Running goals: choosing the right race distance

Running’s convenience and affordability are just two of the reasons it’s such a popular form of aerobic exercise. From jogging in the park for fun to training for a marathon, running provides an effective way to keep both your body and mind healthy. Running can reduce many different kinds of health risks, help control your weight and even boost your mood. If you are just starting out, setting a distance goal is one of the best ways to practice. By choosing the right race distance and working towards that goal, you can more easily hit your targets and progress as a runner. But what distance is right for you? Let’s take a look at the merits of running different distances, from a 5K to a full marathon.

5K? Okay!

The 5K has a reputation for being a race distance for beginners, and while this is true, it isn’t simply the “fun run” that it’s often made out to be. It’s a distance that requires both strength and speed and happens to draw some of the world’s best long-distance competitors. Case in point: Sir Mo Farah is the current Olympic 5K champion. If you are returning to running, taking your first steps in the sport or if you have longer distances in your sights, the 5K can be both an extremely rewarding distance in and of itself as well as a terrific stepping stone to lengthier races like the 10K or marathon.

· Build speed and strength – The 5K is the perfect race distance for building speed and strength. Most healthy people can complete 3.1 miles, or 5 kilometres, after minimal training.

· Compete rather than complete – The marathon is all about completion. Because the 5K is a shorter race, it takes less time to get up to speed (if you’ll excuse the pun). Where it gets interesting is when you set yourself goals to complete the distance in faster and faster times. Try it out and see how far you can go.

· Shorter training time – Training for a 5K won’t take as much time as it might for longer races. If you are looking to take your running seriously but are short on free time, the 5K could be the perfect race for you. If you are already an active person, meaning you exercise regularly, you bike or swim, you should allow yourself about four weeks of preparation. If you’re only returning to the world of exercise, you should double this preparation time to ensure you can comfortably complete the race.

Is the 10K for you?

Sitting pretty much in the middle of the 5K and half-marathon, the 10K is the UK’s most popular race. Rocking up to your average 10K on a Saturday morning, you’re likely to be rubbing elbows with hobbyists and fierce competitors alike.

· Stretch your legs – By training for a 10K you’ll build the strength and speed needed for the 5K, alongside the endurance to keep going in order to double that distance. If you enjoy the shorter distances, such as the 5K, but feel like there is more left in the tank, the 10K could be the perfect race for you.

· Preparing for longer distances – If you are training for a half-marathon, or even the full thing, running a 10K is great preparation. In fact, run four 10Ks (and a bit) and you have yourself a marathon distance, friend.

· More varied training – the 10K requires the speed and strength of a race half its size but with the mental strength to endure and kick-on to the finish line. Therefore, the training required should be more varied. Practice by running at different paces (i.e., tempo pace and race pace), across different terrains (e.g., inclines and declines) and for varying lengths.

Running a marathon for the first time

The Everest for a lot of amateur (and pro, for that matter) runners, the marathon is often the culmination of months of training, maximum preparation and a drive to push your body to its breaking point. Completing one is a rush like no other and a sense of achievement unrivalled for many runners of all abilities.

· The (not) impossible goal – As you read this, you may think that, for you, running a marathon is an impossible feat – something that you could never do. But actually, just like the 10K and 5K, completing a marathon is simply a matter of preparation, both physical and mental. It’s a building-block process. It’s just that the marathon has more lock you need to build. Do it right, and it might just be one of the best journeys you ever take.

· A journey of 42K – Just like the previous distances we’ve discussed, a marathon requires the right levels of training. Give yourself plenty of time to build a base mileage, slowly. Set yourself a target, say, 20 miles a week, and consistently hit that target for several months – this is your base mileage. Once you have that down, then you can start thinking of training for your actual race. Run plenty of shorter races in preparation – the 5 and 10Ks we’ve already mentioned will be excellent practice for both mind and muscle memory when it comes to setting up for the big one. Remember, take it slowly and enjoy your training.

· Just a half, please – If running a marathon for the first time seems out of reach right now, you can always try a half-marathon first. Requiring the same levels of prep, both physically and mentally, if you can cross the line after 21 kilometres, you’re just one step from competing in the Big Race.

Finding your feet and choosing the right race distance

Running is a liberating activity. It requires nothing more than the right pair of shoes and the determination to keep going. No matter the distance you choose to train for, prepare well, rest up and enjoy the freedom of pushing your body to its limit.