5 at 5

5 at 5

Sun Salutations on the Summer Solstice.

My training cycle for Boston this year took a lot out of me.  Not so much physically.  Training is always hard physically.  But mentally, I felt the weight of it.  The constant tension of having to screw up enough energy and courage and enthusiasm to hit that next workout with enough fervor to get the benefit.  It became a form of stress.  Always there.  The monkey on my shoulder.  I did not enjoy it.

I was relieved to have it done with.  It was a bit anticlimactic to not get the weather we wanted for the race. I couldn’t really use that fitness I worked through the stress for.  In essence there was no psychological release.  Built up stress, no release.

One of the powerful lessons about marathon training is delayed gratification.  You make the sacrifices.  You compartmentalize the stress of the training in honor of the greater goal, the race.  When the race doesn’t come off it somewhat invalidates the worthiness of that delayed gratification.

I know I have a history of falling off the race-wagon when the marathon is over.  I’m sensitive to the fact that if I don’t find some new project to interest me I’ll fall into poor habits.  Usually I’ll switch to another type of activity for the summer season. Like triathlon, or trail racing or mountain biking.  I didn’t have that plan this year.  Nothing really grabbed me.

This spring, I kept training but I was sick of the 1:30 runs and the workouts coach was giving me.  It was less intense than training for a race but it still took too much thought and too much time.

I just needed a vacation.

I ran a 50k to see if that would clear some of the ennui, and it helped for a couple days but I was still sliding down the slippery slope into weight gain and mediocrity.

I came up with an idea.  I would just simplify my routine to running 5 miles a day.  This shouldn’t be a problem because I had the fitness and volume of my last training cycle.  5 miles is nothing.  Since I always liked the simple clarity of getting up early I decided to get up a 5 AM and do this run first thing, before the day got away.

And since I was not traveling I could take these morning runs right out into the trails behind my house.

The 5 at 5 project was born.

It was the end of May so I called it a 30 day project.  I like the arc of a 30 day project.  I would run 5 miles at 5 AM every day in June.  In addition, I’ve got this old dog who likes to run in the woods with me.  I would take him for the first 2 mile loop.

The whole package would be 5 miles at 5 am for every day in June, loosely 30 days, (although it will end up being at least 33), in the woods, with the first 2 miles with the dog.  No pace requirements.  No heart rate tracking.  No stretching.  No cross training.  Nothing else.  No stress.  Less than an hour every day.

But – Just to keep myself interested I’d take a photo and write a quick blog.

Good plan, right?  Simple.  Straight forward, but still interesting.

What did I learn from this?  What worked what didn’t?

The question I usually get when I tell people about this project is “Was it hard?” And, the answer isn’t a straight forward yes or no.

Was it hard for me to get up at 5 AM?  Not really.  I’m usually up in the morning anyhow. With June being the longest days of the year the sun is up at 5:00 too and this makes it easy to get up.  For the first few days I set the alarm for 5:00.  I realized quickly that I didn’t need the alarm. I woke up naturally with the sun somewhere between 4:30 and 5:30.

Was it hard to run 5 miles in the morning every day?  Again, not really.  Think of where I was coming from.  I just rolled off a marathon training program of 10-12 mile step up runs and 20 mile long runs.  Mentally and physically 5 miles a day is nothing for me.

One question I had was would the daily cadence be too much on my old body?  Would I develop over training tendinitis in my knees, hips, Achilles, etc.? Would the daily cadence break me down?  As it turns out, no, the volume didn’t give me any more aches and pains than normal.  Since I wasn’t worried about pace and I was in the trails, if I felt tired I’d just run slower.

It was never hard, per se.  I did have days where I would be weary or my legs would be tired for some reason but by the time I hit that 4th and 5th mile I’d be flying and full of energy.  My body figured it out.

30 day projects, whether they be diets or any other habit have a natural adaptation arc to them.  The first week or so it’s a little hard to get motivated but the project is new and your enthusiasm trumps any adversity.  Then there is a patch in the 2nd week where it’s still hard and you’ve lost the initial enthusiasm.  This is the low point of any 30-day habit adaptation.

At some point your adaptation kicks in and it becomes effortless. It’s just another habit.  I found this to be true as well.  At first it was interesting to see the morning and feel my body in the morning. Then for a few days it became like a chore where I felt like I had to do this thing.  Then I adapted and it just became part of my rhythm.

How did the dog do?  He did fine.  I started every run with him.  We did the same 2.2-mile loop in 20 minutes or so.  Towards the end he started forgetting it was a run with a destination and he’d float off to smell something and fall way behind.  In the last week, I had to leash him to get him into the trail and out of the trail so he wouldn’t get lost in the yard on the way to the trail like some 5-year-old chasing butterflies.

He seemed to hold up well physically. I gave him the weekends off.

For myself I decide to let the weekends be less rigorous.  I’d still get out for runs on both days but if I wanted to sleep in a little on Saturday I would and if I wanted to join a friend for a 10 miler on Sunday I would.  My shortest run ended up being a hash run with my club that was about 4.5 miles and my longest was a 15 mile trail run with one of my running buddies.

What was the effect of the project on my fitness?

I don’t know what my racing fitness is but my guess is that I probably maintained my aerobic fitness, meaning my ability to go long.  I think my speed was not helped by this repetitive slow running.  A fast 5K would probably be a challenge.

Since I didn’t do any yoga or core or any other kind of cross training my core feels weak.

One delightful thing is that I hardly gained any weight at all this month even with not watching my diet.  The daily calorie burn seemed to be very beneficial and very positive.

The big epiphany.

What really surprised me is how mentally beneficial this process was.  Once I got through the adaptation phase it became like moving meditation.  I never took headphones with me and I was alone with my thoughts.

It wasn’t just that I was being put into a relaxed state like breathing meditation. I would get into that state and think through the challenges and problems and stressors of the day.  I didn’t simply suppress the stressors I transitioned through them, if that makes any sense.  It was a very powerful and effective way to start the day.

I honestly forgot I was running most of the time.  It was transcendent.  I had one day this week where I missed a turn in the trail because I was lost in thought. I ended up running 6 miles.

The second big epiphany.

I don’t know if it was because I did this project t during the summer solstice but I became very aware and connected to the natural cycles of the Earth.  I began to feel the sunrise and the weather in a much more connected way.  Not like it was happening but like I was part of it.  Like I was somehow homeostatically connected to the cycles of the natural world.

I imagine this is how the pastoral farmers of 5,000 years ago felt or their hunter-gatherer predecessors.  This awakening to natural cycles surprised and delighted me.

It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t try this project again in December during the Winter solstice.

That’s my report out on the 5 at 5 project.  If you want to see pictures and blog posts from my daily morning adventures during June you can find them on my website at RunRunLive.com.

If you are stressed out with training and looking for some peace in your running try a version of the this 30 day program and see what happens to you.



  • Fotinos Panagakos

    Reply Reply June 30, 2017

    Hey Chris. Thanks for sharing this journey. I enjoyed reading your entries every day. Since coming off a less than acceptable performance at Grandma’s marathon two weeks ago, I have recommitted to consistent running in the morning (and not just easy runs, but speed work and hills) and core training at the gym. I also am going to spin class two nights a week to work different muscles. All good and feeling the positive effects. Your 5 at 5 played a part in this. Have a great rest of the summer and good luck with the garden – it is looking great! Foti

  • cyktrussell

    Reply Reply June 30, 2017

    Thank man. It was fun.

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