Tag Archives: couch to 5k

The thrill (and pain) of the 5K

29 May

Man, I forgot how exhilarating, exhausting, exciting and painful running a race is. I haven’t run a single race since the half marathon last September, and since Pokemon Go came out my runs have been focused on hatching eggs and catching them all, not piling on in the miles and increasing speed. But since my phone gets horrible reception in the US, these past few weeks have been a good time for me to work on running fast again.

The 5K is a weird race. It’s easy to brush it off as “only 3 miles” when you’re used to marathons and halfs. But to really race it properly, you have to go hard the entire time. As a recent article in Runner’s World put it: “If you reach the halfway point of a 5K race feeling calm, comfortable, and confident that you can maintain your pace to the finish line, you’re doing it wrong.”

That’s the mindset I went into this morning’s 5K race with: go out too fast, power through the [minor] hills, then hang on for dear life. I made a killer playlist that (ambitiously) was only 28 minutes long. It was a beautiful day for a barbecue, but for a run it was a scorcher. The sun was beating down the entire time and the course only had one small stretch of shade right before the finish. As expected, I went out too fast, was huffing and puffing on the “rolling hills,” but I never stopped to walk. The Runner’s World article stressed the importance of motivational self-talk during a 5K, so I tried different approaches: “Remember that time you ran 13.1 miles without stopping? You’ve got this last mile in the bag!” “The quicker you finish, the quicker you can see Cherry at the finish line and get out of the sun!” “The top 50 female finishers get an award!”

That last one seemed like a long shot — there were certainly a lot of people ahead of me, but were most of them men? I definitely saw only men pass me on the bridge out and back part. So I powered through. I kicked it into high gear during the last half mile. Sunscreen-laced sweat was pouring into my eyes behind my sunglasses and there was a brief moment I thought I might be sick. But then I remembered the final tip from that article:

“If you’re chasing a PR, you should seriously wonder whether you’ll make it to the finish.”

I full out sprinted when I saw the finish line in sight, passing two of the girls who were ahead of me the entire time. At the finish line they had separate men and women crossing points, and when I crossed a volunteer handed me a medal. I was feeling weak, a bit delirious, and like I had just ran way more than 3.1 miles, and I just assumed it was a generic finisher’s medal. But then the girl who finished right behind me got my attention.

“Is this for finishing in the top 50 women?” she asked, holding up her medal. It didn’t even dawn on me that that was why they had a separate female finish line point.

“I don’t know, that’d be great if it was!” I replied.

I put the thought out of my mind, collected all my food swag and found my parents and Cherry. I felt weird — more exhausted than I’d been in a while, short of breath, but also really excited. Even if I didn’t get an official award, I got an official PR. I was absolutely miserable during that last mile, and yet the minute I finished, I was already wondering when I could do another race. I guess the runner’s high is real and runners really are crazy.

And the proverbial cherry on top of it all? I checked the results online and I really did finish in the top 50 women! If I had run 30 seconds slower I would not have made it in.

corgi running gif.gif


Jelly Babies, corgis and running achievements

15 Mar

The very first British candy I ever tried was Jelly Babies. My dad traveled to the UK for work in 2002 and brought me back a host of cool British souvenirs — a die-cast right-hand drive lime green Beetle, a Meat Loaf and Friends CD not available in the US, and Jelly Babies.
jelly babies running fuelI remember thinking how weird and foreign they tasted. Their colors were so dull thanks to the natural coloring and flavoring. And they were covered in this weird white powder (which I later learned is starch, which helps release them from the mold at the factory). Still, my family gobbled them up.

Surprisingly, I haven’t had Jelly Babies since — or at least until today.

When I first got into running I swore to myself I would never run a distance that required me to “fuel” while on the run. I lied. While the length of distance that requires fueling is up for debate (some running pros don’t even fuel during half marathons) and my 5, 6 or 7-mile runs probably don’t require fuel, I wanted to experiment to see how “fueling” would affect me. Most runners use energy gels, which are basically just sugar — expensive sugar. You know what else is basically just sugar? Jelly Babies. According to various UK running blogs and forums, Jelly Babies are quite the popular running fuel. And they’re downright cheap — I got a bag at Aldi for 59p (84 cents).

