Posted by: Dean Hebert | November 26, 2008

Training: How soon should I move up in race distances?

Coach Dean Hebert

Coach Dean Hebert

A reader new to running wrote in with an important question:

I am brand new to running… only five weeks into it. I am currently working towards a 5K and although it seems a little ambitious at this point, I ultimately want to run a full marathon. Ideally, what sort of time-table should I be looking at… Do I need to get some experience under my belt as a runner before I even think about starting to train for a longer race? Also, I am four weeks away from my first 5K race and I know that having a goal is the only thing that has kept me going… I don’t want to get to the other side of the 5K and fizzle out because I have no goals ahead of me.

Congratulations on getting out there and getting going! You are actually right on! Get good at shorter distances and slowly move up. I am against runners turning to marathons in their early stages of development. In fact, until you have success (you define what success is) at all the shorter distances only then should you move to the next longer distance.

Goal setting is indeed critical to staying motivated and giving your running purpose. Set your goals for a shorter distance such as the 5k or even some 1 mile fun runs that are conducted in tandem with many races. Once you finish successfully, look to improve your times. It is through getting faster and fitter that the longer distances become more manageable. Get used to all the race day logistics, because when it comes to longer races it only gets more complex.

There is no hard and fast rule on how soon someone should move up in distances. I will pose to you that you stick with 5k range for 4-6 months. Then, and only after you are completely comfortable doing 5ks you move to a 5 miler or 10k. Of course, your training cannot be the same as when you train for a 5k. So, be sure your longer runs get longer and you intersperse variable paced runs to accelerate your conditioning.

After you are “successful” at 10ks you can start thinking about a 10-miler or half marathon. Once again, you cannot do 10k training and expect to succeed in these longer races. Finally, after you successfully complete a couple or more half marathons you can start to think about marathons.

There are many programs for beginners that will take you from scratch to a marathon in “X” months. I do not advocate them. I believe that you should develop the strength to run healthy and enjoyable events. Though finishing a marathon is certainly an emotional high and very motivational, they are not easy and there are too many injuries and hardships in these short programs. Certainly many individuals do complete a marathon in these programs. You asked what is “ideally” advisable and that is what I’m addressing. Though all runners develop at different rates, providing you stay healthy, stay consistent in your training (no extended time off), I would pose that after a year or two you should be ready to train for a full marathon. With that background you will be both physically and mentally ready to succeed at the marathon.

Keep the long term perspective in mind and you’ll have years of healthy running and racing in front of you.

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News


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