After running an unofficial 5K last weekend, I decided to build on my momentum by joining a couple of friends for what became my first official 5K – the Atlanta Westside Beltline 5K. We ran this morning, and it was a blast.
The whole experience was a trip for me. For those of you on the fence about trying official runs like these, maybe I can help to make a case. Here are a few things that stood out about the 5K experience:
- The infectious energy: I hadn’t competed in anything resembling an official sports event in years, and here I was milling about with over 1,000 other runners and walkers early in the morning getting ready for a race. This is the only sport in which the mass of people are the athletes and not just the observers – while most sports play a max of around 20 people, today was a gathering of over 1,000 athletes.
- The festive + competitive atmosphere: Music was pumping, vendors were out in force, and people were talking and preparing. While running can sometimes feel like a chore when done solo, this run had the full party atmosphere.
- Exploration: 5 kilometers is a long enough distance to cover a fair amount of ground. If you’re running in a new place, you can get a very good tour. I got my first time on the Westside Beltline, and I will remember this area of Atlanta fondly because I saw it with my fellow 5K-ers.
- The welcoming community. Universally the runners I met (mostly when standing in line) were an encouraging lot who were pleased to see me (a new guy) out running. This social/community aspect is one of primary draws of further 5Ks for me – each run presents a new opportunity to meet interesting (and sometimes attractive) people.
- Free food and drink: The free food and drinks post-5K are a definite plus. The vendors and organizers behind today’s 5K were generous with their stocks. I got a free banana, free water, and a King of Pops popsicle (which wasn’t free but was definitely worth the cost). Other groups gave out donuts, coffee-based beverages, snack bars, and free beer.
- The embedded accountability. There is simply no giving up. There were too many people around me for you to consider that much of a good option. On that same note, 5Ks open up the possibility that I might join in on team running competitions in the future.
- The finish line: The finish line is always a welcome sight. Because I paced myself well, I still had some energy when I reached it. I sprinted like a gazelle to the line and finished in what felt like a victory.
- Checking results: I didn’t run any kind of extraordinary or competitive race, but it was still fun to compare my time to that of other people (I got 9th in the 20-24 year old male category). I feel challenged to do better next time, and to go from “just finishing the race” to “placing a high score in the race.”