London Marathon finisher Emma Campbell reflects on the 5K and how all runners, no matter how accomplished, should keep a special place for it in their hearts
“As much as I’d rather not begin my second column on a downer, it’s fair to say that it’s been a tough time recently for the online cancer community, of which I’m a reluctant but extremely proud member. Over the last few weeks, we’ve lost several courageous, brilliant and seemingly invincible women. Women who had such incredible life force that you simply couldn’t imagine the day would ever come when they would succumb. It’s shaken us all. ere’s been a feeling of shock, fragility, heartbreak and a reminder of how brutally unpredictable cancer is. One minute you’re ‘thriving’; defying the odds, and the next… well…”
“It might just be coincidence but my daily 5Ks are feeling more potent and essential to my emotional wellbeing now than ever before. Despite training for the London-Marathon like many of us [Emma completed the virtual marathon on 4 October], pushing myself too far distance wise simply doesn’t feel like a priority at the moment and I’m at peace with that.
“A 5K on the other hand? Oh, I could wax lyrical for hours about the beautiful, neat and tidy simplicity of the humble 5K, not to mention the countless benefits for body and mind.”
The first hurdle
“The fact that it’s the average new runner’s first milestone means it surely deserves a special place in our hearts, don’t you think? Some kind of long-term loyalty.
“For most of us, completing our very first 5K was our first real ‘I DID IT!’ moment. From dragging ourselves off the infamous, metaphorical couch and tentatively venturing outside (while possibly wearing an unimpressive tracksuit/pyjamas combo, or is that just me?) to huffing, puffing around the park convinced that you’re about to vomit or actually DIE to… wow, just a few short weeks later running three-point-one miles while wearing a fetching neon ensemble that wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of Women’s Running magazine. It’s an achievement that should not be underestimated.
“A 5K might not warrant the banners and bunting that comes with the victory and euphoria of completing a longer distance. We might not get the exclamations of awe from friends and family. But we’re still doing it. We’re runners, running in a way that works for us and our lives.”
“Let’s look at some of the obvious positives of the glorious, victorious 5K. Lockdown/furlough life aside, most of us feel overstretched and short on time and wonder how we would fit in (let alone commit regularly to) a new form of exercise. Sometimes, that can be reason enough not to bother in the first place.
“But not with a 5K! However much of a plodder, walk/runner, stop/starter you might consider yourself to be, regularly running a shorter distance is something that can be squeezed into the busiest of days. A do-able 30, 40 or even 50 minutes from start to finish and it’s job done.
“You’ve worked up a sweat and your heart rate’s up along with those oh-so delicious, feel-good serotonin levels. The mood you woke up in has improved dramatically even if it was pretty damn good to start with. Perspective and balance is restored and just by putting one foot in front of the other you’ve managed to soothe an over-worked mind.
“My emotions tend to fluctuate rather a lot – always have done. Flying-high to weepy-overwhelm is how my mood pendulum swings and there have been many a morning when no sooner have I shut the front door behind me than the venting, raging or moaning to my running buddy, Bryony, begins.
““Jeez, feel like I’m wading through treacle,” or “Blimey, my legs feel like tree trunks,” we might mumble under our breath to each other a few minutes in as our weary bodies punish us for forgoing a precious lazy start at home with a cup of tea in favour of a cold, wet run.
“But, however much gloom and resistance there might be at the start, I bet you’d agree that there has never been a run that hasn’t ended with a feeling of relief, a lighter heart, a life-changing realisation or simply the restored knowledge that everything will work itself out because, well, it usually always does.
“And our glorious, perfectly imperfect bodies? Your toenails are safe on a 5K. Bleeding nipples? Not a chance. No need to clutch awkward water bottles or stuff snacks into precious legging pockets, let alone deal with the dilemma of how to cope with a bursting bladder.
“A short and sweet 5K… What’s not to love? Repeat daily or as often as necessary for maximum effect.”
Read Emma’s previous column here.
Follow Emma on Instagram here.