So I wrapped up 2 Jelly Babies in plastic wrap, stuck them in my pocket, and set off to do 7 miles around Buckingham Palace and St. James Park. I ate the Jelly Babies around mile 4.5 and 5 while stopped at lights. They tasted even more magical than I remembered, but that also could be because I was hungry for anything. It was only when I ate one several hours after I got home that I realized how sickeningly sweet they are. It may have been a little placebo effect, but I was able to dig deeper and really push myself the last 2 miles of my run. A 7-mile run probably doesn’t require fuel, but if it helps a little, I’ll take any excuse to eat candy I can get.

I can’t believe I’ve waited this long in the post to mention it: In St. James Park I saw not one, not two, but THREE CORGIS! THREE! Two of them were together and then I saw another, different one on my way out of the park. As always, I tried to stealthily snap a photo, but this is the kind of photo you get when you don’t stop running:

corgis st james park

I really need to stop being so shy and just talk to the owners, even if I usually am a sweaty mess.

Speaking of being a sweaty mess, I also need to share this running achievement:

march 13 run

On Sunday Stephen and I had our first sub 9-min/mile pace 4-mile run. It was also my first sub-8 min mile. While on most of my runs I’m just happy to stay under 10-min miles, it felt really good to push myself. I wanted to die by the end, but it’s good to know that I’m capable of going faster. As the guy at the running store said almost 3 years ago (!) now, I’m a better runner than I think I am.

Running in Kentucky vs. London

11 May

It seems I only ever visit Kentucky when it’s freeze-your-fingers-off or sweat-your-face-off weather. Neither of which is very conducive to running. It’s been certified butt-hot (mid to upper 80s) in Florence, Kentucky, which has forced me to run first thing in the morning instead of my usual 2 to 3 hours after breakfast. I’ve been back in the U.S. almost two weeks now and I’m still riding the jet lag train. If there is such a thing as good jet lag, it’s GMT to EST. I’ve been going to bed early and waking up early, which works well with my parents’ schedules as well as my work and running. The only time it wasn’t so great was this past weekend when I won free tickets to the comedy club that were only valid at the 10:30 pm show. My constant yawning was not a reflection of the comedian’s material.

When I left London, the weather was perfect, the terrain was flat, and I had one of my fastest runs yet:

London fast run
I’m usually happy if I can maintain a 10 min pace or just under, so sub-9 min was amazing for me (though I did pause it at stoplights).

And then I arrived in Kentucky, where there is heat, humidity and hills. This was my run two days after the one above:

Kentucky slow run
Things really went downhill after that first mile (or uphill I should say). Although I compared the elevation maps of my runs in London and Kentucky and couldn’t find much difference… but reading elevation is not my forte.


London run elevationKentucky:

Kentucky run elevationI think I’m going to do a local 5K on Saturday. I really want to get an official sub-30 min 5K time. I’ve done it many times on my London runs, but this time there will be hills and no stoplight pauses. I’m always encouraged by my Facebook friends’ running posts, photos and times. There are even times when I’m lying in bed and most certainly not running that I think maybe I could run a half marathon one day. Maybe that’s something I should put on my bucket list. And then I run the thought by myself again mid-uphill run, sweat dripping from places I didn’t know could sweat, and I think “maybe you should focus on running 3 miles without dying first.” Baby steps.

Running goals and pugwear

13 Nov

How is Thanksgiving only 2 weeks away? Or, perhaps more importantly, how is my second ever 10K race only 2 weeks away?

I decided it was time to up my training. For the past few months I’ve only been running 5K (3 miles) a few times a week, then 4 miles with Stephen on the weekend. The last time I truly ran 10K without counting the walking warm up and cool down may have been last year’s race. So I decided today I was going to do it — I was going to run 10K, to make sure I still can, to test out my new Spotify playlist, and to see if all my sub-30 min 5Ks I’ve been clocking in truly could turn into a sub-hour 10K.

