Distance vs. Speed

This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.

In what is quite possibly the most eagerly anticipated contest since the 2009 release of Monsters vs. Aliens, I have been considering the pros and cons of trying to run quickly against trying to run further. Although there is an element of general musing about the question, it is also key to planning out my targets for next year. If what I actually want to do is run really quickly, a marathon probably isn’t the best plan.

First, a little background: I did my first half-marathon in March this year, and am running my second one in October. Other than that all of my races have been at the 10k distance. Before this year, I’d only passed 10 km a handful of times in training runs – including one 10 mile run which crocked me and stopped me running for the next four months.

Me halfway around my fastest parkrun.

My fastest time is currently from Longrun Meadow parkrun, 21:06. Based on this a few formulas tell me that I should be able to run roughly a 1:37:00 half-marathon. My target time in October is 1:45:00: if I achieve that, the corresponding 5k time would be about 22:50. I understand the differences:

  • I’ve run over 30 parkruns, and do so most weeks, while I’ve only done the one half-marathon.
  • All of my runs are 5 km or more, whereas I’ve never trained over 13.1 miles.
  • The predictions are completely different stages of development: parkrun has honed my 5k PB, I’m still learning about HM pacing.
On Twitter, the majority of the @UKRunChat community are aiming to run further and further: lots are signed up for the Brighton Marathon, which I think is the first (and possibly last) marathon for many, while plenty of others are looking at ultras. This has created a lot of peer pressure (not necessarily negatively) to push myself to run further too. To this end, I pencilled the Robin Hood Marathon into my 2015 calendar, despite the fact that I never really planned on running a marathon quite yet.
The thing is, as I’ve mentioned before, I love running fast. Running for ages? Not so much. So, I’m coming to the conclusion that for next year at least, I might enjoy my running more if I just continue to focus on shorter distances, with a few half-marathons thrown in. To reflect this, my training would have much more speed-work: threshold runs, intervals, and any “junk mile” runs would involve fartleks. Hill sprints are difficult in Taunton, although there’s a few places I can go to run them, it’s just a matter of getting there!
All that said, I’m not completely decided yet: is this just an element of laziness or nervousness about stepping up my distances? I think that it’s just making sure then when I do step up I’m prepared and confident at the shorter stuff. I figure that marathon runners peak later in life, so while I’m still (sort of) young I can focus on running as fast as I ruddy can. I’m even considering running on a track, perhaps not racing though; I’ve seen @runmapporun‘s times, and they scare me!
As you might be able to tell though, I’m still a little unsure about it all: part of me says I can do both, but getting the balance of speed and distance, while maintaining a sensible run/life balance seems a bit too much manage.
What are your goals at the moment: speed, distance, or both?
What advice can you offer me, what has worked for you?

One thought on “Distance vs. Speed

  1. AndrewM88

    I totally understand what you mean. @ukrunchat is a great community, but it is all about running further. Don't get sucked in to formulas, just run your own race. Also, I have done a half marathon, even though I am an 800m runner, and I never trained the full 13.2 miles. My longest run was 9 miles.

    But to the point concentrate on what you want to do. With a 21min 5k there is some base speed there, just a little bit more work in certain areas of training and thats sub 20 in no time. There are plenty of 5k series races around, Street in the Winter and Yeovilton in the Summer run by Yeovil Town Road Runners. Head on up and give it a go, they are fast and flat. You sound like you know what you need to do.

    Also don't look at others and their times. At athletics there are runners of all types, beginners to experienced, young to old…. just give it a go, its a great place to do some speed work and intervals. You say my times scare you off, but remember this is what I train for and have done for 15 years, and I am still not satisfied with my times.

    You can do both, but its about pushing yourself to that next threshold (lactate). Then you will progress.

    Some help for you, my training for 800 currently consists of:
    Mon – 45min run fast (so push yourself) Before I found my new coach I was running 6.45 mile pace, he told me to aim for 6.20.
    Tues – AM 30 min steady run, PM track session – usually a high lactate speed endurance session
    Wed – 30min recovery run (relaxed and easy)
    Thurs – AM 30min steady run, PM – Track, very race specific atm (irrelevant for you)
    Fri – REST DAY
    Sat – either race or interval session (10min steady, 10min hard, 10min steady OR 2 x 5min hard, for me this is 5min miling pace OR fartlek) Theres loads you could do.
    Sun – 60min steady run

    May seem a lot, but it gets my speed and endurance in. This winter I am introducing cross country to improve my strength.

    With hills there are a few ways:

    For speed endurance: 8-12 x 1min hills with 2min job back down
    For endurance: 5-8 x 2min hills
    For pure speed and power: 2 or 3 sets of 3-5 x 30-45secs steep hills

    Another thing you could try is diagonals once a week. So go up to a footy pitch, run from corner to corner at 3k pace, then jog behind the goal to the other corner and run a second rep to the other corner. First time run around 15 reps, but the aim is to get up to 30 reps which will be around 3k. Bit of speed work.

    Hope this helps, any questions just ask.



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