Tuesday, January 2, 2024

New Year's Day 5K: Workout or Race?

Yesterday morning I ran the New Year New Day 5K in Ashburn, VA. This race was a last-minute decision for me. I was pretty sure I was NOT going to run a New Year's race because I had done two 10Ks in December-- one of which I didn't blog about because there wasn't too much to say!

But as I was putting together my training plan I realized that I had speed work on tap for Monday, and that also happened to be New Year's Day. Whenever I can run my speed workout in a race, I do it! I like being in the race environment and seeing my friends. The fact that my friend Cheryl would be the official race photographer sealed the deal. 

I registered for the race on Friday and decided it would be my tempo run for the week. On Saturday, I ran my longest run since the marathon: 11.7 miles. It was supposed to be 12 but I arrived back home at 11.7 and my legs were pretty tired from Thursday's strength training session. 

On Sunday I did a 3-mile recovery run and my legs were still sore! If I had not registered for the race, I would have likely pushed my speed work to Tuesday. The soreness didn't bode well for fast running on Monday. Anyway, I ended up with 1,566 miles for the year in 2023. Much lower than my typical 2000-2500, but that was by design. And the spring "down season" seemed to work in my favor come fall!

Before the Race
Because I was viewing this as a workout, I didn't pay attention to what I ate the day before the race. And on race morning I didn't have my typical urge to go to the bathroom. The whole thing was super casual. The race started at 10:00am which meant I needed to eat more than I typically would before a 5K.

I had a Maurten Solid + a handful of almond butter pretzels at 8:00. 

As soon as Greg and I arrived at the race site, my body got the message that it was "go time" and so I was able to clear out my digestive system. Sorry if this is TMI, but it's an important part of pre-race prep!

Warm up with Greg in background
I had not studied the course in advance. I had run this race in the past - but it had been on a differentcourse. They moved the race to a new location this year. My friend Cheryl had sent me the map in advance and I could tell that the race started downhill, flattened out and then finished uphill.

I was pleasantly surprised to run into my friend Lisa when I was picking up my bib! She also had registered for the race on Friday. 

I warmed up for about two miles and had my Maurten gel. I timed the gel for a 10:00am start and then learned that the 10K start was 10:00, and the 5K start was 10:10. Oh well! This allowed me to get in more of a warm up anyway.

It was 41 degrees with 10-15 mph winds and overcast. The wind and the lack of sunlight made it feel closer to 31 degrees. I give this an 8 out of 10 on my race weather scale. Everything was ideal except for the headwind during the first half of the race. And it was also damp feeling (it started to wet-snow shortly after we finished!) When I took my jacket off after the warm up I was very, very cold! 

Mile 1: We started running and I decided to go with whatever I felt like doing. No target pace, no target effort - just go with the flow and run hard. I think there must have been a high school boy's cross country team at this race because there was a pack of about 15 guys ahead of me. One woman surged way ahead of me but aside from here, there were no other women ahead of me. 

The first mile was downhill so I took it fast, but the headwind was also a factor. I think the headwind negated the advantage of the downhill. But that just meant the final uphill would like have a tailwind - so it was the ideal setup of wind and hills. I didn't look at my Garmin much and it clocked in at 6:32 for mile 1. 

Mile 2: During this mile I started passing other runners - both 5K and 10K runners. The 10K had started 10 minutes prior so I was beginning to catch up with the walkers. As for the other 5K runners, it was fun to pick off the high school boys one by one as I cruised through mile 2. I don't really remember the elevation here but it seemed to be gently rolling hills - nothing too challenging. We still had a headwind and I was dying to turn out of that wind! My split was 6:36.

13-yr old boy vs. 45-yr old woman
Mile 3: This mile was all about passing people. There was a teenage boy (13-year old) in a bright orange/red outfit ahead of me and I followed him through the crowd of 10K runners. The 10K runners were all very encouraging as we ran past them. As I caught up to the boy in red, he surged until I caught up with him again and then he surged. I could tell he did not want me passing him. I was glad I was there to push him! My split was 6:28. This mile was net uphill, but it was the fastest mile because the headwind was gone and I guess I finally warmed up!

