Training For The 'Right' Distance

It seems that, in this country at least, many years ago the club running scene fell in with the dogma that longer is better.  As soon as you've completed a 5k it's time to tackle a 10k, then continue on to the holy grail of the marathon.  Then you can call yourself a runner.  Which is fine of course, but what of the runners whose ultimate goal is to fulfill their potential and not just cross off items on their bucket list?

Well I suggest you focus primarily on the distance at which your training effectively supports.  Take your time moving up the distances and do so when your training enables you to do so whilst maintaining sensible training principles.  I'm a believer that enjoyment is closely linked to accomplishment, proficiency and staying injury free.  You'll accomplish more if you are training effectively for the distance you focus on, you'll only really become proficient if you've given yourself time focusing on the distance allowing you to adjust your training to see what works for you and, of course, you'll have more chance of staying injury free sticking to the principles and not being forced into in appropriate training forced upon you by your distance (a 20m long run as part of a 30m training week for example).

So, some generally sound training principles to start - I'm not including marathon training here as it's a different beast):

1)  A long run that is longer than your race distance and at least 6 miles. 
2)  A long run that is 20 - 30% of total mileage.
3)  Running at least 4 times a week.
4)  Quality mileage of between 15-20% of total mileage, not more.
5)  Quality work should be preceeded by at least 15:00 of warm up.  Let's say 2 miles.
6)  A quality work warm-down of at least 0.5m.
7)  For most runners 2 quality workouts every 7 days is sufficient.

8)  For distances beyond 10m you'll also want a midweek long run of about 66% of the long run mileage (and it's also a good idea for 10k downwards as well).

We can argue the toss over the details of these in certain circumstances but they are used to illustrate a general principle rather than being the point of this post.  These of course are minimums - it's desirable to use a progressive approach to mileage over time even if your chosen distance doesn't change.

So, for someone to start training effectively for the 5k would require an absolute bare minimum of about 20 miles per week minimum, for example:

Long:  6m easy
Q1:  2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Q2: 2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Easy:  5m

For 10k, 28 miles:

Long:  8m easy
Q1:  2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
Q2:  2m easy + 3m quality + 0.5m easy
Easy:  6m
Easy: 4m

For HM, 40 miles:

Long:  14m easy
Q1:  2m easy + 3m quality + 0.5m easy
Q2:  2m easy + 5m quality + 0.5m easy
Midweek long:  9m
Easy:  4m


  • I say bare minimum because how many people would expect to truly perform well and really "master" their distance off such low quality a week and which, for those mileages, is really the most quality that can be supported by the easy miles.

    If you look at how these very conservative guidelines apply to most runners you know you can see they blow them out of the water.  They are running half marathons off 20 miles per week and seem to be in total denial that by doing so they are completely utterly unprepared for the distance they are tackling.  Get a pen and paper and come up with the calculations showing that anyone can train effectively for a marathon on 40 miles per week (you won't be able to) - but this is what this damaging marathon as soon as possible fetish will have you doing!  Is it any wonder so many people are injured in this sport?

    How To Get There

    If your end goal is to run a marathon that's great, admirable and worthy.  But be patient.  Build mileage slowly - graduate through the distances.  Who knows you may even find a distance that you'll enjoy racing for a while suppressing this uncontrollable urge to conform to society's belief that says you must go long to be a runner.  At the very least I'd suggest you spend a year each focusing on the 5k, 10k and HM.  If you are in a hurry then at least get to the mileage required before diving in headfirst.  Initial mileage increase guidelines are pretty simple:

    1)  Get to your goal mileage through easy running and strides alone.
    2)  Hold for 4 weeks.
    3)  Drop mileage very slightly and introduce 1 quality session a week for 4 weeks.
    4)  Increase mileage with 1 quality session a week for 4 weeks.
    5)  Repeat until you have your mileage and quality sessions in synch and at your target and have done so for 4 weeks with no problems.

    From them on it's easy.  Keep adding easy mileage, get used to it and increase your quality when the increase in easy mileage supports it.  DON'T RUSH - or you'll get injured.

    Under / Over Distance Racing

    When I say focus on a race distance I don't mean you can't race any other distance.  I mean try and specialise (a word rarely used by road runners but second nature to those on the track) with your training and race schedule.  The odd longer or shorter distance race will help but I encourage you to spend some time developing some mastery of a shorter distance before moving up or at least weight until your mileage will support the training required to be accomplished at a given distance.
  • The Good News

    Effective racing is determined by 2 things:

    1)  Your basic speed over a short distance.
    2)  Your ability to convert this short distance speed over a longer distance (i.e. those who slow down least do best).

    The great news about focusing on short distance first is that the bulk of the training you'll do will also help with the 2).  It's a little more difficult to address 1) when just trying to work on 2).  My pet theory is that this is one of the reasons why so many people find it difficult physically and mentally to drop back in distance. 