I went into last year’s race with 2 abstract goals: 1. Finish 2. Don’t walk. I managed to do both, albeit slowly. It was my first ever race and I was just excited to be participating. But I’ve been running for a year and a half now, so it’s time I set a real goal — 10K in under an hour.

As I set off to Regents Park this morning I got to thinking about the road trip stages I wrote about 4(?!) years ago. I realized long distance running (shut up, 6 miles is long distance for me!) has similar stages — the initial excitement, followed shortly by Dear God What Am I Doing?! Several times I had to talk myself out of turning around or stopping. In the middle of it time was dragging, and I began questioning why I ever signed up for a 10K and why I would even entertain the thought of a half marathon one day, running more than 5K seemed impossible. And then it started raining, in true London fashion. But I kept going. And going. I got a welcome break at a stoplight, which I almost wish the race would have, but then got going again. I switched my MapMyRun app to kilometers so it would give me updates on pace every kilometer. Of course I started out strong, but then continued to get slower. Once my overall pace slowed to 6:02 per kilometer, sub-60 seemed out of reach. I was down to the last 2 km and stopped at a light. I gave myself a little pep talk, found the perfect song, then gunned it. I could feel a blister forming on my right foot, but I didn’t stop. I was so close. I did the 8th km in 5:41 and the 9th in 5:56. Finishing time? 59:48.

10k sub 60(Can you tell I struggled and walked for a second on km 6?)

I did it. Even if I can’t do it again in 2 weeks, I now know I’m capable of it. And like every race runner and mother who’s given birth, once I finished I completely forgot how miserable the whole experience was, and was looking forward to doing it again. My friend in Cincinnati texted me that it’s 28F today and I should bring warm clothing for the race. It’s been 55 all week in London, so I’ll have to dig up my thermal clothing to pack. Here’s hoping the polar vortex or whatever it is they’re calling the cold front leaves by Thanksgiving. I’d rather not have a repeat of last year’s 25F race. I even bought a new outfit specifically for the race, since it’s custom to dress somewhat crazy. I told my mom she’ll have to wait to see it in person, but I’ll give a hint — it involves pugs. Lots of them.

And on a final note, while I was buying my pugwear I saw these gloves:

pug panda glovesThey were a bit thin and I already have too many gloves, but HOW DID THEY HAVE ALL MY FAVORITE ANIMALS?! I wouldn’t even know which one to get if I did get one.

I know this post was probably boring for those of you who don’t care about running, so here’s a pug struggling to reach his goal:

struggling pug

Falling in love with fall and running (and, OK, pumpkin spice)

2 Oct

I think fall might be my favorite season, and not for your stereotypical white girl reasons.

psl white girlAlthough I did run to Waitrose (literally, I was awkwardly sweating in the queue) to overpay for a can of Libby’s pumpkin to make pumpkin spice overnight oats and pumpkin spice smoothies (which are better than pumpkin spice lattes because I use pumpkin spice tea and they also don’t cost £5 (is that what a PSL costs? It’s been a while since I’ve been to Starbucks).

pumpkin spice girls


The reason I like fall (OK, autumn, since I’m in the UK) is because it’s the perfect running weather — not I-need-3-tissues-just-to-wipe-my-sweat summer hot or dear-god-how-is-it-25-out-that’s-F-not-C winter cold. Since I officially booked my flight home for Thanksgiving, I decided it’s high time I start training for the Thanksgiving 10K again. Last year it was my very first race ever and it was amazing. Yes, it was 25 degrees out (that’s -4 C) and I had to weave my way through an obscene amount of other runners, but I got such a thrill. I remember sprinting to the finish and even running to the car after. It was a stark difference from my 5K in April which I finished huffing and puffing and feeling defeated. Part of that could have been a bug coming on, but I also think I hadn’t been training properly. Part of me feared I peaked on Thanksgiving last year and I haven’t been running the same since. I’ve just been plodding along, taking a walking break the minute any part of my body felt remotely uncomfortable.

