How It Took Me 5 Years to Run a 5K

by - Friday, November 09, 2012

As promised today's awesome guest post comes to you from my best friend Emily Yahr!

The journey to my first 5K started in the typical way -- at a party in the back alley of a friend's house on a sweltering summer night.

It was July 2012, and I had been telling everyone that would listen at my friend's birthday barbecue about my goal to finally, after years of start-and-stop training, to run a 5K. Apparently I talked about it so much that it became an actual conversation topic. Suddenly, someone mentioned that American University would hold a 5K in October, called Race to Representation (could it be any more DC?).

Other people standing around us agreed that we should all run the race -- I over-enthusiastically chimed in. Though as any plan that hatches late on a Saturday night when everyone starts posing for hipster Instagram pictures, I didn't think anyone would mention it again.

[caption id="attachment_2395" align="aligncenter" width="450"] I mean, does this look like someone who's going to complete a goal?[/caption]

But when my friend Jennifer sent around an e-mail about the race a couple weeks later, I knew I was locked in. Feeling the pressure to actually complete this goal that I had since 2007 -- and the promise of brunch after the race -- I hit reply all: "I want to also! Ahhh this is scary."


To say I had never been a runner is a HUGE understatement. It seemed like the least enjoyable activity imaginable. My friends Jess and Jason both ran marathons, and I loved going to watch their races. I just had no desire to participate in such an activity myself.

"You just have trouble with endurance," my mom sympathetically told me once after I epically failed running a mile in elementary school gym class. I clung to that statement as an excuse for the next decade or so. "I don't have endurance," I kept telling myself. "I could run, but I can't -- I don't have endurance."

[caption id="attachment_2396" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Me with Jason after his marathon[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2397" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Me with Jess after her marathon[/caption]

My only real foray into running had been briefly in the spring of 2007. I spent six months in Boston for a very intense internship, and my social life in the beginning was, shall we say, underwhelming.

Out of sheer lack of anything better to do on the weekends, I Googled "how to run a 5K" and stumbled upon the very popular Couch to 5K program. It seemed manageable. Run 60 seconds, walk 60 seconds, and build from there. I could do that! "That's it," I told myself resolutely. "I'm going to run a 5K."

And so I tried. Every night, I would gasp for breath and run around my neighborhood in freezing weather, increasing the amount every time. "Oh forget it," I would think, seeing that I would have to run 5 minutes consecutively. "There's no way." It was incredible to see my own progress, and about 8 weeks in, I was running about 2.2 miles at a time -- I couldn't believe it.

Though by that point, I had met some new people, and running took a back seat to exploring the city and going to dragon racing class. I never made it past 2.2 miles. I tried to pick up running again when I went back to school for senior year that fall, and never got the motivation. I would wander around for awhile with my iPod, and then head back inside. "Oh well," I would think. "I mean, I don't have endurance."


Graduation came, and then the real world (both the actual thing and the show, since I write about TV for a living), and it became increasingly difficult to excel at an extremely time-consuming job, have a social life, and exercise on a regular basis. The third obviously took a back seat. Even though I knew I should, and it was, you know, good for me, I always had an excuse.

I had it in my mind that running was the only kind of exercise that really got people into shape, so whenever I got the urge to work out, I would try it -- sort of. I would pick up Couch to 5K every few months, then get busy again. Or just get bored. Or, one time, take a very embarrassing spill on the sidewalk, hobble away, and not run again for weeks. I signed up for a 5K with my college roommates, and promptly walked the entire thing.

[caption id="attachment_2405" align="aligncenter" width="450"] University of Maryland contingent at the race. From our attire, I think you can tell only one of us *cough Jess cough* runs races.[/caption]

Post-college time flew by faster than I could imagine, with that cycle repeating over and over. But by the time Summer 2012 rolled around -- five years after my initial 5K goal -- I couldn't avoid the fact that I was in terrible shape. It was easy to ignore until I couldn't anymore. In making some other changes, I vowed to finally conquer my Everest: run a 5K.

So, the above conversation at my friend's party in July came at the perfect time. And as if finally getting healthier wasn't enough, I had extra motivation -- I really hate canceling on people. And since my friends had signed up, I didn't want to let anyone down.


The day of the race, on a gorgeous morning on October 6, I kept telling myself it wasn't a big deal. No pressure. Only 3.1 miles. That's not so long. How bad could it possibly be? I had trained religiously for the last few months, running a little further more every other day, in the DC summer heat. I asked Jess a million questions about training, and she very nicely answered. I did the same with Jason and repeatedly made him tell me if he thought I could really do this, and every time, he told me I could. I was ready as I was every going to be.

I am not an early riser, nor do I generally arrive at places early, and I showed up a solid 40 minutes before anyone else for the race that started at 8:30 a.m. Eventually, I saw a few other people from our group, and as everyone arrived, the panic set in.

All these people are faster than I am. Why am I even doing this again? What if I finish last? Will people laugh at me? What if I fall over and become a YouTube sensation? What if it takes me an hour to run it? What if I get lost on the course? Can I get out of this somehow?

We got to the starting line, and I was surrounded by people I knew -- no chance for a quick escape. Before I knew it, it was time to start.

