Training For The 'Right' Distance

The Mileage Link Between Training and Racing

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08/10/2010 at 11:29
It seems that, in this country at least, many years ago the club running scene fell in with the dogma that longer is better.  As soon as you've completed a 5k it's time to tackle a 10k, then continue on to the holy grail of the marathon.  Then you can call yourself a runner.  Which is fine of course, but what of the runners whose ultimate goal is to fulfill their potential and not just cross off items on their bucket list?

Well I suggest you focus primarily on the distance at which your training effectively supports.  Take your time moving up the distances and do so when your training enables you to do so whilst maintaining sensible training principles.  I'm a believer that enjoyment is closely linked to accomplishment, proficiency and staying injury free.  You'll accomplish more if you are training effectively for the distance you focus on, you'll only really become proficient if you've given yourself time focusing on the distance allowing you to adjust your training to see what works for you and, of course, you'll have more chance of staying injury free sticking to the principles and not being forced into in appropriate training forced upon you by your distance (a 20m long run as part of a 30m training week for example).

So, some generally sound training principles to start - I'm not including marathon training here as it's a different beast):

1)  A long run that is longer than your race distance and at least 6 miles. 
2)  A long run that is 20 - 30% of total mileage.
3)  Running at least 4 times a week.
4)  Quality mileage of between 15-20% of total mileage, not more.
5)  Quality work should be preceeded by at least 15:00 of warm up.  Let's say 2 miles.
6)  A quality work warm-down of at least 0.5m.
7)  For most runners 2 quality workouts every 7 days is sufficient.

8)  For distances beyond 10m you'll also want a midweek long run of about 66% of the long run mileage (and it's also a good idea for 10k downwards as well).

We can argue the toss over the details of these in certain circumstances but they are used to illustrate a general principle rather than being the point of this post.  These of course are minimums - it's desirable to use a progressive approach to mileage over time even if your chosen distance doesn't change.

So, for someone to start training effectively for the 5k would require an absolute bare minimum of about 20 miles per week minimum, for example:

Long:  6m easy
Q1:  2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Q2: 2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Easy:  5m

For 10k, 28 miles:

Long:  8m easy
Q1:  2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Q2:  2m easy + 3m quality + 0.5m easy
Easy:  6m
Easy: 4m

For HM, 40 miles:

Long:  14m easy
Q1:  2m easy + 3m quality + 0.5m easy
Q2:  2m easy + 5m quality + 0.5m easy
Midweek long:  9m
Easy:  4m
08/10/2010 at 11:30
I say bare minimum because how many people would expect to truly perform well and really "master" their distance off such low quality a week and which, for those mileages, is really the most quality that can be supported by the easy miles.

If you look at how these very conservative guidelines apply to most runners you know you can see they blow them out of the water.  They are running half marathons off 20 miles per week and seem to be in total denial that by doing so they are completely utterly unprepared for the distance they are tackling.  Get a pen and paper and come up with the calculations showing that anyone can train effectively for a marathon on 40 miles per week (you won't be able to) - but this is what this damaging marathon as soon as possible fetish will have you doing!  Is it any wonder so many people are injured in this sport?

How To Get There

If your end goal is to run a marathon that's great, admirable and worthy.  But be patient.  Build mileage slowly - graduate through the distances.  Who knows you may even find a distance that you'll enjoy racing for a while suppressing this uncontrollable urge to conform to society's belief that says you must go long to be a runner.  At the very least I'd suggest you spend a year each focusing on the 5k, 10k and HM.  If you are in a hurry then at least get to the mileage required before diving in headfirst.  Initial mileage increase guidelines are pretty simple:

1)  Get to your goal mileage through easy running and strides alone.
2)  Hold for 4 weeks.
3)  Drop mileage very slightly and introduce 1 quality session a week for 4 weeks.
4)  Increase mileage with 1 quality session a week for 4 weeks.
5)  Repeat until you have your mileage and quality sessions in synch and at your target and have done so for 4 weeks with no problems.

From them on it's easy.  Keep adding easy mileage, get used to it and increase your quality when the increase in easy mileage supports it.  DON'T RUSH - or you'll get injured.

Under / Over Distance Racing

When I say focus on a race distance I don't mean you can't race any other distance.  I mean try and specialise (a word rarely used by road runners but second nature to those on the track) with your training and race schedule.  The odd longer or shorter distance race will help but I encourage you to spend some time developing some mastery of a shorter distance before moving up or at least weight until your mileage will support the training required to be accomplished at a given distance.
08/10/2010 at 11:30
The Good News

Effective racing is determined by 2 things:

1)  Your basic speed over a short distance.
2)  Your ability to convert this short distance speed over a longer distance (i.e. those who slow down least do best).

The great news about focusing on short distance first is that the bulk of the training you'll do will also help with the 2).  It's a little more difficult to address 1) when just trying to work on 2).  My pet theory is that this is one of the reasons why so many people find it difficult physically and mentally to drop back in distance. 

The other great thing about getting quicker first is that bumps in mileage and getting to that eventual marathon is easier because your training paces will be faster and you will have to spend less time running for a given mileage for the same effort level.


