In Praise of the 5K

My favorite race to run or watch is the 5K — 3.1 miles on the roads or cross country course or 12 and 1/2 grueling laps on the track. For me it’s the perfect combination of strength, speed, and endurance. To excel at this race you have to be proficient in all of these areas — you need to be a complete runner.

I like a long relaxing trail run as much as the next guy, but I’m happiest when I’m redlining, whether in an interval workout or in competition. I like testing my limits. These days the vast majority of runners seem more interested in finishing races than actually racing, so, for many, the 5K has simply become a stepping stone to longer, and, presumably, better things. Finish that 5K and then it’s time to finish a 10K.

Next up is the half-marathon, and, then, the ultimate bucket list destination, the marathon. I’m cool with all that, but find it annoying when people ask me why I don’t run longer races, especially when I tell them how much I train. People seem to automatically assume that more is better.

I remember doing press for a certain album that was barely thirty-minutes long. The reviews tended to be quite positive but one journalist pointed out that it was too short, as if it was somehow a waste not to max out the capacity of a CD, even if it means throwing on filler material. One of the best pop songs I’ve ever heard is Wire’s “Outdoor Miner,” which is barely 90 seconds long. Primal Scream’s “Velocity Girl” is even shorter. That isn’t to say that I don’t like my share of lengthy opuses either, it’s just that I appreciate rock ‘n’ roll in all its forms, punk, pop, psychedelic, hard rock etc. Good art is good art. Excelling at the 5K is good art — YouTube Mo Farah and watch the last few laps of the Olympic final and you’ll see what I mean.

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