I’m shocked at how well I’m running now. Last night, after the warm-up mile of my 7-mile run in week five of my 12-week 5K plan, I hit an 8:04 minute mile aerobic cruising pace over 6 continuous miles.  It didn’t even feel that hard. By comparison, last year I had trouble doing 4 x 1-mile repeats at 8:00 with rest in between.  The strength training I started this summer — which is adding pounds to my frame! — looks like it could be a game changer.

In June, it took me five full days for my legs to recover from the first bikini-bootcamp-type whole-body session, which was kind of embarrassing as a runner and triathlete! The 6-week program stretched into 7 or 8, but I kept doing the workouts. I also decreased the recommended weights — the woman in the book clearly had been doing this for years and had no perspective! I’d started adapting workouts back in my 5-year workout goal to keep from abandoning them.

The change of emphasis necessarily sacrificed the level of cardio fitness I’d been at. I was nervous about the experiment. Two winters ago, after my first season of racing, I experimented with doing indoor spin classes and yoga all winter, and it was disastrous to my running. The first 5K of the season in March, I was right back to the same time as the first 5K I’d done the year before — when I hadn’t raced since my twenties! It took all summer to get my running fitness back up, and I PR’ed only by extending the season a few extra months.

People my age get about 20 seconds a year slower at the 5K. Last year, I took 19 seconds off my time, so I guess I could consider that a net improvement of 39 seconds in a way! This May, I got within 13 seconds of my PR (another 7-second age-graded improvement?). My 5K time is regional-class, and it would be national-class if I was eight or nine years older. Since I’ve only been at it two years and I’m still improving, I’m hopeful.

I admire the beginners I see struggling through races, but I also know that If I hadn’t run and biked consistently for three years before starting to race again, I would not have debuted as a good racer. Ten- to twelve-minute miles were well beyond my range for a long time, but I’m close to a 6-minute mile now. I’m not a fan of the “couch-to-5K-in-6-weeks” type plans, even though I know people consider them motivating. Your tendons, ligaments, and bones take at minimum three to four months to adjust to running. Maybe it’s all about the timeframe again, the craving for short-term pay-offs.