A Team Effort for an Individual Achievement

Last summer I was coming off of a season of my life that was consumed with strength training and rucking, culminating with the completion of a GORUCK “Heavy Heavy” event. I decided to transition my focus into cardio and running and I set the arbitrary (and unknowingly ambitious) goal of running a 5K race in under twenty minutes, which works out to about a 6:26 pace per mile.

I went into the effort not really aware of how difficult a target I’d set for myself; I truly believed that with a little solo running, I would be able to achieve my sub-20 5K and then move on to whatever I wanted to do next.

I soon realized, though, that if I really wanted to achieve my goal, I was going to need both a team and a plan. I enlisted the help of a few competent runners and followed what they said. They mapped out a weekly training plan for me that was about three months in duration, designed to help me build and sharpen to where I’d be ready to run a sub-20 5K at the end. The plan mixed track workouts, tempo runs, long runs, and easy runs.

Following the plan, I gradually built my weekly mileage higher and higher and pushed my training and racing pace faster and faster. I was very transparent with my training on social media, sharing with candor both the good and the bad.

I didn’t always understand why the plan called for the different workouts, but I took it day-by-day and trusted the leadership of these people who I knew to be both competent and accomplished.

One thing I quickly learned is that a key component to getting better and faster in running is consistency. In our household, we like to call it “checking the box.” Every day that you train, you “check the box.” You never allow your good days to get you too high and you never allow your bad days to get you too low. Every single day and every single training session is all a part of a bigger plan and your focus has to be on that run that you’re in.

My training plan was focused on one goal, one race -- so if I had a bad training run or a great training run that did not change anything, because it was not the end-goal.

All of my training was focused on a specific race that ended up going terribly. I did not follow my race plan and went out way too fast, thinking I could “bank” time against the finish. But my credit didn’t hold up against the debts I owed over the final mile and a half of the 3.1-mile race, and I finished in 21:20.

I was disappointed and more than a little discouraged. Thankfully, I had the right kind of community around me that helped me shake my doubt and quickly assemble a plan to make a second attempt just three weeks later. I went back to work and got in some of my best and worst training runs before my next attempt. I spent a lot of that time focused specifically on hitting my goal pace of 6:26 per mile and even broke it down further into quarter-mile increments.

Three weeks after my big fail, I raced again. This attempt was much more low-key; most of my friends and family were out of town and I didn’t make a big deal about it publicly. I was much more relaxed and went out with a focus on hitting my quarter-mile splits. I ran the first mile in 6:22 and the second in 6:36. At that point, I felt great and knew that I only had 1.1 miles left and was right where I wanted to be. I ran the last mile in 6:28 and sprinted to the finish line to successfully run a sub-20 minute 5K with a few seconds to spare.

Reflecting back on the journey, I see a very real example of something that was very difficult and took a lot of hard work but was absolutely worth it. I surrounded myself with the right people, who both encouraged and instructed me. My trust in their leadership helped me reach a place I had never been before and could not have reached on my own.

Joshua Gandy