Why You Should Drop the Marathons for 5K Races

Seeing yourself get faster, fitter, and leaner by doing shorter, higher-intensity runs might be just what you need.

As runners work their way up the race-ladder in hopes of one day running a half marathon, a full marathon, or maybe even an ultra-marathon, the 5k and 10k races often get tossed into the “no-longer-impressive” category.

If you’re a runner who thinks that 5km and 10km races are best reserved for beginners, or for tune-up purposes only, then keep reading. Below is a list of reasons to consider diverting your focus – at least temporarily – from endurance races to shorter-distance races.

No More Long Runs

Some runners have the desire and ability to train for endurance races, but they just don’t have the time. Failure to meet all the training demands of an endurance event typically results in less than satisfactory race results or, worse still, the possibility of injury if the race effort exceeds the athlete’s level of readiness.

Opting to prepare for a 5km race versus a marathon eliminates the need to spend excessive amounts of time training. An advanced runner may complete several long runs of up to ninety minutes in training, but the intermediate-level runner can afford to limit long runs to sixty or 75 minutes and still perform well.

A further advantage of shorter “long” runs is that training is not terribly impacted during the colder or warmer months. It’s difficult to complete long training runs in extreme weather conditions, but shorter runs can usually be tolerated.

Greater Opportunity to Focus on HIIT Workouts

The purpose of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for runners is to boost speed and fitness, but it’s important to note that any type of speed-work increases the risk of injury. HIIT workouts should therefore be approached with caution and ideally by advanced runners only (tempo and fartlek runs would be safer for less experienced runners).

The great thing about HIIT workouts is that they can yield maximum benefits in the shortest amount of time. While there are various definitions of what a HIIT workout entails, most follow a set number of short, hard intervals, followed by easy recovery periods. When translated into running workouts, an example might be ten minutes of easy warm-up jogging, followed by several sets of alternating twenty-second sprints and ten-second recovery jogs, with the entire HIIT session lasting as little as four minutes and no longer than ten minutes. A ten-minute cool-down jog would complete the workout.

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Besides the benefits of speed and fitness, HIIT workouts also help to improve fat-burning ability (more fat and calories are burned in the 24 hours after a HIIT workout than after a longer, steady-state run), heart health (from greater exertion in the anaerobic training zone), and muscle toning ability (steady-state training often results in weight-loss, along with loss of desirable muscle mass).

Enjoyment of Faster Recovery and More Races

Generally speaking, a safe amount of recovery time after running a marathon is approximately four weeks, versus only two or three days after running a 5km race at hard effort. In addition to the longer recovery time, the training period for marathon runners is also significantly longer – for some as long as six months.

Training for and recovering from shorter 5km and 10km races involves far less investment in time, allowing runners the opportunity and flexibility to sign up for several races a year and have fun challenging themselves.

Turning Your Weaknesses Into Strengths

A good friend of mine has had several foot surgeries, resulting in a decline in marathon performance. At one time she was able to run a sub 3:20 marathon but three surgeries later, breaking four hours is a challenge. She still has tremendous strength and speed though, so rather than let her frustration get the better of her, she turned her main focus to 5km and 10km races and has since been sweeping up age group and master’s division awards.

If endurance training has taken a toll on your body either physically or mentally, consider taking a break and reducing the volume of your training without sacrificing your fitness. You can do this by doing what my friend did – by changing your training strategy to one that will enable you to race more frequently but over much shorter distances.

Save Money on Long Run Fuels and Accessories

Since most 5km training runs take less than an hour to complete, there’s no need to stock up on energy fuels or long run accessories. Your natural energy stores are more than adequate for shorter-duration workouts, and besides your running shoes and maybe a GPS watch, there’s really nothing you need to carry.

So get out there and give your run routine an overhaul if endurance training isn’t working for you at this time. The rewards of seeing yourself get faster, fitter, and leaner by doing shorter and higher-intensity workouts and races might be just what you need.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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