Thursday, May 23, 2013

Running Newbie to a Half Marathon in 1 Year: Part 4 // Where to Go After Your First 5K?


Thanks for checking out Part 4 of my first running series! If you haven’t read Part 3 already, you can find it here.

After 12 weeks of making the decision to start running, and surviving the highs and lows of training, I finally ran my first 5K race at the Knoxville Track Club Expo race last May.

During all of those weeks, I was focused on this one day that I would finally reach my goal and run my first 5K. That day gave me every self-indulgent feeling of accomplishment I dreamed it would. However, as far as my running schedule was concerned, the world ended on May 26, 2012.

Kind of like the Mayan calendar, only earlier in 2012. Also, I'm sure they didn't plan to celebrate the end of their calendar with brunch and beverages like I did.

Inevitably, the day after the Expo, I thought, " what?" Don't get me wrong - I was ready for a break. I had a wedding to be in, my home and yard were in need of some love, and I wanted to spend time with my poor, neglected husband, Brandon.

Who am I kidding? A pizza, the couch, kitties, and TV all to himself probably made for the best nights of his week.

But while it was nice to have a break, I didn't want to give up my new found love of running. I just didn't know where to go from here. Do I try for a faster 5K? Do I up my distance and aim for a 10K?

If you have run your first 5K (congrats!) and don't know where to go now, here is how I approached it, and some thoughts that I hope are helpful.

Assess where you are now, and where you'd like to be in the future.

Setting my next goal was confusing, so I just tried to assess how I felt about my running. I mean, I had run 3 miles, like twice. I could run 3 miles on a good day. I just needed the right conditions.

You know, not-too-hot and not rainy weather, feeling energetic and positive, a good ponytail day, a cute running outfit, good songs on Pandora when I haven't used all my skips, not too many hills, perhaps social pressure from friends or coaches to finish...

I try to keep it low-maintenance and not ask for much. But if these conditions were not met - all bets were off! Three miles was NOT happening!

From that, I decided that my first goal should be to get more comfortable with running 3 miles. I wanted to feel like I could run 3 miles any day of the week, on a good or bad day. I also decided from there that I should work on getting a faster 5K. That way, if I get this whole 5K thing down, I'll be in a more solid place to train for a longer distance like a 10K or (yikes) a half marathon. My coach, Darren, agreed this was a good plan.

Keep training!

With this goal in mind, I kept running 1-2 miles a few times per week until RunKNOX started in July. This time, I was so excited that Brandon was going to do the program with me!

By the way, I use the phrase "do the program with me" lightly. Meaning, we drove together and rode home together from practice. B, having been a high school athlete, ran way ahead of me and waited on me to finish.

Nonetheless, he enjoyed the program and re-igniting his competitive spirit. I befriended some other girls in the 5K program who were closer to my pace. Working on improving my 5K time was much different than training for my first 5K. I did less walking/running intervals and more straight up running.

That's how I like my running now, straight up.

That was terrible. Anyway, we did all kinds of crazy things in our workouts. Running hills, intervals of faster running, timed miles or laps at the track, you name it. And that whole getting comfortable with 3 miles thing...yeah. I ran 3 miles a lot. Darren was determined that I'd get it down. Good times.

I did this all.summer.long. Oh yeah, there were times I looked rough. It was still hard, but not as scary and miserable as when I first started running.

It never truly gets easy, at least not for me.

Towards the end of the summer, I was finally comfortable with 3 miles, sometimes even 4 miles. I can neither confirm nor deny if I had to walk occasionally. I was running (single) miles at a 10 minute per mile pace, and even broke the 10 minute barrier a few times!

The world just blurred by me. I didn't feel anything, but perhaps others felt the shockwaves.

While I wasn't getting that same rush of accomplishment I'd gotten when reaching new distances training for my first 5K, I was pleased with my progress. B was making huge strides, too. He'd started out the program running about 10 minute miles, and towards the end of the summer, he was running miles in less than 9 minutes. Overacheiver. We enjoyed our new routine of going to practice, then enjoying a meal together.

Whatever your new goal, sign up for a goal race.

Once fall came, it was time to put our skills to the test and start running some 5K's! We looked online to find some local 5K's we could run. We found a small, local Oktoberfest themed 5K with dinner and beverages following the race. Can't go wrong with that. We both achieved PR's that day - B at 25:43 (his current PR to date), and me at 34:30. An improvement, but not where I wanted to be.

Next up was a community 5K at my undergraduate alma mater, a small private college in TN, during the homecoming festivities. Interesting fact: 10 years ago, when I was a sophomore, I volunteered for that race with my sorority (my college was too small to have national sorority affiliations, but had its own sororities. We were non-conformists). Anyway, I remember thinking 10 years ago that it was crazy that people would pay to get up at 7:00 AM or so and run.

