I showed up for donuts and ended up with an unexpected PR. Running is crazy like that — you never know when it’s going to be your day. No matter how hard we attempt to set up a PR attempt, there are so many things we can’t control.
On Sunday, I participated in the Columbus Donut Run, a 5K through downtown. I signed up because the starting line is less than a quarter mile from my apartment. Also, donuts. Every runner received a box of a half dozen donuts from multiple local bakeries.
The weather was cold (real-feel was below 35 the whole time thanks to a strong wind). I didn’t get up early enough for a proper warmup, and I had to swing back by my apartment for a bathroom stop just five minutes after I started jogging for the starting line. So I showed up with just a few minutes left before the race started. My goal was to run comfortably hard, collect my donuts, and head home. I even carried my phone and wore a long-sleeve shirt, which I never do for any race.
Maybe it was my body wanting to be warm instead of cold, or I was simply numb, but my legs felt great in the first mile. I dropped from my initial 6:40 pace to 6:30 and then 6:20. By the first mile marker, I was down to a 6:13. My second mile was faster than my PR pace (5:37), and I had a good rhythm. I realized I could possibly hit a new personal record when my watch said 11:50 at the two mile marker. Before that point, I hadn’t even considered it.
The final mile hurt, but I was able to put down a 5:35. I kept my foot on the gas long enough to finish in 17:55 (official, 17:58 on my watch). Sunday’s donut run was my first ever sub 18-minute 5K, and a seven second PR.
For a while, all I felt was shock. I decided to run this race just this past Thursday. And at no point did I plan on racing that hard. Yet, when the clock started, I locked in and dropped my best 5K race ever.
For the rest of the day, I laughed to myself about my unexpected PR. Twice this year I went into 5K races with a purposeful goal of running a PR. Both times I failed by several seconds. Each time was crushing. I thought I was in much better shape than ever before for those races, and it didn’t matter. My first mile was on pace and then I slowly watched my pace drop as my legs tightened and eventually failed me.
Sunday was completely different. My first mile was my slowest, my final mile my fastest. I wasn’t stressing over every second along the way. Starting with no expectations meant I put no pressure on myself to be my best. I was just running loose and trying to find a rhythm.
What if we could always race that way? Just run my best possible race for that day instead of trying to force a certain pace.
I know running and racing carelessly all the time isn’t realistic for me. I’m always going to plan and fret. But maybe I can learn a lesson from today’s unexpected PR.
When the gun goes off, wipe out all of the unnecessary thoughts. The stress, the pressure, the weight of the moment. Who knows? Maybe this approach can lead to a few more breakthroughs. And hopefully more donuts.