The course was a fairly simple trek through American University's campus -- it started through the quad and wrapped around the street, down to a track and then back through the same route again. The first round went okay. Most people in my group were really fast, but two of them, Anne and Jennifer, ran with me in the beginning. As much as I had been nervous about running with other people (What if they expect me to have conversations? I can barely breathe!) it was actually nice to have company.

The second time around the course, however, was unpleasant, as I remembered that running more than a mile is a lot of work that I'm not necessarily cut out for. Out of the goodness of her heart, Anne stuck with me the entire time, not even minding when I put in my headphones to listen to the country music that had gotten me through training for this thing. (It is here I must give a shout out to Florida Georgia Line, as well as Randy Montana -- I can't even listen to "Cruise" or "Ain't Much Left of Lovin' You" without feeling like I should break into a jog.)

I also discovered I have a lot of rage during races. "They're not running! What do they know!" I snarled to Anne, in reference to the people who gave up their Saturday mornings to stand on the sidelines and cheer for 5K runners. She nodded kindly in agreement, while probably thinking I was a terrible person.

However, I did greatly appreciate another friend that showed up to not only cheer everyone on, but randomly appear at different spots on the course to yell at us to keep going. It was great, and also wonderfully distracting, because my mind would wander to how he got from one side of campus to another so fast..until I remembered he was a high school cross country star who ran four-minute miles or something.

Finally, finally, I saw the finish line in the distance, and saw the rest of the group cheering and clapping for me and Anne to keep going -- they were awesome. I triumphantly crossed the finish line, and couldn't believe the clock said something around just 38 minutes. I was so fast! For me, that is. I gave high fives to everyone I knew.

[caption id="attachment_2406" align="aligncenter" width="373"] Finish line![/caption]

As for my fears about me finishing the race last? you can see from the picture above, there's no one behind us. So I probably did. I didn't even care.

[caption id="attachment_2408" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Group shot after the race![/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2409" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Anne, Jennifer and me[/caption]

Overall, I'm not proud of the fact that it took me so long to achieve a very manageable goal. But the whole experience wound up being so much more than that.

Not running a 5K became a mental hurdle, like that I was going to be stuck in the same routine, in the same place always. So I think running has taught me that sometimes, you don't have to wait for things to be exactly the way you want them to make changes in your life -- you can just start, right now, regardless, and good things will follow

(As a sidenote, wow, does running get you in better shape -- turns out it's not just a rumor! The random compliments alone are worth it.)

In the end, I know I'm not a runner at heart, and I never really will be. Yet I'll still continue to do it, because what the whole experience showed me is worth so much more than that. And right after the race, Jennifer started talking about running a possible 8K in December. Honestly? It doesn't sound like a bad plan.

Here's just hoping it doesn't take me 8 years.

[caption id="attachment_2407" align="aligncenter" width="375"] A few weeks ago at an apple orchard. A more accurate description of what I love to do in my spare time.[/caption]

Emily is running her second race tonight, the LivingSocial Glow in the Dark 5K Dance Party. Since the rules allow it, she'll probably dance most of the way.

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  1. Sam Laz4:53 AM

    Emily, I'm so proud of you and your racing abilities.LOVE the Race for the Cure picture you added. And for the record, Amy and I did "run" that race (or ran, jogged, walked repeat). That was also the race right after I met Steve. The first few months of us dating he thought I was a "runner". Oh false pretenses. :) MAZEL! Great post!

  2. Raquel5:05 AM

    Emily, thanks for sharing this. This is EXACTLY how I feel going into my first 5k, which is in just 2 weeks! (Ugh, just mentioning it makes me wanna vom!) I'm so nervous about tripping up in front of all my superfast, roadrunner friends, but I need to do this just to clear that mental hurdle! Reading your story has given me some reassurance. Thanks again!

  3. Great story, Emily! Really enjoyed reading it.

  4. Awesome post...and awesome accomplishment! The mental hurdles are always the toughest ones. It doesn't matter whether or not you're a runner "at heart." You're a runner now, so wear that proudly.

    Also, I stalked the results for you. You weren't last. You weren't even close to last. Good luck on #2.

  5. Michelle9:34 AM

    This is inspiring.

    Also, a race where dancing is allowed?! I may actually be willing to run if it meant I could also dance. Or maybe I'll just dance...

  6. Thanks so much Zach! And for finding the results...that's awesome, I couldn't even figure out how to do that after :) I appreciate it!

  7. Raquel!! You will be awesome. It's kind of terrifying at first but once I was past the start line it went so much better than I thought it would. Thanks so much for reading!

  8. Haha Sam you were totally a running rockstar that day, I remember you and Amy ran the whole thing! Thanks for reading!!

  9. Congrats Emily! This is so great!

  10. Congrats Emily!! That's so great and thank you for sharing your story with us. I think that this is a huge lesson and one that I'm continually reminded of - "you don’t have to wait for things to be exactly the way you want them to make changes in your life — you can just start, right now, regardless, and good things will follow."

  11. [...] Laurie, Emily and me at the dance [...]

  12. Nicole V.9:23 AM

    This is so awesome, Emily! And I'm so glad you did it at my favorite little university in NW DC. :)