My how times have changed.

It was a cold October morning, but I decided to wear the same homecoming T-shirt that I'd worn in 2002 when volunteering at that very race. It was a tiny race - less than 30 participants. Most participants were local high school or college runners, so it was a faster race than I was used to. Sadly, my small hometown hasn't embraced running like the Knoxville community, but I've since seen some positive indicators of change.

I had a new PR (thanks in part to the fact that it was mostly downhill) of 32:35. B was the only thirty-something guy there, so he won his age group! All of my old college friends I ran into that weekend were super-impressed by my new ability!

Here we are, having breakfast with family after the race. Me in my 2002 homecoming shirt, and  B with his age group certificate.

The next 5K we ran was a special one for us - the Komen for the Cure 5K in downtown Knoxville. There are people close to B and I who have been affected by breast cancer, so we were proud to support this cause. What an amazing environment! So much PINK everywhere (love it!) and it was moving to see survivors, friends and family members of people impacted by the disease banding together to support the cause.

My RunKNOX coaches and friends were proud of my progress so far, and encouraged me to run it under 32 minutes. I usually strive to keep a consistent pace through races, but this one was hilly. I went all out on the flat parts, and slooow on the hills. Nonetheless, I achieved my goal and ran the race in 31:20, my PR to date!

It was a little rainy and chilly that day but I loved our pink running shirts!

It's good to strive for a PR, but accept that maybe not every race will be a PR.

By November, we only had one race left - Buddy's Race Against Cancer, a big race also in downtown Knoxville, sponsored by a barbecue franchise in town. Getting a new PR every race so far was fabulous. However, it made me feel pressure to keep getting new PRs.

That whole linear progress, straight A's thing again.

By the time the Buddy's race rolled around, I felt tired from stressing myself out about races. Instead of it being fun, I dreaded it. RunKNOX had ended a week prior to the race, so I didn't feel on top of my game. Luckily, B encouraged me to not worry about it (he hadn't had a new PR in a month). We ran into our coaches before the race, who said the same thing. I finally let it go, ran a good race even though I didn't get a PR (32 something), and had a fun dinner with friends afterwards.

If you feel burned out on the type of training you're doing, try switching gears.

By this point, I was feeling burned out on 5Ks and the pressure to keep getting faster. B was ready to train for a half marathon, and he and the coaches suggested I do the same.

I'm sorry, a what??? You mean add a "1" in front of the 3.1 miles I just did???

At first, I thought they were crazy. However, the more I thought about it, the more it sounded refreshing to switch gears, run slower, and focus on distance. I would no longer feel that pressure to go faster and faster. Reluctantly, I said yes, and signed up for the half marathon training in December.

You can read about my half marathon journey here, as my running series continues.

What were your next goals after your first 5K? How did you continue training?


*I was not compensated by RunKNOX for this post, nor is RunKNOX affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences as I began running through the program. The views expressed in this article are solely my own.


  1. "I didn't feel anything, but perhaps others felt the shockwaves."

    What a great quote! This is an outstanding post and quite thought provoking. Congratulations on your PR's. You're going to excel in the half as well.

    Now my 5K thoughts:
    Running for fun never really occurred to me until I was in the military. I was stationed in Ft.Bragg and all we do is run....all the time. So I got hooked on the competitive atmosphere of trying to get faster. Signed up for a 5K, ran it, and immediately signed up for the next one I could find. The rest is history I suppose.

    As for training, I personally use the smart-coach from for every race I've done. They factor in tapering so I was able to remain injury free while avoiding being burnt-out as well.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. :) I'm glad to hear the information was useful. Haha - I meant that quote as a (somewhat humorous) comparison to breaking the sound barrier.

      Also, thank you for your service to our country. So cool that you are embracing the competitive spirit and excitement of running!

      I'll check out that tool. Sounds really useful! Yes, I completely agree with tapering. When I first started training, I was worried I'd get out of shape while tapering. As my coach promised, however, it led to me feeling energized and great on race day, and I've been injury free.

      Thanks for the info! :)

  2. I smiled when you wrote that you could neither confirm nor deny that you walked sometimes... That is the world of so many of the runners I know. We run when we can and we walk when we want to. Keeping moving is more important than setting artificial goals. When you are in the groove, you will know it.

    1. know...sometimes you gotta do what it takes! I agree, keeping moving is the most important thing. Endurance will come over time. Even still, I'll occasionally have a day or two when I'm just not feeling "in the groove". I believe a lot of it is mental, and I push myself to get through those times, and onto the next run!

      Thanks for the great comments! :)