    The other great thing about getting quicker first is that bumps in mileage and getting to that eventual marathon is easier because your training paces will be faster and you will have to spend less time running for a given mileage for the same effort level.


    Yes, I know it's possible to pick holes in the specifics in this - but the general principles are what is important and they hold true.  Novice runners aiming for the marathon:  don't forgo the journey to reach the destination. 
  • This this this this this.

    Moraghan speaks the truth (as usual). Gaining marathon potential over short distances allows you to fulfill your ultimate marathon potential later in life.

    If I can use myself as a rather self-indulgent example image

    Over the last 2 years since I started running I've done 3 HM's and was going to race the Kilomaton. It's easy to see where the next step was. However for the next few years I'm focusing on the 3k & 5k. I have no plans on racing a Marathon now until I'm at least 30 (which will be 10 years from now). 

    Essentially my aim is to maximise my race times over the shorter distances (or, at least get as close to them as possible) before moving upwards. 5k leads to 10k leads to HM leads to Marathon. 

    I'm currently base building but when I start my first 5k mesocycle I'll be doing upwards of 70mpw. My initial planning's putting me on about 8 - 10 miles of quality per week during this time, which means a full 60mpw will be done at an easy aerobic pace - which, in addition, will hold me in good stead for marathon efforts years from now - you can argue I'm base building NOW for marathons. 

    The one aspect in which I deviate from Moraghan's principles are the two long runs, which max out at 15M/12M for each for the 5k. However as I increase race distance focus I would expect the midweek run to remain constant and the long run to increase upwards in parallel with increased mileage and race distance focus.

    As a final note, as you increase race distance you will be developing more and more the systems on which your best marathon times will be run - as you progress from 5k to HM more aspects of marathon running enter your training. By the time you reach marathon training you should be ready to do yourself extreme justice.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this.

    I'm not trying to be all "high horse" about this, it's just something I feel strongly about is all.

  • Is that another early Christmas present for runners?image Agree with The Duckinator that is very thoughtful .Unfortunately I think you are right. I definitely felt a pressure to do a marathon to prove myself as a proper runner in the beginning. I am now wiser but have a feeling the marathon is my calling but only because I seem to be able to tolerate and enjoy running lots of miles.
  • Dr.DanDr.Dan ✭✭✭
    Very good posts from The Master.image
  • Mr VMr V ✭✭✭
    Excellent advice as always from Morgahan. I’m forwarding it this to one of my friends who had recently started training again and staunchly ignores any advice that I give him.
  • i have a rather embarrasing confession to make...

    since starting running 'properly' in april i have lurked in a wholly inappropriate and clandestine fashion (although not without the odd pang of guilt, let it be said) on the middle ground and other moraghan training threads. there i've said it...(exhales deeply..image)

    having spent the previous year sporadically injured with first,  plantar unpronounceable and then a calf strain following on from my first 10k due to over-training, running like a maniac etc etc i have adopted a slowly, slowly approach having gleaned, nay plagiarised, as much info as possible from the guys on here.

    and guess what? i have not only remained injury free (my main goal) but have steadily improved to the point of my training now indicates a sub-1.35  for the norwich half in 7 weeks time (in spring i started out running 3 x 10 min miles ).

     this is purely on the back of small,incremental mileage increases  and the gradual introduction of quality sessions since joining a local club..

    in short, if it can work for me it can work for anyone. oh and thanks guys for your much needed pearls of wisdomimage

  • DASH RIPROD - de lurk. I like you did some lurking on the Middle Ground thread and eventually de lurked. I havent as yet added anything of use but its always worth poping in an asking a stupid question from time to time. I recon the other lurkers appreciate the stupid questions image

    Edit to say top advice again from Mr Moraghan.

  • PhilPubPhilPub ✭✭✭
    I reckon Moraghan wants to work for RW.
  • I actually wondered if he didimage
  • Can't do, it would have been full of adverts for hologram bands or lucozade sport or some other gimmick.
  • Oh LOL, really seriously LOL - I can only imagine Moraghan working for RW...

    Do you think he would fit in seamlessly?image

    DASH - I agree. Please delurk and join in. Looks like the advice that you have gleaned has worked well for you so far. Good luck for the Half.

  • Can you imagine the RW conference room debates in what to publish when it is time for VLM schedules to make an appearance.
  • Ha ha...I can't work for anyone else because my boss won't let me.  He's a bit of a wanker.

    Good to hear dash riprod.  Good luck in the half.

  • RatzerRatzer ✭✭✭

    RW version of "Training for the 'Right' Distance."

    As soon as you've completed a 5k it's time to tackle a 10k, then continue on to the holy grail of the marathon.  Then you can call yourself a runner.

    An ideal beginner's training plan is:
    Long:  6m easy
    Q1:  2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
    Q2: 2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
    Easy:  5m

    Forum coach Moraghan says "If your end goal is to run a marathon that's great, admirable and worthy."


