5Ks – My Nemesis

Smiling to avoid the usual "racing grimace"

Smiling to avoid the usual “racing grimace”

Running 5 kilometres and trying to run them fast is probably the thing I’m least comfortable with when it comes to racing. The 5K is a short, unremarkable distance. Thousands of British people get up to do one in their local parks each Saturday through the wonder that is Parkrun. I’m sure they don’t start to worry a couple of days before, feel nauseous for the first mile and about to pass out with exhaustion in the final third.

I do all of those things and I think it’s time I came to terms with this supremely normal distance.

On Sunday I ran my first proper 5K of 2013. I’d done a Parkrun early in the New Year with my son, who can run a whole lot better than I could as a teenager, but is indifferent rather that full of hatred when it comes to running for pleasure. He’d bailed out of a previous attempt even though he’d already proved he could run 5K around the streets with ease. For me it was nice to he able to run round at a gentler pace saying “Come on, you can do it” to him rather than myself. At last a 5K without suffering, although I do wish they hadn’t published my time in the local newspaper!

The Sunday race was one of a series of short races as part of a series of inter-club events around East London. It was hosted by Eton Manor, a great little running club with a hundred year history. In fact 2013 is its centenary year. There was a bit of a buzz as we approached the clubhouse.

I was secretly hoping I might be able to pull off a good personal performance. The previous Saturday I’d made an appointment to have a filling replaced at the dentist’s and decided the only way I’d get there on time was to run through the blazing sunshine. The first two miles of my race to the dentists were run at a pace I didn’t think I was capable of. I did the maths – if I could run a 5K at that speed, the days of my current PB might be numbered. Maybe I could get a dentist chair fitted on the finishing line?

Anyway, the race went as per normal, a mile of feeling vaguely sick, followed by mid race neutrality followed by one mile of “am I ever going to get there?” despair. And for the first time ever I was let down by my Garmin (or rather I’d programmed it wrong). Every glance told me I was way ahead of pace and I even had the luxury of choosing to slow down a bit. All was great until at 3.1K it told me my “workout” was completed. I must have experienced the fatal “mile to kilometre conversion fail”. That left me with a couple of kilometres in no man’s land, getting hotter, being overtaken by people, desperately wanting to lie down in a darkened room.image

10 minutes later I was lying down, although in the clubhouse, which looked a bit like some kind of makeshift hospital waiting room, people slumped against the walls, lots of red faces, sweat and laboured breathing.

Looking back, despite the greatest post-race souvenir ever (a bottle of specially brewed Eton Manor Ale), I still need to learn to love the 5K. I’m not going to avoid them, I’m going to do at least three more this year, preferably not during a heatwave and me and the 5K are going to try to get along a little better.