For the past several months, I've felt stuck in a rut when it comes to 5Ks. I've been frustrated. Things came to a head on Saturday: Despite a reasonably cool day (for August in the South, at least) and a flat, fast course at the Yiasou Greek Festival 5K in Dilworth, I ran a full 25 seconds slower than the PR I set back in May at the Right Moves for Youth Twilight 5K.
I hung around afterward, but laid pretty low. I like supporting my friends, but this was the second straight 5K in which I couldn't get down under 21 minutes after three races in the 20s; I was miffed ... and, quite frankly, a little embarrassed.
Then I happened to walk by the Greenapple Sports & Wellness tent, where I said a quick hello to Dr. Clay Gasparovich and Dr. G himself (Scott Greenapple). Dr. G was hanging out with Meagan Nedlo, who had just finished second in the women's race with a 17:05 but feared she may have developed a stress fracture en route. He asked how my race was, I told him not great, and he replied, with a smile (I'm paraphrasing here), "Well, you've got to stop all that marathon training."
In other words: If you want to improve your 5K times, you need to start incorporating workouts that are designed to help improve your 5K times.
By the time I got into my car and started driving home, my whole perspective had shifted. I recalled my last six 5K times -- 21:08 in January, 20:38 in February, 20:41 in March, 20:37 in May, 21:06 in July, and then the 21:02 this weekend. All within a range of less than 30 seconds.
I realized I'm not -- as I had feared -- in a rut. I've just peaked. Or, at least, this is as fast as I'm going to get unless I change my training habits.
For more than a year now, I've almost constantly been marathon-focused. I trained for the New York City Marathon, which was last November; then I went straight into training for Thunder Road, which was in December; then I did Shamrock in Virginia Beach in March and Rock 'n' Roll San Diego in June. Currently, I'm training for the Ridge to Bridge Marathon on Oct. 30. Distance has been my priority, endurance. I do some speed and tempo work, but it's focused on building marathon speed.
Of course, even if I did switch from marathon training to 5K training, I realize I can only get so fast, that there's a limit to my physical ability. Maybe it is in fact 20:37. More likely (hopefully?), it's about a minute faster.
But here's some context that has helped me put my recent times in perspective: In her past five Run For Your Life Grand Prix Series 5Ks, Danielle Crockford -- one of the fastest women in Charlotte -- has run 18:31, 19:10, 18:38, 18:49, and 18:09 at Greek Fest Saturday. She ran the 2009 Greek Fest in 18:20.
Or consider Bobby Aswell Jr., one of our area's top masters runners: 18:30, 18:24, 18:49, 18:50, and 18:19 at Greek Fest Saturday. At Greek Fest in 2009, he clocked a 18:22.
I started running a little less than two years ago, and for the first year-plus, it was fun to PR every time out. But that streak was never going to last forever. I mean, I bring up Danielle's and Bobby's statistics to demonstrate that not even the best runners around can PR in every race. They can only work as hard as they can work; they grind it out in training, and sometimes there's a reward and sometimes it's "Shoot. Maybe next time."
Anyway, a great weight was lifted off of my back as I drove home from the race on Saturday. I decided that one day -- maybe -- I'd like to temporarily dedicate myself to 5K training. One day -- maybe -- I'll take a break from focusing on longer distances. One day -- maybe, just maybe -- I'll get down under 20 minutes.
But I'm happy running the way I'm running, and training the way I'm training. So today, my friends, is not that day.