I am not a Runner, but I somehow found myself signed up for my very first 5K… but there’s a catch, even though I had never run a race before I was signed up to run straight up the side of a mountain, an activity known as “Skyrunning”.
More on that in a minute.
I held on to my “non-runner” identity through college, where my roommate was doing ROTC training.
She would get up at 6 AM to run daily, and invited me along. I tried a few times, huffing behind her for the first half mile or so, but somehow every attempt was more miserable than the last.
I’d end up miles behind, red faced, overly sweaty, and barely outpacing the girl with one high heel making her way back to her dorm in the early hours. Between the two of us, I’d have to say my situation was definitely the more embarrassing.
A 5K...In the Sky?
For anyone who has never heard of it, the International Sky Running Federation defines SkyRunning as “running in the mountains above 2,000m altitude where the climbing difficulty does not exceed II* grade and the incline is over 30%”.
The race I signed up for began at 6,600 feet above sea level, goes 3.2 miles, over which participants traverse 3100 feet of elevation gain, up the side of a mountain, in questionable weather conditions, and a mixture of snow and rocky terrain.
I may not be a runner, but I can’t resist a challenge. So, I of course signed up immediately.
As you can guess from this image, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Then, Something Changed My Mind About Running
Preparation Does Not Mean Prepared
Standing at the base of the mountain there was a definite moment of adrenaline meeting overwhelm. The race started off with a steep incline, and was packed with people at varying levels of fitness trying to figure out how to best position themselves.
This first step is crucial, because depending on where you settle yourself you might slow others down, or be slowed down yourself.
We quickly realized the trail had more snow than we had anticipated, and while the more advanced runners were prepared with spikes – and we barely had enough tread, let alone water and poles between the two of us for the ascent.
Keeping a consistent speed was nearly impossible as the terrain required climbing certain areas with a rope tow, or navigating rocks and steep downhills (and obviously stopping for the occasional photo opp – the views from that high up were incredible!)
And while the vaguely hilly, sea-level training I had done had minimally given me the cardiovascular base I needed to be able to physically move through the race, the mindset I acquired while training is what truly paid off (that, and having a killer playlist).
True to Murakami’s words, I exerted myself to the fullest. I ran hard, and dug deep – and pushed myself to keep powering ahead.
As I finished the steep ascent of stairs to the finish line, my accomplishment celebrated by people snapping photos and ringing cowbells, I felt incredibly proud.
Sure, I wasn’t a runner. But in the end we didn’t finish last – and I accomplished something 12-year-old me never would have thought possible.
5 “Pro” Tips for Surviving Your First 5K
Don’t Worry, You’ve Got This.
1. How to Get Better at Running
Set a goal that is small, and doable – like the one mile a day.
From there, challenge yourself to incremental gains. “Today I’ll run 1.1 miles, 1.2”…etc. Those tiny bits of progress might not seem like much, but as Atomic Habits author James Clear points out, it is the “aggregation of marginal gains…the 1% margin for improvement in everything you do” that over time result in a remarkable improvement.
2. How To Think Like a Runner
Don’t say you’re not a runner.
Whether you choose to continue running after the race is up to you, but while you’re training – embody that spirit! Visualize someone who is a great runner, lean into the identity of being a runner – and take small steps to reinforce that identity. (Including but not limited to: Nutritional choices, inappropriate public stretching, good sleep, and low key bragging to all of your friends about your run.
3. How to Make A Training Plan
Download an online plan and stick with it the whole way, don’t try and change half way through.
It’s like getting a cookie recipe, everyone has an opinion, you just need to pick the one that seems suitable and go for it. For example, does your race take place in a place that has hills? Then choose a plan that accounts for hills.
4. How To Stay Consistent
Be kind to yourself and listen to your body during this process.
Almost no one makes it through an entire training program without missing a day. When that happens it is extra important to get back out there the next day! Skipping days can build momentum quickly, and the day of the race gets here faster than you’d think!
As Clear states, “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis.”
5. Get an Accountability Partner
It can be someone who lives near you, or not at all. My race friend lived in Tahoe while I lived in Portland, but we would check in on our progress daily. Having an accountability partner helps!