My one carry-on and six personal items are stashed in the overhead compartment. The seat pouch in front of me is crammed with the tools necessary to get us through a 13-hour flight back from Australia to Oregon: bottle, rice puffs, squeezy food packs, diapers, Picky Bars, rubber-boat teething ring, torn-up copy of Brown Bear. My legs feel as battered as pier pilings after a storm, but my arms are relatively fresh and ready for baby wrangling. Jude lurches toward Dude Onplane next to me, who looks on the verge of requesting a seat change.
Dude is wearing Brooks Adrenalines, so I figure there's a 90 percent chance he's a runner. I myself am in heavy disguise with my pajamas, slippers, and baby on. Dude would never guess I was a professional who just competed in an international 5-K at the Sydney Track Classic. I strike up a conversation. He tells me about his marathons, his injuries, his struggles maintaining motivation, his goals. I chime in, and Dude's eyes light up with excitement. "You know a lot about this stuff! You run marathons, too?"
"Well, not really. Once. I race 5Ks mostly."
Mr. Onplane is visibly less impressed. Fair enough. Anyone can run 3.1 miles. "I started out running 5Ks, too," he says. "Keep at it, you'll get there."
I find myself wishing I could give him insight into the intricacies of a short race run bravely. How nervous I was to run a 4:50 first mile with the lead pack, in my first 5K since the 2012 Olympic Trials, knowing I hadn't trained hard enough postpartum to maintain it. I want to talk about how, with three laps left, my body felt engulfed in flames, and how alive that feels compared with the slow burn of the marathon. I want to discuss the final laps when the pack had broken me, and I had to ask myself, Is this as fast as you can possibly run right now? and when the answer was No, making myself try harder for no other reason than that trying hard matters. But I'm too tired to make an enthusiastic case, and besides, Jude has exploded a canister of puffs.
With a growing obsession over distance races, and a focus on completion rather than competition, 5Ks have somehow lost a lot of their badassiness. They have become little more than a gateway drug for marathons. The prevailing mentality is to go longer and longer and longer, until one day you find yourself down six toe-nails, dressed head to toe in compression gear, contemplating your first 50K ultra over a morning bowl of chia seeds. Stop! Listen to me.
The 5K is freaking awesome. It encourages you to develop a combination of endurance, speed, and strength. You can train for it and still have a life. You can race one every weekend and still be able to walk normally. If people ran more 5Ks, I'm positive the average life satisfaction of humans would increase dramatically.
It's time for a 5K Revolution! Join me, and we can all feel the fulfillment that comes with an increase in energy, wealth, and free time. May your competitions provide endless opportunities for smack-talk sportsmanship, and may your medal racks collapse from the hardware earned by flirting with the edges of your potential. And for the love of Pete, may Dude On-plane one day understand the endeavour that is 5000 metres.