What I Learned From Running My First 5K…Straight Up A Mountain.

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.

 
When I was in middle school we would have to run laps around the rack at school in PE. The assignment was to walk the short rounds, and walk the long straights.
 
At 12 years old, I was a chubby kid and I was so deeply insecure about my body that I lived in an oversized black sweatshirt year round.
 
My PE teachers let me run the shorts, and walk the long. It took me much longer to finish the exercise – leaving me either to face the embarrassment of being one of a couple kids left on the track long after everyone had gone to the locker rooms, or to attempt to make a break for it and cut out early. 
 

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. 

I was simply not a Runner. 
 
As I got older and gradually got more serious about being athletic (over the years I’ve dabbled in heavy weightlifting, crossfit, boxing, I’m yoga TT certified, love pilates, and am always down to crush a HIIT or Spin class) running still barely made the roster. I could get through a mile or two, but I never really felt accomplished at the end. I still felt like twelve year old me, dreading every extra step til the bell rang. 
A 5K...In the Sky?
In January 2019 my best friend invited me to do the Broken Arrow Sky Race Vertical K with her. 
 

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
I suddenly found myself in the final semester of my MS in Sport Product Design, working full time, going through the worst break up of my life, and having no will to get out of bed – let alone practice running.
 
One day, as friend and I were walking through Portland we stopped in an art gallery. They had a book called, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakmi. In it, he details the zen and secretly rebellious nature of being a runner.

“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life—and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.”

In addition to several life changing and soul stirring quotes, Murakami explains the daily dedication he takes to growing his running practice. 
 
And so I started, day by day, little by little. 
 
No matter how tired I was with work, or heartache, or what I had to get done.
 
I promised myself I had to do one mile a day. As I kept practicing and improving, hitting 7k, 8k, 10k a day – I still always told myself just to get outside and do the one mile.
 
Some days it was all I could manage, but on others I found an incredible new capability in my ability to run a little farther, a little faster. My body started to crave the feeling of flying through the air; that elusive runner’s high. 
Preparation Does Not Mean Prepared
When we got to the day of the race, my friend and I found that we were wholly unprepared.
 

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. 

Here are some resources we like:
 

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

Buddy System!

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! 

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Hey, gal! I'm Tash.
Hey, gal! I'm Tash.

I created the BGW Project after going through my own fitness journey, which took me from a lifetime of being frustrated with how I looked and felt, to being able to harness the power of being in charge of my own health, and loving my own body. I’m on a mission to help other BG’s do the same.

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