Why training for Shorter Distances will you make you a Better Distance Runner

Why training for Shorter Distances will you make you a Distance Runner

Why training for shorter races will make you a better distance runner

Let’s face it, we all have our favorite distance.  For some people that’s a 55-meter sprint and for some it’s an ultra marathon.  Everyone has their favorite distance.

Personally, I enjoy the half marathon the most.  It’s short enough not to feel the fatigue of a marathon or the delusion but long enough that I don’t feel like I’m all out sprinting.

Sometimes we get stuck in the same race distance rut. We train for the same distance year round. Not only can it get repetitive on your body but it can also cause over use injuries and be mentally exhausting.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves and our running is to take a break and train for another distance.

But why?

Training for various distances can benefit any runner in a few ways. 

First: A mental break:


Sometimes going through countless weekend long runs can be tiring, boring and downright unenjoyable. The feeling of high mileage can even become annoying, repetitive or mentally challenging.  Focusing at different distances throughout the year allows your brain a mental break.  There isn’t a need to run a 20-mile long run while training for 5ks, in fact, it’s counter-intuitive.

Sometimes lowering mileage and training for a shorter race can break you free of that training rut. Doing faster runs with more “action”, can bring excitement back to your running. To be honest,  I felt bored and tired after Phoenix.

My training the last six months have shifted to multiple speed workouts, races, and runs filled with action. That change broke me out of the LSD (long, slow distance) rut I had been in for months.

Long Runs also take a lot of time.  It’s not the three hours of actual running but the recovery period, as well as are the “are you going to want to be productive the rest of the day” mindset after a long run.  Most of my 20 mile long run days were spent relaxing at home and being as lazy as humanly possible.

Second: Running Shorter distances builds different muscles: 

Obviously running any distance uses muscles in your legs but each distance affects your muscles in a different way.

5ks use more fast-twitch muscles while longer races use more slow twitch muscles.  Building both can benefit your running in every distance.

Hidden Bonus: More racing


Generally a half or full marathon costs upwards of 100 dollars.  Now you can do at least 3, sometimes many more 5ks for that same price.  So yes you are paying $25-30 per 5k, but you are racing more often.

You also recover much faster from races, so you have the ability to run more races while still recovering appropriately.

Here are some more research based articles:

The Risks and Benefits of Distance Running

Why You Should Drop the Marathon for 5ks

Tweet: Why training for Shorter Distances will you make you a better Distance Runner http://ctt.ec/Q36q3+ CC @fueledbyLOLZ

Questions for you:
Do you have a favorite distance to run?
What is your favorite type of workout?


  1. I ran 5k and 10K races for most of last year and avoided injury. I didn’t put up times like you did, but I still ran a lot of races and had a lot of fun.
    Long distance running puts a lot of strain on your body, that is for sure.

  2. I’ve kind of hit the long distance triathlons pretty hard since I got into it (I’ve got an Ironman this summer!), but I think my favorite distance might be the Olympic. It’s a 1500m swim, a 24.8 mile ride, and a 6.2 mile run. The time commitment is shorter, and you actually have time to work on speed instead of just trying to build your aerobic base.

  3. Thanks for all of this info! I love using races as “speed work” for my longer races. All of my PR’s were achieved when I incorporated races into my training. Plus, I think they’re fun!

  4. You hit on a good point that gets overlooked a lot: recovery time is crucial. That’s one advantage pros have compared to us “normal” folks. Fatigue from longer workouts takes a few hours to kick in for me personally. I’ll have a few super productive hours immediately after, but usually 4-5 hours post-workout, I’m on the couch and not moving. 🙂

  5. I have figured out that I’m just not good at long distances. The training plans are draining, its hard on your body, and after a year of doing a few half marathons, I got a case of plantar fasciitis that would not go away. I’m going to stick with shorter distances from now on. Also, I like doing all the races 🙂

  6. I’m trying to incorporate more shorter races into this marathon training cycle! Especially 5 milers. They absolutely KILL me, but I still kind of love the challenge they bring. The only problem I have with 5ks is paying $35-$40 when I won’t use any of the resources like water or food, and it’s over so quickly!

    1. That makes sense Annie. $40 is definitely a bit high for a 5k if there isn’t anything unique or special about it.

  7. another great post! since i hired the coach she has helped me understand the importance of training for different distances. i think i prefer the 10k the most, but thats probably because i was slower and the half marathon took a mental tool because i was running those in about 3 hours.