Yes, I know it's possible to pick holes in the specifics in this - but the general principles are what is important and they hold true.  Novice runners aiming for the marathon:  don't forgo the journey to reach the destination.
08/10/2010 at 11:31
Also posted in Training section.  Suddenly thought it might be better here and there might not be much crossover between the two sections.
08/10/2010 at 11:32
Moraghan I'm not sure what you get out of posting here and for doing your training threads but personally I'd like to say thanks, I get a huge amount of knowledge from them and invariably find them useful. So cheers.
08/10/2010 at 11:40

Great tips Moraghan.

You're spot on when you say people get hung up on racing further and further and that people think you HAVE to run marathons. I have been just as guilty of this as a lot of people and have now realised that I can't really devote enough time to training for a quality marathon time. I think this is reflected in my PBs at shorter distances and marathon. Marathon PB is 3 hours 34 but my 10k PB is 39:00, 10 mile is 62:05 and HM is 1:31 (currently training for a sub-1:25 in November which touch wood, I'm on track for). I find the "shorter" distances much more enjoyable and easier to dedicate quality training to.

08/10/2010 at 12:11

I've enjoyed reading all this and it gives an over view on training / racing / distance that I've not seen much of before. Appreciated that you took the time Moraghan.

 And I'm guilty as charged!  Currently training 25miles in a good week and doing half marathons ... (pb1.37). Cardiff HM is coming up and then I'll try to take this on board (which will involve an alarm clock as the heart is strong but the spare hours in the day are few...).

08/10/2010 at 12:12
And a question: for the two quality HM sessions, what do you recommend?
08/10/2010 at 13:26

woah - there is a lot there, and at a glance it looks very useful.

'Training specific' springs to my mind as a general response. I am having to effectively start again after injury, so will take a look at more detail and see how/if it can be applied to myself.


08/10/2010 at 13:58
Runners World.... can you please start paying this man, he knows what he is talking about, and this is the sort of stuff all Runners need to read about in your magazine. Thank you Moraghan.
08/10/2010 at 14:01
Thanks Moraghan, that's really, really helpful stuff
08/10/2010 at 15:06

Thanks - I was half expecting to get accused of elitism or some such nonsense.

i-plodder - that's a good question and I suppose my answer will illustrate what I mean!  

A great workout for HM racing (and actually as upper aerobic prep for any distance) would be a marathon pace progressive run. So, run continously:

2m easy || 1m steady state || 3m @ MP || 2m @ HMP || 1m @ tempo || 0.5m @ 10k || 0.5m slow.

So that's a great quality workout for a HM because it hits paces either side, hits race pace and has you do quality late in a longish run but it's 10m in length, needs building up to (it's very tough) and needs considerable fitness (and a considerable easy mileage base) to complete.

Another might be 2.5m easy || 2 * (1m @ HMP, 1m @ MP, 1m @ tempo) w/  2:00 jog rec || 0.5 cd

Or straight HMP reps / 10k reps / short tempo run (in moderation).

Off 25m per week those workouts would stick out like sore thumbs of course and any quality session you tried to do that was proportionate to your weekly mileage would be difficult to claim real application to HM racing....which I guess was my point!

08/10/2010 at 15:08

Moraghan - you elitist cnut













better now?

08/10/2010 at 15:16
Good to get it out the way early. 
08/10/2010 at 15:37
cheers - those are monstrous workouts (from my current level where my weekly quality is a 4 * 1m) but something to build up to over six weeks or so I guess.
08/10/2010 at 15:41

No, don't try and build up to that over 6 weeks! 

Your quality work is about right for your mileage at the moment but, as I said, not a great position to be in quality-wise when in training for a half - but that's life, make the best of it.

08/10/2010 at 19:22
You are so right about distance. However I am really struggling to give up on the longer distance. As a pretty unimpressive runner the only real buzz I get is from completing marathons as I do not perform well enough in shorter distances to get the same feeling of satisfaction.

I do resolve to drop the distance quite often and have started telling people that my last marathon is coming up - and after that I am determined to run shorter and faster.

I made the classic mistake of entering a marathon after approx 1.5 years of running. As a consequence I seem to have totally skipped over the 'develop speed' part.

08/10/2010 at 19:35
Quality advice as ever.
09/10/2010 at 16:08

Moraghan, this is so helpful. Thank you so much.

May I ask a question/favour too? My daughter is 8yrs. We started running in January and have slowly built up to 5k (I do 10k). We are currently running 5k at Park Runs every Saturday and I am hesitant to allow her to run much further at her age. But she wants to improve on what she is currently doing. Our 5k time is between 29-31mins depending on how she feels. Can you suggest a programme that would be suitable? Our running is mainly done on pavements with an occasional trail run thrown in as a fun day out.

Many thanks


09/10/2010 at 20:03

Hi Chilibean

I'm not able to suggest anything specific - nothing personal, I'm just not familiar with the needs of runners of that age.

I would think the best thing to do would be to contact a running club - but only one that has a track and field team.  Given your daughter's age it's probably a good idea to try different events and a club would give you that opportunity and you can also keep running together at easy paces away from the club.

It would be nice to get her an environment which encourages her to do some sprinting, jumping and developing all round athleticism than boring, slow straight ahead stuff! 

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