In the running world, the marathon is often regarded as the king of distances, and completing a 42.2K race is a goal for a lot of people. For many runners, though, once they’ve moved up to the longer distances, they never look back. Even if your main goals this year centre around a marathon, this doesn’t mean you should abandon shorter distances altogether. Taking some time before your next marathon training cycle to focus on racing a 5K is not only a fun way to shake things up, but it could help you snag a new PB when you go long again later. Not convinced? Check out these five reasons why you should tackle a shorter distance this spring.
You’ll increase your aerobic capacity
Training for a short distance like a 5K requires a bit more speedwork, and studies show that pushing yourself to run faster for shorter distances helps your body learn to use more oxygen, which increases your aerobic capacity. The more oxygen you can consume, the faster you’ll be able to run for longer. When you eventually get back to marathon training, you’ll find that you can sustain a faster pace over the longer distance than you could before.
You’ll become more efficient
Doing speedwork will increase your leg speed and help you become more efficient. When you’re doing intervals at high speeds, you get a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles, and studies show that intervals teach your body how to clear lactic acid more efficiently. This will ultimately help you in a marathon when you’re running slower and less lactate builds up, because your body will be able to mitigate that smaller amount far more easily.
Your muscles will be more powerful
Your muscle cells contain organelles called mitochondria, which help produce the ATP (aka energy) you need in order for your muscles to contract. Studies have shown that short, high-intensity interval training (like the kind of workouts you would do in preparation for a 5K) increases the mitochondrial density in your muscles, which allows you to produce a more powerful muscle contraction. This can help you run faster, not just in short races, but long ones, too.
It’s less time-consuming
Let’s face it — marathon training takes up a lot of hours in your week. If you’re going through a particularly busy time in your life and you’re not sure how you’re going to fit marathon training into your schedule, now is the perfect time to train for a shorter race. When you’re preparing for a 5K, you don’t have to go out for three-hour long runs or try to squeeze in big workouts in the middle of your week. A few shorter runs and some quality workouts will be more than enough to prepare you for the 5K distance.
Running fast can be a lot of fun, and you can easily go crush a 5K in the morning and still make it to the beach for noon if you want to. Plus, if your race doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, you can easily hop in another one next weekend to try again.