  8. Since coming back to running following knee surgery (tore the meniscus in my knee during an XC race) I spent much of 2015 running faster. Everything about my running got better, and more than anything I enjoyed it more. The best part was that in October, as a result of this concerted effort to get consistent and get fast, I knocked 51 minutes off my marathon PB and got within a gnat’s whisker of a sub 3:30. Can’t wait to go even better this year – and I’ll be doing that thanks to the speedwork.

    1. Holy moly that sounds really painful. I’m glad you’ll be able to recover and I can’t wait to hear how the full goes. Do you have one picked out?

  9. This is exactly what I needed to see today! I have zero time right now to train for anything longer than a half marathon and I hate the idea of doing another ‘off the couch’ race with not enough adequate training. Maybe I’ll make this the year of the 5k! The last 5k I ran was about 5 years ago…but it ended with a high note and a first place age group medal! 😉

    1. That’s awesome and I would honestly focus on shorter. It sounds like you’ll be much happier mentally 🙂

  10. Hiiiieee! Missed your posts. Came back to blogging on a great day because this really speaks to me! I am considering a marathon break next fall and to do what you did – schedule short distances like every single weekend. Still not sure. It might be time, though!

  11. I LOVE this approach because it is exactly what I am trying out for my spring season for the first time.

    1. I’ve been running shorter distances for about 8 months now and my speed has increased drastically. Do you have any goal races?

  12. Wow! This is awesome! Good to know that the two can go hand-in-hand! I’m not much of a runner, but I truly admire those who are! Keep up the great work girl! SO motivating!
    Xoxo- Cailee @ http://hellohealthyeating.com 🙂

  13. Okay, so this is what I have found about myself. I can log 80 miles per week without feeling it, as long as I’m not doing any speed work. If I start doing speed work, I can feel things starting to creep up even if I cap my week out at 70 miles, or even 60. And it freaks me out. Getting injured scares me to bits. As much as I want to start racing short distances (my first 5K ever is this Saturday!) I’m scared that it will take away from my long distance running because the LSD runs are the ones where I really feel mentally healthy. But I really want to get faster and stronger and I know the shorter distances will help me with that. This is my dilemma!!!

    1. I think something will have to give and you’ll have to cut back mileage while increasing speed. Otherwise it will be a recipe for injury!

  14. I fell back into shorter distances last year and enjoyed it much more than I had been enjoying the marathon training. I still love the half though because it doesn’t sting like the 5K/10K races always do.

    1. The 5ks are always so painful because it’s like all of the hurt compressed into a short if amount of time!

  15. I really love 5Ks and half marathons. I like the long slow distance from halves, but I like the 5K races for the adrenaline rush. I think doing those fast, short races is really great training though to make you more successful in longer distances so it is a great balance.

  16. I love the half marathon also! The training is the perfect balance of distance running and shorter speed sessions. As a coach I think a lot of runners focus too much on the marathon and that there’s a lot of benefit – especially the reasons you name – for focusing on shorter races for a while.

  17. I would say that my favorite distance as of now is the 8k/5 mile races. This year I really want to do more shorter races. I love the atmosphere of racing and it’s cool to track your progress if you’re doing them more often.

  18. Such great points here, Hollie! I like the half marathon distance as well. Its been great to run shorter distances as well to really hone in on speed and challenge my body in different ways. I’ve been loving Fartleks lately!

  19. I’m currently super comfortable in my 5k, but I definitely feel like I need to challenge myself on the speed or distance front in order to see some improvements in my running. The only thing I’m worried about is injury. I feel like I’ve managed to avoid it up to this point because I didn’t push myself too hard, but it also means I haven’t really been improving the way I want to. Tough to find that balance.

  20. My favorite distance is the marathon, but I definitely agree that it’s important to incorporate shorter speedwork and races into your training regimen! Also helped to mix it up and prevent boredom. Thanks for your post!

  21. My personal preference is 10k. I train for 10k runs just be doing 2 x 5k runs per week before work and one 10k run at the weekend. I’m happy with that level of training and that distance.

    I did do a Half Marathon a few years ago and it killed me. Wiped me out for a whole day, whilst at least my 10k races mean I can still function for the rest of the day! Lol.

  22. So very true! I get very comfortable with a lot of my runs. I hate doing speed workouts, but I know they are good for me. My favorite distance is the Half Marathon as well!

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