How to Lose a 5k Road Race

Up until a few minutes ago, I had NO IDEA it was National Running Day T-O-D-A-Y! Actually, I didn’t even know we had holidays for running until now. They even have an official website. Spiffy – and very exciting too! I wasn’t planning on going for a run today, but I will be now that I know I’ll be sharing the roads with countless others. We’ll see if Ronin is up for it on a hot, sunny day like today (Ronin is my “sorta-kinda-really-doesn’t-feel-like-running-THAT-far-today” dog) This event sparked a reminder for a little story about a recent road race I “competed” in with a couple of my brothers.

Three goofy-looking people eager to lose a road race.

I still remember my cross country running days like they were yesterday. The anticipation before a big race and the stomach butterflies that came along with the little mind gremlins. I remember the dry mouth, achy knees, and sweat tickling me as it dripped off the tip of my nose. I remember the determination I had to run as hard and fast as I possibly could every step – straight through the finish line. I remember the dizziness, wheezing and coughing afterward, and that I would lace up my shoes again the next day for more. I ran thousands of miles and dozens of cross country races before my body broke down and doctors told me I would never run again. That was about eight years ago.

But last month on a beautiful Saturday morning, I wasn’t experiencing any of that. I wasn’t nervous or tired. I wasn’t in pain or at all uncomfortable. I wasn’t even in a rush. I was relaxed and even comfortable as I bounded along the back roads of Bedford, NH – the town where I grew up. But before we get to that, let’s back up to the beginning of the race.

Given that this would be a community race, I parked myself up near the starting line with my two brothers and Ronin at my side. I watched as the real runners did their warmups – you know the types. The guy with his race number sheet pinned to his shorts because a shirt would slow him down. The guy with $150 “motion-control” racing shoes to help him squeeze a few seconds off his time (gag me!). These were the guys who were racing to win – no matter what.

The funny thing is, even though I never ran shirtless and never in a nice pair of running shoes, I wasn’t all that different from these types of runners years ago. We shared a common goal – to face our doubts and demons and run as hard and as fast as possible every single step. Years ago, I wanted to win, but today was different. I didn’t care about competing at all. I just wanted to enjoy a few miles with my brothers and Mr. Fuzzy.

So, amidst swinging legs and flinging sweat droplets, and among a horde of hoppers and joggers, I stood, ready to race – not worried, not stressed, but excited to spend the next few miles doing something I love.

After amusing ourselves near the starting line, we were escorted to the very back of the crowd because apparently canine competitors and their pet human’s aren’t allowed in the front. So, it was a nice easy walk for the first half mile or so as we waited for the mass of runners to thin out. The whole time, my brothers and I were pretending we actually needed to run – really.

Once we got going, it was really an interesting race. Running barefoot always gets a bit of attention, especially at these events, and I certainly get some mixed reactions. The giant, cuddly “teddy-bear” of a dog doesn’t help things either. I remember passing one young woman who informed me that I was her hero. She didn’t say why, but I was pleasantly amused by her comment until about 30 seconds later, when passing another young woman, she informed me that she hated me. That’s all she said between gasps, and I was forced to saunter on without an explanation.

I’ve never run in a community road race until now, so this may be old news to you if you have. But you know what was the one thing I noticed during that race? The single thought that stood out in my mind was how little people seemed to be enjoying themselves (at least most of them). Sure, there was a lot of excitement before and after the race, but during the race was another story. People were exhausted and some of them were wincing in pain every step. Most people were running alone (which, I get it, it’s a individual type of sport, but c’mon, it’s a community race for a local cause!). There was little small talk, and no laughter, but a lot of silence amidst the low rumble of huffs, puffs, and grunts (not to mention the plodding ankle weights…. err… shoes). And the looks on their faces weren’t exactly radiating joy either!

Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the many people who could not enjoy the race because of pain, injury, or exhaustion. And that’s the reality for the vast majority of runners. Depending on who you listen to, between 60-80% of runners are injured in their first year of running. Problems are so common that people are starting to believe it’s normal, and just comes with the territory.

I used to believe that for awhile, too, but not anymore. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a LONG history of injuries from running, and technically, there’s no reason I should be able to run at all. I spent three years in physical therapy for injuries that stemmed from running, and the reason I spent three years (and not more) is because my health insurance company cut me from their program. If anyone should NOT be able to enjoy running, it would be me.

Against my own common sense, I stopped believing that running was inherently bad for the body years ago. I even committed myself to proving those doctors wrong and set a goal of running pain and injury-free, and it’s led me on a long path of exploration and has arrived at something truly awesome. I’m not in pain anymore and I don’t think that aches and pains should be the norm for runners. On the contrary, people should enjoy every moment of their runs, and even get energized from them. Today, I run for as long and as often as I want, and that’s what I want for you, too. Effortless running opens up a whole new world of possibilities!

Look how upset we were after losing!

It took me years to discover the joy of running, and I definitely took the long, hard road by running myself through injury and ultimately to debilitation. I had to relearn not only how to run, but why to run, and make peace with the idea that it’s ok if you don’t run as fast as you possibly can every day of the week – or even at a race, when it’s very tempting.

When all was said and done, our little group finished about halfway in the pack, which probably isn’t saying much given the caliber of our competitors. But the truth is, I don’t even know what our times were, and none of us bothered checking. What mattered on this day was seeking the joy of running and inspiring other runners that they, too, can enjoy each and every moment of it – not just the beginning and end of a race.

Tips to Lose a 5k Road Race

At last, here are my top tips for how to lose a 5k road race. Please take them seriously, but not too seriously.

1) Start in the back.

2) Run with your dog at your side for the first half of the race, then drag him by the leash for the second half.

3) Don’t care about winning, and give yourself permission to slow down so that you can enjoy yourself.

That little nugget should give you a clue, and the information at the links below should point you in the right direction to start pursuing the joy of running.

Wrap Up

My brother, Josh, is credited for hearing the funniest comment from another runner during the race that day:

Fat Lady 1: (huff, puff) “WHY AM I SO FAT?” (huff, puff)
Fat Lady 2: (huff, puff) “I DON’T KNOW!” (huff puff)

*Note: no offense intended. You just can’t make this stuff up!

So, if you can make it happen today, get out there and go for a run. And if not, don’t sweat it. I didn’t even know it was National Running Day either, and you can always hit the roads and trails tomorrow.

Update: I decided to film my run for you guys this afternoon – enjoy!

National Running Day with Barefoot Runner John Sifferman

Related Posts:

Learn The Skill of Barefoot Running

Persistence Hunting And Endurance Running: 5 Tips to Run Effortlessly

How to Run Better For The Perfect Run: 5 Things That I Do Differently Now That I Know Better

The 4 Pillars of Successful Running

John VS Ronin – See Who Wins The Race


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Health-First Fitness Coach
Barefoot Runner Since 2009

14 Responses

  1. I was also a cross-country runner in high school, but never enjoyed running. Only recently I have begun approaching ALL movement and exercise as joyful expression, and have since made the best gains in my pain-free health as a result. I have yet to integrate running back in the mix, but fully intend to this summer. Perhaps by next year I’ll be joyfully losing 5k and 10k races myself! :)

    • I hope so!

      I did enjoy running cross country and track and field back in high school, but it was for different reasons. I loved the challenge and the satisfaction I got after a new personal best. But I didn’t actually enjoy the ACT of running. And hey, who could possibly enjoy several minutes of exhaustion and pain?

      And that’s my mission today – to spread the word that you can have the best of both worlds.

  2. I had a blast running my first and only 5K last year. Did it mostly to prove to myself that I could and with nothing to prove my running has been intermittent every since. I can still run a 5K, but I just don’t enjoy plodding along for hours on end. I’d rather run fast, feel good and do something else.

