MAY 6TH, 2018

BY COACH ZACH SHTOGREN

THE VALUE OF RUNNING A VARIETY OF DISTANCES

Emerging from a Rut

Like my buddy, you have been doggedly pursuing a goal that has proven elusive for far too long. While single-mindedness is common to our tribe, it’s not always helpful. You one day may achieve your long-held goal, but you need a break first. For the sake of variety, if nothing else, sign up for a different race distance. You might go into it feeling like a fish out of water, but the result could very well surprise you.

marathon runners in a pack

His last buildup, in preparation for Chicago, was meticulous. Volume, intensity, recovery, nutrition, strength, and conditioning—it was all executed to a T. He had stacks of hay in the barn. Race day came with perfect conditions. It was the flattest of courses. He went after it. He was on pace for sub-three until mile 21 when he bonked and bonked hard—for the fifth time in three years.

marathon runners in a pack

Disillusioned, he asked me a few days later how he could adjust his training. He was still laser-focused on 26.2 miles. I suggested a new goal: a 10,000-meter race, one-fourth of the marathon, a touch over six miles. “10k, huh?” he asked with defeat. I didn’t think he would bite. It seemed like he was going to be one of those grizzled old hobblers still eyeing three hours with hunger and spite into his master’s years. But when he posted on social media that he has signed up for his city’s big annual 10k, I was pleased. This would be good for him, I thought. His confession came in a text the evening before the race: “I really don’t how to run this distance.”

I have a running buddy, a marathoner, who for several years was trying to break three hours. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Coach Zach Schtogren Educated Running

I told him he did, not really knowing if he did. He told me he didn’t have “the right fast-twitch profile.” Twelve hours later he ran the distance and clocked a time that put him just shy of an age-group medal. He was over the moon. Those fast-twitch muscles were there after all.


Incorporating longer or shorter race distances than what you are accustomed to can add a new dimension to your overall fitness. So, let’s consider a few scenarios that could make you trade up or down.

Coach Zach Shtogren

Coach Zach Shtogren is a USA Track and Field Level 1 certified coach and a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Endurance Specialist. Coach Shtogren is a firm believer that running has the potential to shape and redirect lives at whatever age, and that a diligent athlete who focuses on a long-term goal can achieve just about anything.

Recruiting Muscles

Marathoners often lack sufficient speed. Short and mid-distance folks often lack endurance. Dr. Timothy Noakes, the renowned South African exercise scientist, explains “optimal training should be at all running intensities so that all muscle fiber types are trained equally.” Hopefully, if you are marathoner or half marathoner, you already have a speed component in your training such as strides, intervals, or fartleks. If you run 5-10ks, you should be doing longer runs that total 15-20% of your weekly mileage. True, your individual ratio of fast to slow twitch muscles is a determinant in your optimal race distance, but it is only one determinant and should not be a reason to eliminate certain intensities from your training. As Noakes stresses, successful runners cover all their bases.


Tuning Up

Even if you don’t consider yourself a 5 or 10k runner, these are great distances to rehearse for a longer goal effort like a half or full marathon. A tune-up race allows you to go through your full pre-race, race and post-race routines. Scheduled four to six weeks before a longer effort, these distances can serve as high-intensity peaking workouts that leave you confident going into your taper.


Leaving the comfort zone is in many ways what running is all about. I encourage all runners to be more versatile and to keep pushing the arbitrary limits that emerge in their training and racing.

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