Great Expectations: My First 5K Race Recap

by Carissa

What do you expect of yourself?  I tend to be pretty hard on myself sometimes.  My flaws as a wife, mother, Christian are all too glaring.  I think a type A personality plays into it.  On a positive note, being self-critical can be driving.  Every day I am motivated to draw strength from the Lord and do my best.

As a runner I also set big goals.  I’m not sure why but my dreams are always just a little beyond my reach.  When I run with Jodi she graciously lets me lay out my goals and chases after them with me.  When I race and test my fitness I tend to fall short of the big goals I have.  In the end, I am always pleased with the result and know I give it my all but those “Wow, did that just happen?” moments are far and few between.

My first 5k was a different story.  My schedule suggested I run a 5k in preparation for the half marathon I am training for.  I use McMillan Running Calculator for my training paces.  The calculator suggested a 5k race pace of 6:33.  That’s just slightly intimidating!  My only experience with a 6:30 mile was on December 31st of last year when I ran a mile as fast as I could.  My time was 6:27.  Enough said?

I found a local race and my friend Becky agreed to join me.  On Tuesday before the race I went out for a tempo run.  After a mile warm up I thought to myself, "Why don’t I try to see what a 6:30 feels like?"  It was tough and I couldn't wait to slow down, but when my Garmin chimed, my mile pace read 6:31.  I slowed enough to let my breathing recover for the next mile but continued to push the pace.  My pace for the second mile was a 6:51.  Those two miles gave me the data I needed to set my expectations for the race.
I'm running my shorter runs (including my race) in these Nike Frees.  I love the way they feel.

When I ran with Jodi on Thursday before the race, I told her my goal was to aim for a 6:33 pace although I expected to realistically be around the 6:40 range.  Running that fast sounded strange to both of us.

Friday night I decided it would be helpful to get some pointers on racing a 5k.  (Thank you Google.) A Runner’s World forum gave this advice: "For the first mile you should be breathing harder than usual on a run but not struggling to maintain the pace.  The second mile you need to concentrate on not slowing down as that is the natural inclination.  The third mile you should be pushing just to maintain your pace."  I made a mental note of the three phases of a 5k and checked over the results from last year one more time.  I tried to tell myself,  "I can do anything for 20 minutes," but I didn't really buy it.  Unlike long races where the difficulty comes at the end, I imagined this race would be painful the whole 3.1 miles.

Race day arrived and I had the pleasure of picking up my friend Becky.  On the drive to the race we chatted about race nerves and setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves.  Becky reminded me that no matter the result, we will leave the race victorious.  And I agreed.  
Becky and I before the race

It was a beautiful and cool morning and everything at the race seemed easy.  There were no lines for port-a-potties or bag check.  It was so nice to start a race without the anxiety of waiting in line for everything.  When I scanned the crowd, my stomach sank.  I saw several fast-looking women runners wearing matching Team Athena shirts.  "Well shoot," I told myself, "who invited all the fast girls!? " Team Athena is a women’s running club coached by Nikki Rafie.  Nikki has won the Portland Marathon, qualified for the olympic trials twice, and has won many local races.  And Coach Nikki was at this race.

In spite of the intimidation I felt from the other women racers, I checked my thoughts.  "I am here to do MY personal best based on MY abilities.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter who I’m racing against."

Becky suggested that we do a warmup jog.  It felt so official to be warming up before a race.  Normally I just wait anxiously at the start and go when the gun goes off.  As we leisurely headed down the course path, Becky and I prayed.  We thanked the Lord for the morning, our friendship and our opportunity to run the race together.  We laid our expectations at the Lord’s feet and asked for grace to accept His will for the race.  We asked Him to make us strong and protect our bodies and to race for His glory.  When we finished praying, my mind and body were ready to race.

Back at the starting line I waited near the Team Athena women.  The race began and the small pack of women pulled ahead.  It was of no concern to me because they were clearly running faster that my 6:30 goal pace.  There was no need for me to burn out in the first quarter mile of the race trying to run their pace.  Before I knew it, mile one on my Garmin chimed 6:25.  Perfect.  I had met my goal for the first mile and even had a few seconds to spare.

I waited for the urge to slow down in mile two but it never came.  As I approached the turn around point I cheered for the first and second women that were making their way back already.  I also noticed Coach Nikki as she looped back around.  She looked like she was pushing through pain and I wondered whether I was racing hard enough.  I wasn't to the point of pain yet, but was afraid of reaching it and being forced to slow down.  Mile two was a 6:23.

I passed the mile two marker and focused on staying strong.  It’s a bit of a blur but I believe I started to pass more runners during this last mile.  Mile three: 6:11!  As I approached the third mile marker, I also approached Coach Nikki.  She was running fast and checking over her shoulder.  "Great,"  I thought, "even if I catch up to her I’m sure she’ll be able to outrun me to the finish."  I caught up to her and the small crowd was yelling things like “Go Nikki!” and “You can beat her!”  Yep, they were cheering against me.  How about cheering for the newbie people!?

Nikki pulled ahead and I heard more “Go Nikki!” cheers from the finish line.  In the finishers chute I told Nikki that I knew who she was and that it was a honor to finish with her.  At fifty years old, she finished first in the masters category.  My official time according to the race is 19:49, but the race was not chip-timed. 
Becky coming into the finish

After the finish I had just enough time to grab my things from bag check and cheer Becky across the finish line.  I asked her if she minded waiting for the results just in case I placed for my age division.  It took a long time to go through the men’s results but we finally got to women age 30-34.  I deflated when third place went to someone else but then my name was called for second.  I was beyond excited!  It was my first time placing in the top three in my age division.  
Second place for my division!

That, my friends, is a “Wow!  Did that just happen!?” moment for me.  The rest of the day I was on cloud nine.  It sure felt great to exceed my expectations.  

How about you Sole Sisters?  What do you expect of yourself?  How does it impact how you feel after a race?


  1. So so so awesome Carissa! Gosh, you have something I don't know if I've ever had...that drive to push to pain...Gosh, I wish I had even a little of it but when it comes, I back down. Really great race and report here. Nikki is so awesome...beautiful inside and out. and great personality too. I can't believe she is 50!! She looks way younger! Congrats to you my friend.

    1. Thanks Amanda! I'm totally impressed that you can run the way you run and not get to the point of pain!
      I've been thinking about Team Athena lately. I'm curious about running with them but unsure of it would work out for our family. Being a wife, mom and runner requires lots of juggling! :)

  2. This is a great race recap! That's what I love about running - the feeling of knowing that you've pushed through something hard. I'm always happy at the end of a race as long as I know I did the very best I could.

    Way to go!

  3. I love that you were caught off guard by your performance! What a gift! It's been awhile since I have been caught that way, maybe because I have raced all the distances I can. But i felt that way about the 1mile race I did last year.

    You certainly did honor the Lord with this race. Praying to honor him and giving Him the glory. Thank you for reminding me about how important that is.

    1. Good point Raina. You'd have to try your hand at a new sport. :) I'm hoping to run a 10k next month. We'll see if McMillan is closer this time around. :)

  4. What an awesome experience and fantastic race!!! :)