PUMPING IRONY: My 5K Debate: Faith or Paranoia?

Can I expect to run my annual 5K without any training, like I did last year? A new study could get me on the dreadmill.

Last winter I was politely coerced into spending my New Year’s morning running 5 kilometers in the sub-zero haze of downtown Minneapolis as part of Life Time’s Commitment Day festivities. I’d never run a 5K before and haven’t run one since, despite several opportunities to do so in much warmer weather. So, when my fitness guru, SW, asked me last week how my 5K training was coming along, I was pretty much at a loss for words.

What I wanted to say was that I am a creature of habit and, while my son has convinced me to drag my butt out of my warm bed again on January 1 and chase him to the finish line, I’m not in the habit of training for anything — especially a 5K. After all, I cranked through my first and only “fun run” with no more preparation than I usually make before climbing on my bike and pedaling up the hill to the office every morning: make sure my shoes are tied and my fly is zipped.

Why Train for a 5K?

But a new study from the Canadian Journal of Cardiology has me rethinking my cavalier attitude. Researchers at the institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Quebec found that poorly trained runners can suffer heart damage while running a marathon. In fact, more than half of the subjects tested experienced swelling and reduced blood flow in the heart. As Eric Larose, the study’s lead author, put it in a statement released by the university, “Although no permanent injury was observed in this group of runners, the findings suggest that there may be a minimum fitness level needed beyond which the heart can bounce back from the strain of training and running a long race.”

Now, my rational side tells me that jogging a 5K in 35 or 40 minutes is not the same as huffing non-stop for the six or so hours it would take me to travel 26.2 miles. My irrational side, however, conjures up images of ambulances, emergency rooms, and triple-bypass surgery. This would not be my preferred way to begin the new year.

The question, then, comes down to a debate between faith and paranoia. Am I confident enough in my fitness level to assume that I’ll cruise happily through that morning run without any real training, just as I did last year? Or am I courting disaster if I don’t climb on the dreadmill and begin to persuade my aging cardiovascular system that it’s up to the task?

At this point, I have to admit I’m more inclined toward the paranoid view. I haven’t done any running in recent memory and, while my morning workout gets my heart pumping pretty good, it’s not designed to test my endurance — or my creaky knees. So I guess I’ll have to lace up my sneakers and hit the (mechanical) road. What doesn’t kill you, after all, makes you stronger. Right?

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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