A lot of serious runners – those who take it up as a lifelong activity, or even reach competitive levels – start out as recreational runners. And those recreational runners often start at the bottom, where running a mile without stopping is a major feat.
But from there you grow. Maybe you’re tagging along with friends, or doing a Couch to 5K program. That first step toward achievement usually ends at the finish line of your first 5K.
From there, anything goes. A lot of people use the 5K as a gateway to 10Ks, 15Ks, half marathons and marathons. If you get a bad case of the running bug, you do ultras. When it comes to mileage, the more, the better, right? Those 5K races of yore seem rather quaint as you look for another long-distance race to sign up for.
But before you eschew the 5K into your athletic past, let me give you some reasons why you should still be running these things.
They’re cheaper. Your local 5Ks are going to go anywhere from $20 to $40. If you’re insistent that any race you run comes with a free shirt and a medal, you’ll likely get both. Compare that to half marathons and marathons, and you’re looking at plunking down anywhere from $80 to $200 or more, depending on the race and how close you sign up to race day. If you positively have to race, do your wallet a favor and sprinkle in a few of these rather than depleting your bank account with longer-race signup fees.
The training is simpler. Any experienced runner can run a 5K. But running it well is another matter. Even then, training to run a fast 5K isn’t nearly as complicated as it is for long-distance events. No hydration packs, no mid-run fueling, no multi-hour run workouts or any of that other mess. Instead, you’ll get short- to mid-distance daily runs and speed work. You’ll work hard, but logistically speaking, it’s a whole lot easier than gearing up for those ultras or marathons.
You’ll have a life. Those of you who have run marathons and ultras know that no matter how hard you try, parts of your life are going to suffer while training for these races. There’s only so much time in the day, and run workouts of 8 to 20 miles are going to put a hole in your schedule. For a 5K? Much more manageable.
They’re fun. Hey, we all love races. The big races are a blast. But so are the shorter ones. Just because the mileage isn’t high doesn’t mean the good times are lessened. Run a race with your buds, enjoy some suds at the end and go eat tacos. Also a bonus: You won’t be hobbling nearly as much when it’s over.
If you race right, you’ll be challenged. Hey, I get it. If you’re an experienced runner, pounding out 3.1 miles is basically a warmup. But that’s not what I’m talking about. When you’re toeing the line for a 5K, your goal at this point in your running career isn’t finishing. It’s racing. That means going out there for 3.1 miles and punishing yourself at speeds you’d never contemplate at longer distances. Run like that and you’ll test your conditioning and mental toughness. Some runners call this a “suicide pace,” and if you’ve ever seen what collegiate or Olympic 5,000-meter runners look like after they compete, you’ll get it. Race a 5K like that and you will be tested. Pass that test, and you’ll know what you can do when you’re trying to get a final kick for that longer race you’re eyeing.
So there it is. The longer races are great. But don’t sell the 5K short, even if the distance is.