Eventually the reality of the race in less than 2 months set in and the weather got cooler and I decided to get serious about running again. Last Tuesday, the day after that ominous day, I ran 5K under 30 minutes, something I haven’t done since last fall. And then two days ago I did it again — but even faster. And today — yep, you guessed it, even faster. I’m starting to fall in love with running again. There’s just something about that cool breeze, the perfect Spotify playlist (thank you all-you-can-eat data plan) and going for a “high score.” Running may be a competitive sport with professionals and prizes and actual human beings that can run a marathon at a pace of 4 minutes, 41.5 seconds per mile (how?!! I’m not sure I could maintain that speed for 50 meters), but ultimately it’s about competing against yourself, setting new goals and personal records — high scores (or I guess low scores if we’re going by time and pace). This year my goal is to finish the Thanksgiving 10K in under an hour (or right on the dot, I won’t be picky). Months ago that seemed like a pipe dream, but if I can maintain my current 5K pace for twice as long, it may just become a reality. I know there will be thousands of people in the race who are faster than me (I recently read a blog by a runner coming back from an injury who was disappointed by his 30 minute 5K time, saying “I don’t know if you can even call that running.” Here I am rejoicing about a 30 minute 5K), but I just need to be faster than 2013 Renee. As my Over the Rhine T-shirt says, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

My First 5K Race… 5 Months After My First 10K

28 Apr

I guess there’s never a good time to discover you’re coming down with a chest infection, but I’ll tell you when a particularly bad time is: during a race.

On Saturday I ran my very first 5K race, which I realize is surprising since I started the Couch to 5K program almost a year ago. I conquered the Thanksgiving 10K but never got around to running an official 5K until now. I admit I’ve been slacking on my “training” since doing the 10K, but I thought a 5K would be easy — only half what I ran in the last race! I figured I could easily do it in less than 30 minutes. In fact, I was so cocky about it that I made a music playlist that was only 30 minutes long.

And then I started running. I heard the gun go off but got caught up in the walkers group because I was fumbling with MapMyRun and my watch. Luckily this race was nowhere as crowded as my last one and I was easily able to maneuver around the walkers and catch up to the running pack.

“I am zooming!” I thought. “I’ve totally got this!” According to my phone, I ran the first mile in 8:50, which may be my fastest yet. And then I came upon a hill. During my last race I had one rule for myself — no walking, even on the hilly bridges. And I managed to continually jog/run for 6 miles then. This time I told myself the same rule — no walking, it’s only 3 miles! And then I finished one mile with a little too much exertion and started to feel a tightness in my lungs. I had taken two puffs of my inhaler before I set off, so I couldn’t figure out why this was happening. Was it because I started too quickly? Because I didn’t walk and stretch enough beforehand? Because I woke up too early and ate less than two hours ago? I had to break my rule and walk up a hill. And once I broke the rule once, I seemed to have no problem breaking it again and again. Not to get too graphic, but at times I had to “pull over” and spit up some mucus. I’m sure the other runners enjoyed watching that. My pumping playlist encouraged me to continue, but I couldn’t shake the pain in my chest. On one of my fitness videos Jillian Michaels shouts, “You don’t get to the finish line and slow down!” Except that’s what I did. I knew the finish line was around the corner, I had planned to gun it, but my lungs were burning. I started walking when another runner came up behind me and started shouting encouragement. I couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying because of my headphones, but it was still exactly what I needed.

“I think I’m getting a second wind!” I shouted back at her, then took off. (Thanks to my mom for the great photo!)

renee running 5k

I crossed the finish line a proverbial hot mess — fallen off headband in my hand, one headphone dangling out of my ear, coughing and weezing like I had never ran before. I barely had enough energy to open the cold bottle of water that was thrust at me.

