How to prepare for a 5K in 4 days when you suck at running

“Anyone can run three miles.”

That’s one of the things my dear editor, Melissa Evans, said Wednesday afternoon while asking/telling me to run the Long Beach Grand Prix 5K on Sunday—less than four days away—and write a column about it.

She knew I’ve been trying to get into running and recently attempted a 10K trail run, so her assumption that I would be capable of running three measly miles (technically 3.1 miles) around a relatively flat track wasn’t unfathomable.

Except I suck at running.

That 10K a few weeks ago? Yeah, I tried to convince my husband to ditch it for a warm breakfast. When he didn’t yield to my persuasion—something about it being my idea and all—we walked/hiked most of it, only running the flat parts and down hills.

Of course, we had tried to train for it. We downloaded an app that helped pace our runs, slowly building up endurance. We got about halfway through the training when, as it happens, life got in the way: He got a cold. I got a cold. “Work was crazy this week.” The cat got sick and so on.

And before you go thinking I could draw some dormant athleticism of my youth, let me tell you, I nearly failed PE several times in high school. I couldn’t run a mile without getting winded and dizzy. And while I’ve been on a general health and fitness “lifestyle change” for the past eight months—working out, losing weight and eating better—it hasn’t translated into becoming a marathon runner quite yet.

My view from the middle of the back. Photo by Valerie Osier.

But I want to be able to run a marathon. I even set a goal last October to run in the Long Beach Marathon (or half-marathon) in 2019. I want to be able to actually run long distances because I’ve never been able to in my entire life, so I said yes. I Googled “How to prepare for a 5K in less than a week,” which, the internet told me, was impossible and I was silly for trying. I still set my mind to try to run as far as I could that very night.

Instead, I cleaned my house. It needed immediate attention, I swear.

The next day, fresh out of excuses, I set out to run as far as I could and walk at least three miles. I jogged for nearly a mile before I needed to walk. I alternated walking and jogging over three miles and finished with a time of about 50 minutes. A “good” time for a 5K is about 25 minutes, for comparison.

Yeesh. Well, I’ll try again tomorrow, I told myself. I didn’t have time to take breaks.

Then on Friday night, I got off work late, I was sore from the run the night before and I needed to catch up on sleep. I worked again on Saturday and through my “extensive” research on running, I read that it’s not advisable to run the day before a race, so I went to the batting cages and got a good night’s sleep instead.

On race day, I was a little nervous: I had to think of how I would write this story, plus, I had stuck a small camera on my chest with a plan of speeding it up to show the course—a video that turned out much more seizure-inducing than I expected. Don’t watch it if you get motion sickness easily:

At the starting line, I tried to find a spot in the middle of the herd: I wasn’t a fast runner for sure, but I wasn’t a total walker either. As it turns out, it doesn’t really matter where you start because it takes a minute or so for the crowd to thin enough to actually be able to run anyways. So, I started at a nice jog and, again, started walking before the one-mile marker.

My dreams that I might possibly have a magical moment where I would overcome the odds, do a cool mind-over-matter thing and actually run the whole race were dashed.

Ah well, back to alternating walking and jogging. The first lap was hard, rounding my way past Shoreline Village and Rainbow Lagoon and through the Long Beach Convention Center and parking lot on the same track IndyCars will be tearing up in a couple of weeks.

I didn’t yet have a clear idea of when the finish line was near. I also realized too late that the run was two laps, not one.

The second lap went much faster, with more experienced runners encouraging the less experienced to finish strong and myself being committed to getting a bottle of water as quickly as I could.

In the words of a fellow runner I met after the race, John Taylor, “I was imagining myself taking the turns like a race car.”

And this race car needed water.

I jogged through the checkered finish line with a time of 42 minutes and 51 seconds. It was better than my earlier attempt.

I can now confirm that it is not possible to really prepare for a 5K in less than a week as a new runner, but I can say I still tried to run the race. And that’s all that matters, right? … Right?

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.
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