    • I hear ya, Matt. The longest I’ve ever run was for 3 hours – not sure what the distance was. But most of the time, I’m out for a quick 2-6 miles.

  3. bubba29

    i find the fat lady comments hilarious. funny thing is runners’ body composition never seems to change despite their religious devotion to their scheduled runs.

    • I must give them credit for showing up and running the race anyways – a strong display of courage and willpower. And you bring up a good point that body composition has to do with so much more than physical output.

      • bubba29

        body comp is 80% diet. something those ladies have no idea about and thus why they ask that question.

  4. I ran a marathon in 2000. One of the most fascinating things about it was how many different body types were running that race. People who, by conventional wisdom, should NEVER have been running 26.2, or any distance really. I thought it was great that they were out there pickin’ ’em up and puttin’ ’em down.

    I trained with my shepherd-lab mix, Buster. He was good for about 10 miles and then he only stuck with me because, well…I was his human and I had the other end of the leash. I worked out a double loop for the longer training runs so that I could drop him off halfway through. Worked out best for us both.

    Doing a 26.2 was a blast. A LOT of time invested in training so I haven’t done it again, but might yet. At 6 foot and 200 lbs I am not made to compete at running, but I’m pretty sure that if you put me in a ring with one of those 2 hour guys, I could beat the snot out of him…if I could catch him. ;-)

    • I hear ya, Dave. Ronin doesn’t have nearly as much endurance on a leash as he does off it. I think it has to do with the steady pace with no breaks. He lasts much longer when we can run off leash because he can pace himself, take a rest then catch up, etc.

  5. Thanks John!

    This article really spoke to me. I too was a cross country and track runner in high school, and a very serious one at that. I can remember tripping over the finish line, collapsing in spasms of exhaustion, and putting in hundreds of miles over the summer. Now, such brutal dedication seems odd to me and I to have begun moving and running for the simple joy of being in my body.

    I still love running, and pushing myself hard every now and then, but now I run simply because I love to.

    Awesome article, I can’t wait to lose my next race :)

    Logan from Wild Movement

    • And that’s the key, Logan – running for the love of it. Now, this doesn’t mean you still can’t pursue high performance, only that the approach changes. It must not require enduring pain or sustaining injuries. It must be health-first, and it can and should be enjoyable.

  6. Nice scenery and brilliant dog! Like the websites idea, keep up the good work.

  7. Not sure if you’ll get this or not since the last Comment was from 2011 but here’s my thoughts…
    I’ve been barefooting for decades but only the past 5 years have I been running.
    I started running for two reasons, to lose weight and to help me clear my mind of my work before I got home. It must be working. I’ve lost and kept off 20-25 lbs over the last 5 years and my wife is still with me. Running in 5k races were never and still aren’t a competitive thing for me either. I put my reggae music on and start enjoying my surroundings. In June I entered the Oakmont 5k. Nice small quiet town with old beautiful homes to enjoy. The race ends on the high school track that shares the land with the city park that over looks the river. After the race, like so many of the other races, I waited around to see if I won any of the baskets of prizes they were raffling off. While they were announcing the winners of the various age groups, my family and I were stuffing our faces with the pastries my wife and grandkids bought at the local bake shop, when one of the other runners told me that they just called my name. I thought I won one the baskets and when I got up to the table where they were announcing the names, they handed me a first place trophy. I couldn’t believe it and just started to laugh out loud. Before they took a picture of me with the other top finishers in my age group, my wife came up to me and wiped the chocolate cream off my cheek from one of the pastries I had eaten (I thought she was coming up to congratulate me). Later that same day we were having family over for a cookout. We broke up into 6 teams and played bocce. The winning team was presented a first place trophy that just happen to show up. So I guess it was meant to happen (getting a trophy) and probably will never happen again. So keep enjoying yourself when you run. It can help lead you to more enjoyment with others and other things.

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