I went out and ran my first 5K road race in many months a couple of weeks ago. I needed to run a test 5K to assess my fitness level & adjust some of the training intensities, & the weather was just beginning to feel less like Florida. 'Why not?' I said to myself. I didn't perform anywhere near as well as I hoped, but it proved some things I already knew:
A four-week training vacation at the beginning of the summer is never a good idea.
Ten excess pounds does add an extra minute of time to an estimated 5K race performance.
Change...and inertia...can coexist.
Over a cup of coffee & breakfast with my wife & Walter, a local running friend, I took a thirty-minute analysis of what needed to be adjusted in my training & began to make a few small repairs (some of which are in earlier blog posts).
While running a tempo workout the other Wednesday, I passed an old friend. He caught up with me at the bar where we meet after the run & complimented me on how well I had been running lately. Randy loves racing 5K events; he'll not hesitate to jump in his truck & drive an hour so he can run for 25 minutes, then drink light beer for two hours.
From Labor Day to Thanksgiving, here in the Panhandle, there can be anywhere from one up to to three 5K races for a nearly unbroken string of weekends. It then eases off a little into the holiday season & kicks back into swing just after New Years' Day. Randy asked me where I planned to race this weekend. I had to tell him, 'nowhere, my friend.' Not that I don't like racing 5Ks.
When I first started racing, a 5K road race could leave me napping in the recliner for the remainder of the day. As I've matured...all right, aged...I've become more functional. Slower in my walk, but more functional.
About five or six years ago we had a large group of guys & gals who would meet to run at 6:00 a.m. on Sundays. The first mile usually would be kinder & gentler; most of the group were still waking up during that time. Inevitably the pace would pick up a little by the first incline. You could sometimes tell who had raced the day before. One of the guys, a fellow by the name of Gary, once told me it was not good training to race the day after a race. He used to tell me, "Mike, the day after a good race I like to go easy. The day after a bad race I like to go easy." Gary's "easy" the day after a race was often tougher than his race pace. Looking back at that statement & the source; it was one of those "things that make you go 'hmmm...'"
Once the guys (and the occasional chick!) forgot we left our bib numbers on the coffee table the previous afternoon & would begin to string out the group, my coach would have to remind me to not get "happy feet." It was a historical inevitability the front-running pace would eventually slack off. The group always reformed before the water stop at 40 minutes into the run.
Racing, when done right, is painful business. Even if you don't have a number on your chest.
What is it about pinning a bib number & toeing a line with a herd of runners that makes otherwise sane persons suddenly become brain-dead about how hard they need to run? I've often warned my athletes an "easy effort" on race day is almost impossible unless they're truly disciplined. Too many good potential 10K, half-marathon or marathon performances have been spit-canned by jumping into a 5K "just for fun."
The occasional race is a good thing. It serves as a social outlet, sharpens up a runner's skills, & lets them know exactly where they stand in the grand old pecking order of runners. But sometimes too much of a good thing can be harmful. My friend Betsy decided to run four...or five...marathons in a year about two years ago. When she asked what I thought about her running the fifth one that year I had to take a very deep breath and stifle the urge to shriek in horror: "Are you out of your mind!?"
There are several rules of thumb which ought to be followed, more or less, when it comes to recovery or hard training after a race:
1. A day of non-impact exercise or rest - I prefer rest - for every hour of racing.
2. A day of easy training efforts for every mile raced.
If you have developed a good base of training & love to do half-marathon distance races, you can probably segue into a 12-week cycle after a week or so. Marathoners can probably segue into a new 12-to-16 week cycle after two to three weeks.
As always - like Jiminy Cricket - let your conscience & your body be your guide.
Because it will tell you when you aren't following the rules.