“What is wrong with me?” I kept repeating out loud. “I shouldn’t feel like this, it was only 3 miles!”

Then I met a pug who was breathing the same way I was. That made everything slightly better.

sugar pug
Even in the car ride home I was coughing. It wasn’t until I got home that it finally hit me — I didn’t perform so poorly because I hadn’t trained properly, I was sick. Whatever chest infection my dad has been fighting lately was probably lying dormant in me, and riding around in airplanes and trains in New York two days before the race probably didn’t help either. (Yes, I made a spontaneous trip to NYC last week, more on that later.) I’m still glad I did the race, and 31:52 isn’t a bad time when you’re ill. If anything it’s a time to beat at my next race. I’ll finish in under 30 minutes eventually!

Apple Geniuses and I really hate hot weather

1 Aug

There’s a stereotype that Brits like to complain about the weather no matter what. I was queuing at the till at Sainsbury’s on Monday (let me Americanize that — “standing in line at the grocery store”) and overheard the cashier talking to a customer. They both said this heat is dreadful and just wish it would rain. Then it poured almost the entire day Tuesday and I’m sure they complained about that too. I think I fit in here in that respect — is it too much to ask for it to be 68 and sunny everyday? Why only oppressive heat or rain?

I had to venture out in the rain Tuesday because I had an appointment at the Apple Store Genius Bar. I’ve been having a hard time clicking on my Macbook Air’s trackpad and it’s been driving me nuts, so I figured I’d have it checked out. It was my first time at the Genius Bar and it felt exactly like the South Park episode:

south park genius bar

The genius helping the guy next to me looked exactly like the bearded guy with the dark hair. My genius took my computer into the back room to perform surgery. In the meantime I just sat there taking the whole place in — I couldn’t believe how many geniuses and customers there were. I don’t know what that says about Apple — so many people seem to have problems with their products, yet they also seem to take care of the problems effectively. My genius brought my laptop back and said she tightened a screw. She also informed me that the trackpad is built like a mouse and technically you’re only supposed to click on the left and right, not in the middle. Apparently I’ve been using the trackpad wrong and now I need to retrain myself. Whoops.

When it comes to running, I think I prefer a torrential downpour to oppressive heat. When we were in Greece Stephen and I decided to run outside when it was 90 degrees. The scenery was beautiful and the sea offered a nice breeze, but I still felt like I was going to die, especially going up the last hill. The next day it was back to the treadmill in the AC. Today in London it’s hot again –87 degrees (30 C). I always tell myself I’m going to wake up early to run to avoid the heat. But I don’t like to run before eating, and by the time I make my oatmeal, eat it, do some work, then download a new running playlist it’s almost noon. This week’s C210K session is three 15-minute runs with 1-minute breaks in between. I tried to pump myself up with new music, but eight minutes into the first 15 the sweat started pouring down, and it didn’t stop. I felt like I was running through a cloud of humidity, which depending on my proximity to the pond or boating lake, smelled faintly of duck and swan poo. It took everything I had to start that second 15 minutes. An older woman ran by me, which normally would motivate me to speed up, but this time I just thought “good for her” and slowed to a walk to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. I plodded along at the slowest speed that can still be considered a jog. When I started the final 15 minutes I put on DaRude’s “Sandstorm” (that one techno song that you’ve heard a bunch but don’t know the name of). Even with sweat dripping down every inch of your body, you can’t not run to that beat. I got my second (or at this point probably sixth) wind and took off.

“Yeah!” I thought. “I can do this!”

And then I started getting chills — while running.

“Woohoo!” I thought. “I’m not even hot anymore! I can keep going!”


“This is probably not good and I may be dying.”

It turns out chills is a symptom of heat exhaustion. I always thought I’d be OK since I bring water with me, but I was definitely sweating more than I was drinking and pushed myself a little too hard. I skipped my usual sprinting exercises and walked the rest of the way home, looking and feeling like this:

anchorman hot

No more running in the heat for me. Autumn can’t come soon enough.