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Surely you’re aware of the big race taking place in our city on Sunday, November 17th. The San Antonio Rock N Roll Marathon and Half Marathon draws nearly 30,000 people from near and far who line up downtown to gut out mile after mile on our city streets. Chances are you may know someone participating in the event, or are even planning to do it yourself.

But here’s something you may not know: there’s also a 5K. An official Rock N Roll event 5K labeled as a Mini Marathon.

In fact, there’s lots of 5Ks around. There’s two great ones this very weekend: the SNIPSA Race for the Rescues on Saturday which benefits pets in need and encourages you to bring your four-legged friend, and the Siclovia 5K which helps offset costs for the free city-wide event this Sunday.

These shoes are made for walking, and running all types of distances.
These shoes are made for walking, and running all types of distances.

But for some reason, 5Ks just don’t seem to get the same recognition as their long-in-the-tooth siblings. There’s plenty of cars our there proudly displaying “13.1” or “26.2” stickers, but when was the last time you saw a “5K” plastered on a Jetta?

Local 5Ks are often the first taste walkers and runners have of the fitness world, and chances are you have an old race shirt haunting a bottom drawer right now. But with all our extremism, they’ve become the Rodney Dangerfield of the race world – no respect. And that’s too bad.

Because when it comes to cardiovascular training, we seem to put a premium on endurance, and discount an equally if not more significant detail: performance. Lost in our pursuit of fitness, and the months and months of distance training is a gem called speed. We all seem to want it and admire it, but nobody wants to train for it.

That’s okay if your goal is general health and wellness, or just to get out and move and burn some calories. But if your goal is fitness, especially in an era when everyone seems hellbent on intensity, perhaps it’s time to focus on less instead of more, and going faster instead of farther.

“There’s benefits to all types of activity, and most people are out there [running or otherwise] to burn calories, and often that’s with the intent to lose weight,” said Steve Bubel, a local trainer and founder of Revolution Sports and Fitness. “But all things being equal, once you get beyond the novice level, you have to go hard to keep making improvements, and the more intense the better,” Bubel said, who holds a master’s degree in kinesiology.

Steve Bubel getting intense. Photo courtesy of Ragan Patterson Studios.
Steve Bubel getting intense. Photo courtesy of Ragan Patterson Studios.

“Going fast doesn’t appeal to the masses because it’s difficult,” he said. “There’s a psychological phenomenon people have about wanting to jump to a marathon distance right out of the box as opposed to training to go faster. But I’ve always been more impressed with speed… Anyone can endure, but not many people can go fast.”

That’s not to say you can’t train to go fast, or at least get faster within your own means. And at least one group is tackling that challenge head on.

Fleet Feet Sports in San Antonio offers beginner programs and standard marathon and half-marathon training, but they recently introduced a comprehensive program for experienced runners which includes speed work, and the response has been enthusiastic and encouraging.

“What we found is that some of our runners have done marathons, but have never seen a track, so they don’t know how fast to go, or how fast they can go,” said Charles Wilson, one of the groups assistant coaches.  “It’s a different type of training, and a different type of fatigue, and unless you have a background in the sport, it can be difficult to self-motivate and do it on your own.”

So why the dramatic transition from beginner to marathoner? In an age when everyone seems pressed for time, over scheduled, and anxious that their latte is taking too long, why do we find it noble and necessary to partake in two and three hour workouts?

This is what going fast looks like.
This is what going fast looks like.

“People generally just do more of what they know,” Wilson said. “There’s a comfort in that, so if you’re a novice runner, the only way up seems to be through distance.”

Talk about hitting the nail on the head … When I first started running, that’s all I knew, and the pinnacle in my mind (at the time at least) was the almighty marathon. It seemed like the quintessential test of ability. And while I’m glad I went through the experience, I do wish now that I would have spent some of that time and energy focused on other elements of fitness – strength, mobility, and speed to name a few. Instead, I just became good at running for long periods of time.

“When you just do endurance, you settle into a speed you’re comfortable with and not much changes,” Wilson said. “You build endurance, but not much else.

“It takes a different mindset to start looking at times… And what most people don’t know is that running a 5K quickly is very hard, so most people instead, elect to go further.”

There’s also the social aspect that can motivates folks against speed, and the simple enjoyment people get from getting out and moving.

“It can be really pleasant to go out and run 5 or 6 miles at an easy pace,” Wilson said. “But no one wants to go do mile repeats at a hight intensity –  that’s when it ceases to be a casual social experience.”

Casual or not, if you’re looking for your next physical milestone, don’t neglect the 5K. Train to run one quickly and your workouts are bound to be intense, but still leave you with enough time in your day to have a social life.

And if you’re looking to start adding some speed to your workouts, take some advice from Wilson.

“Start sensibly and don’t push yourself to the limits the first time out,” he said. “It may be difficult at first, but the more you do, the better you’ll get.”

Juan more time…

It’s been a few months, so it’s time to check in again with our friend Juan Ramirez, a local who picked up the Healthy Hero award at the 2013 H-E-B Slim Down Showdown challenge. Here’s a quick review and update of his numbers.

Juan Ramirez after a late run with the family.
Juan Ramirez after a late run with the family.

Heaviest weight: 375

Starting weight at Slimdown Challenge: 315

Finishing weight: 277

Weight at last check-in (July 20): 262

Current Weight: 260

Goal weight: 200 – 225

Despite some heavy rain, Juan recently completed his first race, the Color Me Rad 5K, and was especially happy to be able to complete the entire event without stopping. He’s been picking his miles up lately and his pace has dropped from 18 minute miles when he started, down to the 13 minute per-mile range. In addition, he still heads to the gym a couple times a week for a BodyPump class and supplements that with some strength training.

With regard to diet, he’s staying on track and implementing new products in the kitchen. “It can get overwhelming sometimes, so we try to keep it simple with staples like lean beef, pork, and chicken. We try to make most things at home, including our own pizzas. I’ve also been making lots of salsas lately, and we just bought a juicer, so we’ll give that a try too,” he said.

Ramirez went from wearing 4XL (left) clothing before the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown to 2XL clothing in May and is now well on his way to single digit sizes.
Ramirez went from wearing 4XL (left) clothing before the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown to 2XL clothing in May and is now well on his way to single digit sizes.

His immediate goal for the next few weeks is to increase the intensity of his training, drop another five pounds, and track his food intake more diligently. He’s also looking for a new challenge, and that may mean training for a mud run or obstacle run, or joining a local sports league in the near future.

Keep it up, Juan!

In other news…

The American Diabetes Association is hosting their annual Por Tu Familia event today from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Neighborhood Center at 3014 Rivas Street. The interactive, bilingual seminar is free, and offers health screening and information, cooking demos, educational opportunities, and activities for the whole family. Stop on by, or click here for more information.

Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His weekly column covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.

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