Why Train for Shorter Distances?

Why Train for Shorter Distances?

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.

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.

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.

In 2018, I trained for Many Distances:

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

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.  So now as we enter 2019, 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 another distance.

But why?

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 it’s seeing friends, hiking, or not just not worrying about a long run.

The feeling of high mileage can be repetitive or mentally challenging.  Many people thrive on that, but many people don’t. 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.  I used to hate speed work, now it’s one of my favorite workouts of the week.

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.

Running 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.

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.

Leg Speed and Turnover Increase:

By running and racing shorter distances, you are able to increase turn over. 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.

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 can run more races while still recovering appropriately.  Maybe that is my favorite part!

Racing 5ks or a shorter event doesn’t have to be painful or boring. It’s a challenge to train or race for like any other event.

Questions for you:

What is your favorite distance to race?

Do you have any running goals for 2019? 

5 responses

  1. I think half marathon is my favorite, though I’ve also come around to liking the 10K.

    The first big goal for this year is finishing a 50K (6 weeks away!). Beyond that, I’ve set no specific goal, but I think I’m going to play around at the trail half distance. A local trail race org has a trail half series (with half marathon distances mixed in at a bunch of races), and their races are pretty affordable. I want to get faster on trails, and this seems like a good way to push a bit.

  2. Half marathons are my jam. I ran my first marathon last October and while I absolutely loved it, the training was really really difficult to achieve for me as a mom of 3. Of course people do it, people who are busier than me. But personally I found it just took up so much of my time and energy and left me with so little to give lol. I wanted to love it and keep running marathons but I think I’m going to stick to the half at least until my kiddies are older and less needy. I love reading your blog and really enjoy your perspective on things. Calms me down! Hehe

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