The 5k: Part Two

Boy, my 5k post went over awfully well the other day. So well, that after reading for the 654th time what a dolt I am, I re-read the entry and agreed 100 percent. I am a dolt, and I’d like to apologize to any runners I offended.

I’d also like to try again and explain my take on the 5k, and why—in a sense—I’m bothered by their proliferation.

As I noted in the original post, when I was growing up 5ks were awfully hard to find. they existed, sure, but in limited quantities. Most local road races were either five miles or 6.2 miles, with the occasional eight miler, 10 miler and half marathon thrown in. The races were extremely affordable (average price: $5-$10 a pop) and relatively popular. It was a time (mid-1980s) when the running boom was in full bloom, and an increasing number of people were getting into the sport.

As a result, everything exploded. More and more shoe companies were developing their own lines of running kicks. Specialty stores opened up across the nation, offering singlets, running shorts, running socks. Energy gels and the like emerged for the first time, with promises of mid-race boosts. Road running became big business—a genuinely good thing, because it meant more people were exercising.

Then, as it grew and grew, something bad seemed to happen. The 10k—a staple of the era—started fading away, being replaced by the easier and more manageable 5k. Again, I believe (honestly, I do) that 5ks are wonderful, and a genuine achievement for those who make it a goal. But running organizations and townships and the like didn’t merely add 5ks to the schedules. They added them, and eliminated the longer races. Why? Simple—5ks draw bigger crowds because (and I say this simply as basic fact) they’re shorter, and shorter races bring in larger crowds, and larger crowds bring in more dough. Which, again, is fine—if the longer races weren’t being killed off. But they have, in large part, died, because organizing a road race is expensive (manpower, supplies, insurance), and if you can bring in larger mounds of dough with a shorter distance, hey, why not?

Obviously, I get it. Business-wise, it makes sense. Only I miss the 10ks. When I was growing up, Putnam County was loaded with 10ks. There was one almost every weekend, and they were wonderful. Now, as I glance over the local running schedule, I’m dumbfounded by the limited schedule.

Anyhow, that’s my take. I apologize for offending people. Running has been a huge part of my life; a huge love. It has nothing to do with speed or trophies or placement. It’s about challenging oneself.

If a 5k is the challenge you crave, well, you’re running at the right time. 🙂

7 thoughts on “The 5k: Part Two”

  1. Maybe this is a regional thing for you, Jeff, because out here on the West Coast almost everything I’ve entered in the last several years is a combo 5k/10k. Partnering up the gateway run with more of a challenge seems to be the way to attract a bigger swath of runner’s while using the same resource set to keep cost down.

    I have noticed that the more advanced ‘specialty’ runs outside the 5k/10k are a tougher find, but wouldn’t that be kind of a normal thing? Lot fewer folks looking to do a half-marathon, y’know.

  2. I agree with the above comment, the race menu seems to vary depending on region. I’ve lived most of my life in the Milwaukee/Chicago area and enjoyed the wide array of 5ks, which are definitely the most widespread option (as well as my personal specialty). With an impending move to southern California, I have been thrown for a loop by the popularity of 10ks with a 5k “undercard”.

    I may now have to put my pursuit of a sub-16 5k on hold and start training myself for these longer races. Knowing that they are Jeff Pearlman-approved will surely make the switch more palatable.

    If you really want to complain about something, cost would be my suggestion. I’d love to be able to race for $10 each weekend, but that is no longer possible. With the popularization of chip timing and swag bags and tech shirts, $30+ is becoming the norm…definitely not a good development. Just give me a bib, a course, and a cup of water at the finish, and I’d be happier than a pig in slop.

  3. largest 10k in the nation is here in Atlanta a week from tomorrow, supposed to be in the 80’s when they start at 7 am too! get on a plane, it is an experience

  4. If you miss 10ks so much, what is preventing you from mapping out a course and running the 6 miles on your own? Or finding a small group of people to run it with you if you want a challenge?

      1. So why not organize your own 10k race?
        You can promote it on your blog, maybe get an ESPN or SI sponsor? I’m sure once you start planning it, you will then find out why there are so few 10k races in the Westchester /Hudson Valley area.

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