I ran a 5K last Saturday, along with Micah, my sister, and a couple of friends. It was the same course I’ve done a thousand times — a loop around Prospect Park — but it is fairly challenging for a 5K, what with that big hill in the middle, and I really wanted to do well in it. I really wanted to prove to myself that I am still in pretty good form, even though I haven’t done any real speed work in a couple of months. Plus, I needed a chance to put together a race plan and see it through. And I wanted a boost of confidence to get me excited for the other races I have planned for the fall.

Check, check and check.

I signed up for the race the week before. There wasn’t time to do any extra speed training, so the only thing I could do was make sure I got enough rest so I wouldn’t be running tired on Saturday. I’ve done that before and it wasn’t any fun. I had no idea what to expect from myself. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to PR, especially in this summer heat, but I wanted to try to get close to my PR.

At the start line, I set my watch to tell me my pace every half mile, and then hit the button as I crossed the line. I felt like I was going fast for the first half mile, but that I was saving some energy for the hill and the finish. My watch said I was going at 3:30 pace. That became my baseline. I didn’t want to go any slower than that for the rest of the race. And I didn’t. I pushed myself to the top of the hill and then relaxed on the flat part so I’d have enough energy at the end. But by the time I got to the end, I was tired. I thought I was slowing down. I didn’t think I could keep up the pace. But when I reached mile 3, my watch let me know otherwise. My last half mile was a 3:14, the fastest so far. I crossed the line at 20:46, a second or two slower than my PR. Much better than I thought I would do. I’d paced myself well and I’d finished strong. I had done my best.

And with that, I feel pretty good about where things stand going into more serious training. I haven’t lost much, if anything, and I know I can stick to a race plan.

So my tip today is this: If you are training for a big race — a half-marathon or a marathon or something like that — and you want to practice for the big day, consider signing up for some smaller races to test things out a long the way. I’ve seen marathon training plans that have you run a 5K at week 4, a 10K at week 8, and a half at week 12 all in preparation for The Big One on week 16. Racing in smaller events let’s you test your mental and physical fitness and gives you an idea of what you are capable of accomplishing on race day.

Plus it’s fun. And you get more shirts.

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