July 19 2018
Professor Jennifer Golbeck uses running to balance a full roster of work, travel and her pack of famous pups.
Marathons and long-distance races are all the rage, but what happens when you start to feel burned out? Try taking a break from distance running in 2018 and race something shorter, like a 5K or 10K, instead. Not only are shorter distances great for runners of all abilities, but a break from distance will refresh your love of running, improve your speed and give you an opportunity to focus on building strength.
Last year, I was fresh off a year of running multiple marathons. As you might suspect, I was feeling pretty exhausted. Running more or faster marathons no longer felt like a motivating goal, and I knew that I was edging closer and closer to a burnout. Instead of becoming a member of the “I hate running” club, I opted to skip the marathon for a year and register for a string of shorter races instead. The short and fast races were refreshing and gave me a new and different type of challenge.
Here’s why you should consider skipping the long-distance races this year and opt for something shorter:
In a love/hate relationship with training or your long-distance race of choice? Registering and training for a shorter distance can provide the training reset that your body and mind both desperately need. The thing about running long distances is that you also need to train for a long time. Nothing beats you up quite like four months or more of high mileage and hours of threshold running. Too much of one type of training can leave you feeling stale or bored. The good news is that training for shorter distances is completely different!
Prior to my break from marathons, I felt completely sick of training. But when I nervously told my coach that I was worried about burnout, he responded by filling my schedule with fartlek runs, fast intervals and a bunch of new (to me) workouts. The change was refreshing and helped reset my perspective on training. By the end of the season, I was ready to tackle the marathon once again.
Long-distance running is great to build endurance and mental stamina, but it’s less than ideal for building short bursts of speed. Instead of grueling marathon-pace workouts or long tempo runs, you’ll need to incorporate different types of workouts into your training, including lots of short and fast intervals.
I was nervous to leave my trusty marathon workouts behind, but the fartlek runs and 400-meter repeats that replaced them served me well. In fact, I was able to increase my speed at an incredible rate. When I finally returned to distance running, my easy paces shot up by 20 to 30 seconds per mile, and my faster paces increased even more. It was clear that a season focused on speedwork did the trick.
Yes, the marathon makes you strong–but don’t let that take away from the strength that comes from racing a 5K. Running faster over a shorter distance builds your VO2 max, allowing your body to adapt to faster speeds and grow stronger as a result. In fact, long-distance runners can seriously benefit from 5K training; our bodies tend to break down at the end of a long, sustained effort, but focusing on the strength and speed necessary for 5K racing will bring strength and speed to your long distance races, too.
After I spent a season training for 5Ks and 10Ks, my return to the half marathon was incredibly strong. I felt great in the later miles of the race and knew I could lean into the pain once the race got hard–just like in the 5K. I even pulled out a massive seven-minute PR!