Considering a New Race Distance? Read This First.

The marathon seems to have become the pinnacle achievement for the average runner (okay, okay, anyone who runs a marathon is better than average, but you know what I mean). When I got back into running after college, I very quickly jumped into the half marathon distance and within a couple of years targeted my first marathon. Everyone was doing one, it seemed. But after seven 26.2s in four years, I needed a break and decided to train for a 5K. Now, I’m hooked. If you’re looking to transition to a new distance, here are a few tips to consider.


Choose a Distance

Sure, this seems obvious if you’re looking to transition to a new distance, but you need to decide how far you want to go! If you’re a tired marathoner, it can be refreshing to cut way down to a 5K (like I did). Your long runs top out at about 12 miles. You’ll have to decide what to do with all your newfound energy and freedom!

If you’ve mastered the mile or the 5K, jumping up to a marathon could lead to injury if you try to translate that speed across 26.2 miles or if you ramp up mileage too quickly. However, moving up to a half marathon gives your body the chance to gradually get accustomed to longer, slower miles.

Transition Slowly

If you decide to train for longer distances, remember that your body needs time to adjust. A good approach is the well-known “10-percent rule,” which states that you should never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent over the previous week. In order to avoid jumping too quickly, choose a (longer) race with a lot of lead time so that you can increase your base mileage the right way.

Be Open-Minded

When I trained for my first triathlon, I didn’t set any sort of goal other than to just enjoy the ride (literally!). Because I’m so competitive in running, it was a wonderful to try something new. I had no expectations since it was something I’d never done before. I struggled in the swim, loved the bike, and then made up for the slow first two legs in the run, winning my age group. See? Can’t help but be competitive. Having no expectations allowed me to be more relaxed and let me enjoy the race.

Be open-minded and don’t focus too much on time or place goals for something that’s completely new. If you’ve never run a marathon before, you have nothing to compare yourself to, and that’s refreshing.

Talk to the Experts

Experts can be your teammates (real or virtual, hi fellow Salties!). Chances are, you run with someone who has trained for the distance you’re eyeing. Pick their brains. What training plan do they use? How did they transition? What tips do they have? And better yet, join them on some of their runs to get a feel for what that training is like. The best part about running with a club is having a wealth of resources at your … toes.

Stay Focused

In the spring of 2015 I didn’t train for or run a marathon. Initially I was stoked about all of my “free” time, and then ended up running 12 races from January to May, with nine in a row at one point. The distances ranged from 5Ks to half marathons, and while I was PRing, I was tired. So much for taking a season off.

When you target a new distance, make that your focus. That doesn’t mean you need to train exclusively for that one race, but once you start jumping around—running half marathons when your target distance is a 10K—your training may suffer and you may not be able to fully embrace the approach to your target distance.

Don’t like the distance you’re working on? There’s no reason you can’t change it up again after your race.

Are you thinking of trying a new distance? Which one?

Runner's World editor by day, mom by night (and day, let's be honest). Sub-20 5K, seven-time marathoner, track-workout lover. Always in search of a great burger.

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3 comments

  1. Last year I ran my first half. I was disappointed with my speed but proud of the distance I accomplished. This year, I have a new baby and don’t see a half in the near future. Trying to decide if I should shoot for a 10k or do a 5k and really try to work on my speed.

    1. Hey, nice work! And congratulations on all fronts! I would recommend a 5K. The 10K distance “for speed” is a whole different ball game. Start small and work your way up. Good luck!

  2. I sort of followed the same path as you. After running 20-some marathons and a few ultras, I have issued myself a new challenge. I want to run a 5k each month and try to get faster with each one. I ran my first one on Sunday as my baseline. I had not run a 5k in over 2 years. My next one is in 6 weeks. I am very excited about doing the shorter distance again. The first one reminded me how much fun a 5k can be!