyed moving along in a sea of green and red.



By the final stretch, I knew my time was going to be faster than expected. I had a lot of energy left (way too much, actually — I couldn’t believe how fast the race went by!) and kicked it into top gear, passing people in the last .1 mile (those who know me know this is not typical – I have never been known for my sprinting abilities). I crossed the finish line just as the seconds on the clock ticked past 21 minutes.


My official time was 20:47, which put me 70th overall (out of 2098 finishers) and 8th woman (out of 781). I was beyond thrilled! I’ve run faster 5Ks, but never have I felt so great during one from start to finish. Especially after a day of doing everything wrong to prepare. Surprisingly, my marathons had given me strength I never had before. Lesson learned: running marathons can help make you faster, and it certainly doesn’t kill your speed!


5.) 5Ks are a ton of fun

Somewhere along the way, I let my high standards for myself get in the way of having fun. True, every runner wants to PR. But when the pressure you put on yourself is so great that it takes all enjoyment out of the race, it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate. It took running a race I was completely untrained and unprepared for (in terms of speed training, not my ability to cover the distance) to help me see that. Lesson learned: Not every race has to be a grueling test of strength and will. Races can also be are festive celebrations of running.

Thank you to all the organizers of the Providence Downtown Jingle 5K. The race was well organized and staffed, the atmosphere was jolly and the course was well marked and closed off. I had a bell blast!


21 Responses to 5 Lessons Learned From My First 5K in 5 Years

  1. man…seriously…i feel like you have a secret window into what’s on my mind because your posts always hit me at the perfect time. i just found a 5k for the day after christmas. and some of your fears are my current reality. i am afraid to not live up to what i know i’m capable of, to discover that i only have one gear and can’t really run “fast.”

    thank you so much for saying that 5k’s are fun. i hope to discover that for myself the day after christmas!
    the dawn´s last post ..tag

  2. I’m so glad you had fun! That race was the perfect way to cap off our weekend of cupcakes and coffee. I loved the festive atmosphere…but those dang bells! They were everywhere! Haha. I pinned mine to my bib after hemming and hawing over them all morning.

    I think we have a new ontherun Christmas tradition ;)
    Becky´s last post ..Bright Lights- Big City

    • I noticed you and your mom had them on your bibs — very smart! This is definitely going to be a new ontherun Christmas tradition. :)

  3. Granted, I don’t do that many longer runs (and have never done a marathon), but after 10k’s and a half marathon, I enjoy the 5k distance much more- it’s much less overwhelming than it used to be for me.

    And I think bells (wherever they are placed) would drive me a little batty after some point!
    Amy B @ Second City Randomness´s last post ..Static

  4. Congrats Lauren! That’s an awesome time. So funny about the jingle bells.

    These tips are awesome. I have never raced a 5k (just ran with my GOTR girls and part of a triathlon) because I am SO scared. I have no idea how to pace myself and think I would just sprint and then vomit by mile 2.5. Maybe I should just try it and see what happens?
    Jen´s last post ..Girls on the Run is so much fun

    • Thanks! And yes, I think you should just try it. :) You might surprise yourself! I think my problem was that I didn’t go out fast enough, because I’m used to pacing myself for a longer race. I had no idea how fast to run (or how fast I can run). Since you’re also used to longer races I’d guess maybe the same might happen to you…which is better than vomiting, I guess ;)

  5. You are amazing and speedy! Hopefully the bell on the shoes is something you won’t have to worry about at your next 5k ;) And I’m glad to hear that marathons don’t make you slower. My first 10K in over a year is this weekend, and I’m secretly hoping to PR.
    Liz´s last post ..Good Things Come in Threes

  6. I love how festive everyone is dressed!!

    Sounds like you had a fair amount of almost-mishaps during the race…at least everything worked out! Nice time speedy!

