Why Run Far When You Can Run FAST?!

May 16, 2016

Running expert Nate Vandervest offers his thoughts on why, when it comes to mileage, bigger isn’t always better.

In 1990 there were 224,000 people who completed a marathon. Today, more than 550,000 people complete a marathon every year!

Half marathon numbers are even bigger, with 303,000 people completing one in 1990 and over two million people doing so annually in recent years.

The popularity of running generally has increased in recent years, but why are these distance events so popular? I can only speculate, but I think the attitude of “bigger must be better” has come into play. More marathons and half marathons have started popping up across the country, and a lot of people must have thought, “I’ve done every other road race — why not add to the list?”

For eight consecutive years, I ran a marathon a year. Many people can’t seem to wrap their head around running that long and that far — I mean, Green Bay to Appleton is 26 miles! No doubt, there’s a big sense of accomplishment in doing something so few people have done, and for that marathoners should be proud.

But what ever happened to just running fast?

Most people also can’t get their head around running a 45-minute 10K. Trust me, I know all too well how hard it is to train for and run a good marathon or half marathon. I also know how devastating it can be to put in all that time and for Mother Nature to not cooperate with you on race day.

And time, after all, is the main factor here — if you have the time you can train for these races, complete them and do pretty well. But how many of you can still run a fast 5K, or catch your kids or grandkids in a game of tag?

A few years back it hit me that my window for racing fast at the shorter distances was starting to close. I redirected my training and took on a more speed-oriented approach. I wanted to see if I could run faster than I ever had in the 10K, 5K and one-mile distances.

Training to run faster is a meticulous challenge. Figuring out the right amount of endurance and speed training can be tricky … but it is so much fun! Especially for runners who lean more toward the genetic end of fast-twitch muscle fibers, this type of training can be just what you need to break out of a funk.

My training has taken me back to sprinting, hills — even 400s on the track! I know for some of you, I might have just jarred loose some awful memories from high school track — but if you are like me, 400 meter repeats is a workout worth getting excited for!

None of this is to take away the incredible accomplishment of running a half or full marathon. But I’m asking you to consider other opportunities that might be before you with a little change to your training. As one of my coworkers says, “if you do what you always did, you get what you always got.”

Why not change things up and challenge yourself to run a fast mile, 5K or 10K? You might be surprised at how you do. As a bonus, shorter distances offer more chances to fine-tune your race and let you recover more quickly than their longer counterparts. You might also be surprised how switching up your training benefits you when you go back up to the longer distances.

So don’t give up your marathoning career — but do consider giving yourself a different challenge by shortening up, running faster and racing more. Best of luck!

Always Running,

Nate Vandervest
Running Coach, CSCS, CES

Nate is a running coach and strength coach who specializes in running assessments, strength training and personalized running programs. For more information, email him at Nathan.Vandervest@bellin.org.

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