To be a runner you have to be very determined and focused if you want to get in the necessary training to be your best. However, when it comes to choosing what types of races to run the extremely focused mindset of most runners can some times cause problems. I have noticed that a lot of runners tend to latch onto a particular race distance and focus on it year after year. They may throw in a race of another distance every now and then but more as a training run than an actual race.
These days it seems like the marathon is the race that gets the most attention. From beginning runners to experienced runners, that attitude that the marathon is the ultimate racing goal is spreading. Although, its not just the marathon, no matter what the distance you will find runners who have convinced themselves that it is the only one for them. While its true that it usually takes several tries at racing a certain distance to get the hang of it, if you keep running the same race over an over eventually your progress with hit a plateau at best or you could even start getting slower if you are racing the same distance too frequently (you see this a lot with frequent marathoners).
My suggestion is to try running some races that are completely different that what you are used to. Not just throw in a few 5K’s or a half-marathon here and there, but to take a full year and really switch your focus to a new type of racing. I hear a lot of marathoners say that they can’t race the shorter races because they can’t handle the speed work. And a lot of runners who focus on the shorter races say they can’t handle the higher mileage needed for a marathon. While I’m sure there are some runners out there who truly couldn’t handle some faster paced training or higher mileage, in most cases the problem is that the increase in intensity or volume is don’t too quickly. This is why I suggest dedicating a whole year to trying something new. If you have a full year to gradually adjust your focus in training you can take your time and avoid the injuries that come from sudden changes in intensity or volume.
When I was little my dad decided he wanted to run a marathon. So he started training like crazy and he ran a couple marathons. But the main thing I remember about his experience was him saying that after he ran the marathon he saw huge improvements in his 10K times. That always stuck with me. And in 2007 I decided to switch my focus to the marathon and give it a try. I’ve always been a shorter distance guy; my favorite event is the 1500 meters. So speed came much easier to me than endurance. I slowly built my mileage up to almost 90 miles per week, the most I had ever done before was about 60 per week. Eventually I realized that I actually enjoyed my 20 milers. When race day came, even though I didn’t have a great race, I still really enjoyed the experience and look forward to trying another marathon sometime in the future. But more importantly, when I returned to focusing on my shorter racing I found that I was way stronger and my times began improving by quite a bit.
So if you are constantly running marathons or other long races, try taking a year to focus on some 5K’s (or even do some track and XC racing) and you will be amazed how the speed you develop during this time will make your marathon pace feel much easier when you return to that distance. And if you are always sticking with the shorter races, try focusing on the half or full marathon for a year and then when you go back to your shorter racing you will find that you are much stronger and able to hold faster pace for longer.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this training method, or if you have tried it in the past let me know how it worked for you.