    I always thought that running marathons would make me slow, but I ran the Fifth Avenue Mile this year (which is just what it sounds…a mile down Fifth Ave…), and I only ran three seconds slower than my best mile time ever…ran eight years ago as a senior in high school! I want to run a 5k or 10k to see how fast I can go, but I’m also scared that I won’t live up to my own expectations…so silly, I know!
    Susan – Nurse on the Run´s last post ..Help Jeff Run America!

  7. I have not run a 5K in sooo long because I’m scared I won’t come close to my 23 something PR because I feel like for me, marathon training has made me slow! But maybe 2011 will be my year. I love your race recap and lessons- so cute! Congrats on a fabulous time! And it looks like thats the same route as some of the PRovidence Marathon…
    lizzy´s last post ..Pumpkin Filled Fall

    • Yeah, I think part of it is the same route, though it started/ended somewhere different. I felt the same way as you for many years and I think I still don’t really know if I can push myself to go fast enough to actually PR. But, I do have to say that I feel so much better having just gotten over the stress and done one. You might surprise yourself too!

  8. I’m so glad you conquered your fear! Great job and adorable outfit! Looks like so much fun!

  9. I love all the lessons learned, running is a great teacher. Great action photos too (don’t you love when you see photos of yourself beating the boys…hee hee) Way to go Speedy!
    Bekah @ runtrackmind´s last post ..Chill Factor

  10. <3 this.

    Lesson learned: don’t try to tie a slippery piece of string to the part of your body that is moving the most and absorbing the most impact. – hysterical. Maybe next year's theme could be "Silent Night?" lol

    Marathons don't make you slow, you have no idea how good that was to hear! And you showed it. 70th?!?! AWESOME job!! Santa got runover by a reindeer and you!

    Noted on the fuel, you forget how quickly 20 min can go by.
    Nichole´s last post ..But Baby It’s Cold Outside

  11. Huh? I think a single bagel is a pretty light breakfast for any day, let alone as pre-run fuel. How would you have enough energy with anything less?

    • Hi Lisa — maybe I should re-phrase that. I’m not trying to say that a bagel is a heavy breakfast in-and-of-itself. But that it was too heavy of a breakfast for me to eat within 2 hours of running the race. It was too much for my body to digest in that amount of time. When you run, your body diverts blood from the digestive tract (and some people seem to digest things/have a harder time handling foods than others), so it ended up sitting like a rock in my stomach. …at which point it hasn’t even been converted into energy that my body could use.

      Everyone is different though, so a full bagel within a couple hours of a race might go through someone else just fine. And if I was going to run longer (like a half marathon or a marathon where I’d be running for over an hour), I would definitely need all the energy of a bagel (and then some!). I apologize if I wasn’t really clear about that. I’m certainly not trying to advocate for barely eating before you run. You definitely need the fuel.

  12. A 5k in 20 minutes? Yikes, girl. That marathon definitely did not slow you down!

  13. I’m glad you had fun, Lauren! The 5K is usually my race of choice, so I often forget to step back and approach that distance from a fresh perspective. I can understand how the 5K can be disconcerting after running marathons – I guess it’s kind of like the 800m in track: too short for endurance running and too long for sprinting :)

    The second thing you learned is too funny! The idea of bells seem so festive, but I can imagine they can be a distraction :P I’m impressed with your recovery after your shoelace incidence. I’ll have to try your tying trick!

    Great job on the 5K, Lauren! :)

  14. Looks like a really fun race. And you had an awesome time!! I would love to complete a 5k in less than 25min never mind less than 21!! You rock!
    Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans´s last post ..Meet my newest running buddy

  15. I love your recap! And your festive racing gear!
    lol I had to do a double take at your time. I read a lot of runner blogs, and I think that is the fastest 5k I’ve ever seen.
    I’m so impressed!
    zenlizzie´s last post ..When your holidays are more transitional than traditional

  16. I love your reminder to have fun while running. I’m getting back into it after a 9-10 month hiatus due to bursitis and lower back issues and it is SO much fun. I’m so glad my body is cooperating!

    And YAY Providence :)
    Erin´s last post ..A Month Ago

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