Thoughts on the Run: How far is three miles?

Andy Shearer

(The following is an actual conversation.)

“I really want to run my first race.”

“Which races do you think you want to tackle first?” 

“I haven’t picked a specific race yet but I want to run a 5k.”

“Well, that’s a great distance to do first.”

“Yeah. I thought so, too. How far is that, anyway?”

Hmmmmm, now I know Americans aren’t great with the metric thing, and I know some of you would grouse that our education system failed us on this whole imperial to metric conversion. But really? How far is a 5k? The irony isn’t that this person didn’t know. The irony is that they’ve heard “5k” and didn’t realize it referred to the distance! 

Andy Shearer

Let’s start by tackling just how far a 5k is. It is precisely 3.10686 miles. OR it is exactly 12 ½ laps around a standard 400-meter track, measured from the inside of the first lane.  OR it is the approximate distance between Middletown and Appo high schools (per Map my Run). 

According to the website Race Raves, 5k races account for nearly half of all paid registrants in 2017 (the most recent year for which data was available). According to Runner’s World online, in 2016, 8.2 MILLION people completed a 5k race distance. Apparently, my friend from above has read these stats and realized the 5k is where it’s at!  Of course, I’m not sure where “at” is.

Be honest, as you sit here reading this, you’re probably thinking you could walk/jog/run from MHS to AHS. 3.10686 miles isn’t THAT far. And that’s precisely the point. The 5k race distance is popular for a reason. It is something that almost anyone can aspire to complete, train for and do! It does not take a Herculean effort to do so. The biggest difficulty with running a 5k is figuring out how to start.

The 5k’s popularity is in its ease and challenge simultaneously. It takes endurance, but not too much endurance. It takes speed but not too much speed. It takes training, but not too much training. And it takes patience, but not too much patience. And finally, it takes commitment, but not too much commitment.

I will be totally honest with you. I personally do not like the 5k. Never have, never will. In my day, I could putter a 15-minute 5k. Good but not good enough. I always preferred the 10k. (PLEASE don’t ask me how far that is, I’m begging you!) I’m also a big fan of the XC racing scene. But the 5k was always my gateway into the longer racing distances. At least for me, 5ks were the training basis for my longer racing efforts.

If you use the Google and look for 5k training plans, you’ll be amazed that the sheer number of options available. However, if you are a first-timer or somewhat of a novice, my strongest advice is to find a club or a group that caters to “Couch to 5” athletes (and yes, you’re an athlete). These groups provide an excellent vehicle for training, partnership, accountability, safety and success. There are both in-person groups (Middletown Athletic Club, Pike Creek, Smyrna-Clayton, Downstate Striders, etc.) and online groups who can help guide you.

Once in a while, I’ll be approached about training someone for their first marathon (okay, it’s more than once in a while). My first two questions are “how long have you been running?” and “what’s your best 5k time?’” Occasionally, I’ll get the “I’ve never run a race before” answer. That always makes me giggle, since my first race that wasn’t a high school XC event was a marathon. Soooo naïve (in 1979). 

April and May are great times of the year for spreading your wings a little bit and tackling that first 5k event. You don’t need to race it. You don’t even need to run the entire way (walking is just fine, along with walk/jog mixes). But you do need to know how far it is. And that you can do it.

I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails. 

Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.