The final 0.26: When my watch beeped for 3 miles, the finish line was nowhere in sight. I really hoped the course wouldn't be too much longer than a 5K! I was now ahead of the 13-year old and riding the tails of a 16-year old - but he surged and didn't let me pass him. 

Finally I crossed the finish line in 21:11, second place female. Here is a video of me crossing the finish line.

After the Race
Surprisingly, I was not totally dead after this and immediately was able to start my cool down. Usually I need like 5-10 minutes to recover after a 5K. So I jogged back onto the sidewalk of the course and found Lisa and ran in with her. 

Then I found Greg and we had THE BEST EVER post-race food. In all my years of racing, I have never encountered something so amazing. Hot Belgian waffles on a stick, and you could choose a drizzle flavor and a crunch topping. And there were so many options. 

I chose dark chocolate drizzle with Oreo. Greg chose apple cinnamon drizzle with sea salt. I normally never want food for at least an hour after I race, but I was so excited about this waffle. We later found Lisa and her husband and the four of us hung out for a while until the awards ceremony started. 

My award was a glass, a stainless steel water bottle and $20 off any of the Loudon County races in 2024. It was a wonderful way to spend New Year's Day and I am so glad I did this race!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I am really loving this "chill" attitude towards racing. It's making me run so fast without me even trying that hard. 

  • I definitely didn't feel like I was racing this at 5K effort, given how great I felt at the finish line. 
  • Maybe I was racing it at full effort but my carefree mindset masked the effort.
  • Maybe if I did race a 5K all-out right now I would be much faster?
  • The course was not certified, so instead of looking at this as a time of 21:11, I am looking at my average pace of 6:32. 
  • According to Strava, my 5K time during this race was 20:17, which would be tied for my 4th fastest ever 5K. 
  • It was interesting the wind negated the advantage/disadvantage of the uphill/downhill. So the first downhill headwind mile was slower than the last uphill tailwind mile.
  • Considering I ran nearly 12 miles two days prior, this was a strong performance!
  • If they do this race next year, I hope they get the course certified and continue to have the waffles.
As I go into 2024, I'm going to focus on enjoying races and being "present" in them as opposed to in my head with the Garmin and the pace I'm looking at. If I run by feel, I can trust that my body will do what it can!
Finish Line

Lisa and me


  1. Okay it is annoying that the course was long but the waffles make up for it. And how fun to have raced the 13 yr old. 2024 racing is off to a great start!

  2. Well this time I have to quibble a bit and you really don't know that the course is long based on Strava or any GPS device. Too much error in both venues. And being USATF certified course does not guarantee the course is 5km in length. All certification says is the course is "at least the stated distance!"

    But generally if devices come out something way out there like 3.26-mi, then I have to say your race course was longer than 5 km distance. Did the course have mile markers laid out? Sometimes that helps in deciding if the course distance is reasonable to the stated race distance.

    Splitting hairs using Strava, pace and such is a stretch to say you running fast or faster than what they end FT says. In my humble opinion you don't really need to go that route. You were #2 female to finish and that is one heck fine place to end up. And in your heart and based on feel, you will know how hard you ran and how well you performed! You ran very well, definitely pushing it hard to your limits of "controlled-hard" running. No need to record it as 6;32 pace, just revel in the 2nd place overall female and that you pushed and passed some of the young X-Country youths! There is the beauty in that run! Congrats that you still run like a Zebra!

  3. Congrats on a well-run race! It has to be so exciting to pick off those XC runners! Those young guys are so competitive!

    1. Yeah, the 13-year boy was on the ground at the end and I thought he needed medical attention. I watched over him until his mom came. He was fine - just pushed super hard!

  4. Glad that 13 yr old was ok afterwards. You brought out the best in him and that will make him a better runner in the long run 🤞. Great job and yeah that course sounds longer than a 5k but you got your hard run in