Training For The 'Right' Distance

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08/10/2010 at 11:26
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 11:27
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 11:28
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 12:31

This this this this this.

Moraghan speaks the truth (as usual). Gaining marathon potential over short distances allows you to fulfill your ultimate marathon potential later in life.

If I can use myself as a rather self-indulgent example

Over the last 2 years since I started running I've done 3 HM's and was going to race the Kilomaton. It's easy to see where the next step was. However for the next few years I'm focusing on the 3k & 5k. I have no plans on racing a Marathon now until I'm at least 30 (which will be 10 years from now). 

Essentially my aim is to maximise my race times over the shorter distances (or, at least get as close to them as possible) before moving upwards. 5k leads to 10k leads to HM leads to Marathon. 

I'm currently base building but when I start my first 5k mesocycle I'll be doing upwards of 70mpw. My initial planning's putting me on about 8 - 10 miles of quality per week during this time, which means a full 60mpw will be done at an easy aerobic pace - which, in addition, will hold me in good stead for marathon efforts years from now - you can argue I'm base building NOW for marathons. 

The one aspect in which I deviate from Moraghan's principles are the two long runs, which max out at 15M/12M for each for the 5k. However as I increase race distance focus I would expect the midweek run to remain constant and the long run to increase upwards in parallel with increased mileage and race distance focus.

As a final note, as you increase race distance you will be developing more and more the systems on which your best marathon times will be run - as you progress from 5k to HM more aspects of marathon running enter your training. By the time you reach marathon training you should be ready to do yourself extreme justice.

Thanks for taking the time to write this.

I'm not trying to be all "high horse" about this, it's just something I feel strongly about is all.

Edited: 08/10/2010 at 12:49
08/10/2010 at 12:50
Is that another early Christmas present for runners? Agree with The Duckinator that is very thoughtful .Unfortunately I think you are right. I definitely felt a pressure to do a marathon to prove myself as a proper runner in the beginning. I am now wiser but have a feeling the marathon is my calling but only because I seem to be able to tolerate and enjoy running lots of miles.
08/10/2010 at 13:52
Very good posts from The Master.
08/10/2010 at 14:12
Excellent advice as always from Morgahan. I’m forwarding it this to one of my friends who had recently started training again and staunchly ignores any advice that I give him.
08/10/2010 at 14:13

i have a rather embarrasing confession to make...

since starting running 'properly' in april i have lurked in a wholly inappropriate and clandestine fashion (although not without the odd pang of guilt, let it be said) on the middle ground and other moraghan training threads. there i've said it...(exhales deeply..)

having spent the previous year sporadically injured with first,  plantar unpronounceable and then a calf strain following on from my first 10k due to over-training, running like a maniac etc etc i have adopted a slowly, slowly approach having gleaned, nay plagiarised, as much info as possible from the guys on here.

and guess what? i have not only remained injury free (my main goal) but have steadily improved to the point of my training now indicates a sub-1.35  for the norwich half in 7 weeks time (in spring i started out running 3 x 10 min miles ).

 this is purely on the back of small,incremental mileage increases  and the gradual introduction of quality sessions since joining a local club..

in short, if it can work for me it can work for anyone. oh and thanks guys for your much needed pearls of wisdom

08/10/2010 at 14:41

DASH RIPROD - de lurk. I like you did some lurking on the Middle Ground thread and eventually de lurked. I havent as yet added anything of use but its always worth poping in an asking a stupid question from time to time. I recon the other lurkers appreciate the stupid questions

Edit to say top advice again from Mr Moraghan.

Edited: 08/10/2010 at 14:45
08/10/2010 at 14:51
I reckon Moraghan wants to work for RW.
08/10/2010 at 14:56
I actually wondered if he did
08/10/2010 at 15:01
Can't do, it would have been full of adverts for hologram bands or lucozade sport or some other gimmick.
08/10/2010 at 15:07

Oh LOL, really seriously LOL - I can only imagine Moraghan working for RW...

Do you think he would fit in seamlessly?

DASH - I agree. Please delurk and join in. Looks like the advice that you have gleaned has worked well for you so far. Good luck for the Half.

08/10/2010 at 15:14
Can you imagine the RW conference room debates in what to publish when it is time for VLM schedules to make an appearance.
08/10/2010 at 15:14

Ha ha...I can't work for anyone else because my boss won't let me.  He's a bit of a wanker.

Good to hear dash riprod.  Good luck in the half.

08/10/2010 at 15:17

RW version of "Training for the 'Right' Distance."

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.

An ideal beginner's training plan is:
Long:  6m easy
Q1:  2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Q2: 2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Easy:  5m

Forum coach Moraghan says "If your end goal is to run a marathon that's great, admirable and worthy."


Take a tip from the great chefs and add a pinch of salt before tasting.


08/10/2010 at 15:25
Ratzer wrote (see)

RW version of "Training for the 'Right' Distance."

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.

An ideal beginner's training plan is:
Long:  6m easy
Q1:  2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Q2: 2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Easy:  5m

Forum coach Moraghan says "If your end goal is to run a marathon that's great, admirable and worthy."


Take a tip from the great chefs and add a pinch of salt before tasting.


Post of the day I reckon. Sums up RW quite well

Dash, come on in.
Edited: 08/10/2010 at 15:31
08/10/2010 at 16:40
It needs to imply that the London Marathon is the only event worthy of the name, but otherwise it's pretty close.
08/10/2010 at 18:24

Sod marathons - I think the true benchmark of being able to call yourself a 'proper runner' is having completed a parkrun! Dont you agree, Moraghan?

Very good thread subject and, as always, quality advice.

It certainly pays to specialise and that shows in comparing PBs in different distances as to their relative qualities. You wont get PBs across a whole range of distances which are 'in line' with each other off the same block of training. To get them 'in line' you would need to spend discreet periods focussing attention on each one in turn.

Having said that, I think there are groupings of distances which, within reason, you could take exactly the same approach towards in training and run comparable PBs:

Group 1- 100m,200m

Group 2 - 400m alone

Group 3 - 800m,1000m,1500m,1mile,2000m

Group 4 - 3000m, 5000m

Group 5 - 10K,10 Miles,Half Marathon

Group 6 -  Marathon

Theres no problem with running distances other than those you are currently focussed on as long as you accept the outcomes will be sub optimal.

You can just imagine Moraghan turning up for his first day's work at RW and being given his first couple of assignments. Write articles entitled:

a) How To Improve Your 800m Time by 30 Secs By The  Weekend.

b) How To Train For A Marathon Without Getting Off Your Sofa.

I might even buy a copy to see the result.......

08/10/2010 at 19:37


 or maybe,  c) how to improve by 2 mins on your 5k p.b within 2 days.

which is a crying shame as i  have a mere day and a half to prepare.

 p.s. some artistic licence  applied as i  am until sunday,  5k virgo intacto!

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