The180

Why I changed my mind about the 5K run

The 180's Manusha Janakiram admits her bias against the 5K run and explains what she learned that convinced her it might be the ideal race length.
Manusha Janakiram before she heads out on a trail run. (Manusha Janakiram/CBC)
Listen6:30

It's true. The 180's Manusha Janakiram has a bias. We'll let Manusha take over from here. Manusha? 


Thanks. I think. 

So my bias is against the 5K run. (Or more accurately, it used to be, but we'll get to that later.)

In my eyes there is a hierarchy in running and it goes like this: Marathon > Half Marathon > 10K > 5K. 

(For any non-runners reading this, a marathon is 42.2 kilometres, so a half marathon is 21.1K, and the rest is self-explanatory) 

I've always thought of the 5K as the beginners run. The training run, if you will. In my eyes, the longer the distance, the more serious the runner. 

My logic is based on time and distance, and stick with me, we're going do be doing some math now. So take it slow.

The 180's Manusha Janakiram after a weekend run in the rain. (Manusha Janakiram/CBC)

I run 10K in about 50 minutes. That means my pace is 5 min/km. 

So let's say I ran that quickly two months ago. And each time I run a 10K, hopefully, I get faster.

But now, I start to focus on distance. 

By August, let's say I can run a half marathon distance in 1 hour and 49 minutes. My pace would be just under 5:10/km. 

I know what you're thinking - that's a slower pace, but I've also doubled my distance. 

So now let's say I keep training, and by October, (when I am registered to run a half marathon in Victoria, B.C.) I can run it in 1 hour and 45 minutes. My pace would be exactly 5 min/km. 

And instead of thinking that I was as fit as I was when I ran that hypothetical 10K, I would believe myself to be fitter mostly because I maintained the same pace but over a longer distance. 

I know, a PhD this does not make, but if I'm being honest that's how I've always viewed it. 

But this week I came across this article from science writer, and runner, Christie Aschwanden

Aschwanden writes that the 5K is the ideal race and she arrives at that conclusion because she looks at a range of factors aside from my limited formula of time and distance. 

Christie Aschwanden, far right, at the finish of the Dog Trials 5K in Colorado. Ashwanden usually runs in costume and on this run, the theme was superheroes. It worked, she finished first. (provided by Christie Aschwanden)

She says not only is the 5K long enough to tap into your aerobic capacity, it's also short enough that you can push yourself to go fast. In addition, serious 5K training typically ensures a lower weekly mileage and hopefully a reduced risk of injury, and a faster recovery. 

In other words, it's the best of both worlds where a runner can use strength and endurance. 

(If you're wondering about the science to back this all up - read her piece - it's got links left, right and center)

As for my irrational theory, Aschwanden says I'm comparing apples and oranges. It's like asking who's fitter: Usain Bolt or Lemi Berhanu Hayle? Bolt holds the world record for the men's 100m, and Hayle won this year's Boston Marathon in a time of 2:12:45. And there's no question about either man's overall fitness levels. 

Lucky for me, I never have to worry about breaking a world record or winning the Boston Marathon. Like a lot of people out there, my biggest challenge on a good day is achieving my personal goals. On a bad day, it's accomplishment enough to get out the door, and that's where Aschwanden wins me over. 

Running 5K a couple of times a week seems less daunting somehow, than lacing up and running 8, 10, or 15K as part of a half-marathon training plan. In the long run, it's more sustainable. 

Or should I say, in the short run? 


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