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Quest for a sub-20:00 5k (again)

26 Jul

I wrote a post back in May about my plans to change focus from long distance to the 5k.  Using a Runner’s World 5k training plan, I planned three attempts to achieve a sub-20:00 5k.  This is something I have done a few times before, I have a 19:01 5k PR (on a VERY flat course), but it has been two years and those times were run in the Spring and Fall. I challenged myself to run a sub-20:00 during the lovely Washington, D.C. summer, and see if Runner’s World’s plan could get me there. I chose to do it on the same course to measure what I assumed would be progress from race to race.

Each of these races were held by Potomac River Running who also sponsors my race team. They seriously put together awesome events, even if the course is hilly and tough, they are always fun 🙂

Celebrate Fairfax 5k

The first attempt was the at Celebrate Fairfax 5k on June 11th. It was an 8am race starting out at 78 and percent humidity.  D.C. has some insufferable humidity and I have gotten fairly used to it, but regardless of training and adjustment, humidity just freakin’ sucks. The course was also slightly different from the course that =PR= normally sets up in Fairfax and I personally think it had tougher hills.

I went out way too hard and ended up running a sub-6:00 first mile…and immediately regretted it when I saw the hill on the back end of the course. I was listening to RW’s advice that the first mile you should be pushing it but it should feel “easy.” That sub-6:00 did feel easy but there were still 2.1 miles left.


My energy died on the second mile with a nearly 7:00 mile, then came back and evened out the pace finishing in 20:23 and 20 seconds over my goal.  I took stock of the race and decided that I ultimately went out too fast, and I needed better hill work. The RW plan called for 6-8x 10-20 second hill sprints…that isn’t very long and doesn’t get you very far up a hill nor does it replicate the types of hill on the =PR= course.  Jeremy and I decided to change the approach and run longer repeats up Capitol Hill (about 1/5 mile per repeat) and do five per workout.



Freedom 5k

The next race was three weeks later, the Freedom 5k on July 2nd. I was feeling good about this race after a solid three weeks of workouts and the new hill routine. The temps and humidity were about the same as the last race and I felt more prepared to deal with it. We lined up for the race and when I crossed the start line, my GPS watch failed to start.  It just refused to work. I fidgeted around with it for the first half mile and decided to say screw it, I was going to run off feel and try to stay with the women ahead of me.

It kind of felt like cross country again, back in the days when I didn’t wear a watch and it was just truly racing. It actually felt great! I have no idea what my splits were, but I kicked it in the last 800 meters like I usually do, passed a few people, and came across the finish line in 19:48!  A 30+ second improvement from my last race and got the sub-20:00!  Is GPS free the trick?!


Birthday Bash 5k

The final race was the Birthday Bash 5k on July 23rd.  Funny enough, it was two days before my 28th birthday (I’m twice as old as =PR=).  I went into this one after six miles of hiking on Friday and a softball double header on Saturday so my legs were pretty tired and I didn’t have really high expectations since I already had my sub-20:00! My plan was to work on pacing and maintain, if possible, the 6:26 pace needed to run sub-20:00.  I actually did a much better job this time, according to my watch I ran 6:13, 6:25, and 6:38.

I honestly only accomplished that because I had my teammate out there leading the way.  For the last 1.5 miles I made it my goal to try to stay with her since she was running at my goal pace.  I was sucking down air and definitely struggling, the photos show my agony haha. With those splits I thought I was solidly under 20:00 but when we got closer to the finish line I saw the clock and realized that I might not make it. I could not run a 20:01! I gave it everything I had and surged across in 19:59. Made it by ONE SECOND.

Birthday Bash 5k Finished 19:59

In the End…

..if there was one theme to all of these races, it was my look of sheer misery at the end of the races. Not determination, or focus, or joy. No, haha, I look miserable! I promise I felt more pulled together than I looked!

So a ten-week plan, three races, and two (barely) sub-20:00 5ks.  I am definitely looking forward to some cooler Fall races and also maybe a flatter course! I do recommend the Runner’s World plan but consider adjusting the hill workouts based on the types of courses you plan to run.  The basics of that plan are speed work every week, alternating hill repeats and tempo runs, easy runs, and increasing long runs of 7-10 miles with tempo miles worked in.

And now that this quest is complete, what next?  We have races on the calendar throughout the Fall, but the next one for me won’t be until Labor Day weekend (for now). MORE IMPORTANTLY I will be attending the Wilder Running and Writing Retreat hosted by Lauren Fleshmen out in Bend, Oregon. I am so incredibly excited and can’t wait to share my experience! Until then I will just be focusing on maintaining this summer 5k speed 🙂



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