Why Train for Shorter Distances?

Training for shorter distances has big benefits. Let’s face it, we all have our favorite distance for running and racing.  For some people, that’s a 55-meter sprint, and for some, it’s an ultra-marathon.  Everyone has their favorite distance, and that is ok.  That’s the beauty of the sport.

Why Train for Shorter Distances?

Personally, I enjoy the half marathon the most.  In fact, I’ve run 50 now. It’s short enough not to feel the fatigue of a marathon but long enough that you’re not sprinting the entire race. Marathons are glamorous, but there are benefits for training for shorter distances too.

Sometimes we get stuck in the same race distance rut. We train for the same distance year-round. Not only can that get repetitive on your body, but it can also cause overuse injuries or be mentally exhausting. This is especially true for marathons.

In 2018, I trained for Many Distances:

Most of my training was for shorter distances.

I trained and PRed in a half marathon in the winter and early Spring.

Phoenix Half marathon feb me running

Mid to late Spring, I ran but didn’t actively train for anything.

In the summer, I trained for two trail races, something I had never done before. under armour copper mountain race me running

Then in the fall, I trained and PRed in a marathon.

New York City Marathon me running

Since 2016, there has been one to PR to allude me: the 5k. I wished I had an opportunity to race a 5k when I was in half marathon shape, but I didn’t.  Now I’m looking forward to training for shorter distances and hopefully PRing in them. I’m looking forward to just building speed and fitness for both 5ks and half marathons.

So anyway, sometimes the best thing we can do for our running is to take a break and train for a shorter distance:

But why train for shorter distances?

A Mental Break:

Sometimes going through countless weekend long runs can be tiring, boring, and downright unenjoyable. At the end of the NYCM training cycle, I felt exhausted from long runs and higher mileage. I felt like my life was starting to revolve around when and how I would get the long run in, and that’s not me.  I like to do other things, whether seeing friends, hiking, or not just not worrying about a long run. Training for shorter distances allows you to have a life outside of running.

The feeling of high mileage can be repetitive or mentally challenging.  Many people thrive on that, but many people don’t. Training for shorter 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 distance can break you free of that training rut. Doing faster runs with more “action” can bring excitement to your running.  I used to hate speed work; now it’s one of my favorite workouts of the week. I love going to the track!

Long runs also take a lot of time.  It’s not the three hours of actual running but the recovery period and 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.

Training for Shorter Distances Builds Different Muscles:

Obviously, running any distance uses muscles in your legs, but each distance affects your muscles differently.

5ks use more fast-twitch muscles, while longer races use more slow-twitch muscles.  Building both can benefit your running in every distance. Training for shorter distances allows you to build and use different muscles.

Training for Shorter Distances Builds Aerobic Capacity:

Training for short distance races has big benefits for your aerobic capacity. Recently, I’ve heard a few elite athletes talk about the marathon like “death by 1000 small papercuts”.

The marathon or any long event is a moderate effort over a long sustained period. When you race shorter, you develop your body to utilize more oxygen in a shorter period of time. (IE: All of the pain of a long race into a shorter one). The more oxygen you can consume, the more physical work you’ll be able to do.

Training for Shorter Distances Builds Leg Speed and Turnover Increase:

By running and racing shorter distances, you can increase turnover. You’ll become a more efficient runner at both shorter and longer distances.

When I raced my full marathon, I knew I wasn’t in the best shape of my life because my half marathons and shorter distances were much slower than the Spring. I’ve always done better when my shorter races are faster too.

Training for Shorter Distances Means 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 to run more races while still recovering appropriately.  Maybe that is my favorite part!

Conclusion:

Racing or training for shorter distances doesn’t need to be painful or boring. It’s a challenge to train or race for like any other event. Sure it takes less time to complete them, but it doesn’t mean they are any easier!

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Questions for you:

What is your favorite distance to race?

Do you have any running goals for 2019?