    Take a tip from the great chefs and add a pinch of salt before tasting.


  • Ratzer wrote (see)

    RW version of "Training for the 'Right' Distance."

    As soon as you've completed a 5k it's time to tackle a 10k, then continue on to the holy grail of the marathon.  Then you can call yourself a runner.

    An ideal beginner's training plan is:
    Long:  6m easy
    Q1:  2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
    Q2: 2m easy + 2m quality + 0.5m easy
    Easy:  5m

    Forum coach Moraghan says "If your end goal is to run a marathon that's great, admirable and worthy."


    Take a tip from the great chefs and add a pinch of salt before tasting.


    Post of the day I reckon. Sums up RW quite well image

    Dash, come on in.
  • It needs to imply that the London Marathon is the only event worthy of the name, but otherwise it's pretty close.
  • Sod marathons - I think the true benchmark of being able to call yourself a 'proper runner' is having completed a parkrun! Dont you agree, Moraghan?image

    Very good thread subject and, as always, quality advice.

    It certainly pays to specialise and that shows in comparing PBs in different distances as to their relative qualities. You wont get PBs across a whole range of distances which are 'in line' with each other off the same block of training. To get them 'in line' you would need to spend discreet periods focussing attention on each one in turn.

    Having said that, I think there are groupings of distances which, within reason, you could take exactly the same approach towards in training and run comparable PBs:

    Group 1- 100m,200m

    Group 2 - 400m alone

    Group 3 - 800m,1000m,1500m,1mile,2000m

    Group 4 - 3000m, 5000m

    Group 5 - 10K,10 Miles,Half Marathon

    Group 6 -  Marathon

    Theres no problem with running distances other than those you are currently focussed on as long as you accept the outcomes will be sub optimal.

    You can just imagine Moraghan turning up for his first day's work at RW and being given his first couple of assignments. Write articles entitled:

    a) How To Improve Your 800m Time by 30 Secs By The  Weekend.

    b) How To Train For A Marathon Without Getting Off Your Sofa.

    I might even buy a copy to see the result....... image

  • prf,

     or maybe,  c) how to improve by 2 mins on your 5k p.b within 2 days.

    which is a crying shame as i  have a mere day and a half to prepare. image

     p.s. some artistic licence  applied as i  am until sunday,  5k virgo intacto!

  • JeremyGJeremyG ✭✭✭

    Very interesting Moraghan. I do agree that a gradual build up is essential, I have done this and stayed injury free (touches something made of wood). For a lot of us though the aim is not to race rather to get round in a time good for us. Yes a lot of training schedules out there aren't ideal but for a lot of people their chosen event is a once in a lifetime event and is still to be applauded.

    I did VLM following a beginners marathon program (not beginner runner!) and got round ok. I did enjoy it but felt I could have done a lot better so have Dublin soon and have followed more or less as you advise but I don't think I'll ever plan to "race" in races I enter.

  • JeremyG wrote (see)

     For a lot of us though the aim is not to race rather to get round in a time good for us.


    I must admit I don't see the difference.  Effectively all any of us are doing in this sport is racing against ourselves and the clock.  If you prepare for a race properly and try your guts out on the day you've raced'your race' however you look at it.

    Unless of course you mean participating in a race which of course is something different all together.

    Everyone has different motivations to run of course none of which are really any more superior to any other.

  • JeremyGJeremyG ✭✭✭
    I guess I'm just a participant then! Although aim for Dublin is 3:45 that will not be busting a gut. I guess that's why I prefer the longer distance as I don't really like going all out. Mind you I have been contemplating focussing on 10Km next year and seeing what time I could get, apparently at 43 I'm already past my potential peak so I'd be interested in what time I could get to.
  • This is really interesting.....

    Can I check I understand by applying to me?

    I'm interested in basing my training on 10m races (which means I can do the occasional 10k and 1/2 marathon). Therefore, this would imply my total mileage should be a minimum of around 38m a week?

    Given that I'm currently only doing approx 25-27 miles, my focus should currently be on increasing my mileage until it looks something like:

    Long run: 12m

    Easy 1: 6m

    Easy 2: 6m

    Midweek Long: 8m

    Easy 3: 6m

    Once I'm at this level, and have done 4 weeks constant, then I can start introducing some "quality"

  • That looks like a nice plan.  The only change I'd make would be to add in strides 2 - 3 times a week.

    However, if you are already operating at 25 - 27 miles per week there are a couple of options:

    1)  Drop all existing quality which will enable a more rapid increase in mileage (with strides).

    2)  Keep existing quality as long as it's proportionate (and you are physically well) and ramp up a little more slowly.

    Also, don't feel restricted to 5 times a week.  If you want to do 6 you could probably build up slightly quicker.  If you changed Easy 3 to two 3 milers on separate days you'd probably feel less fatigued.

    A very good quality workout to keep whilst building easy mileage is a multi-pace fartlek.

    Good luck.

  • Cheers Moraghan

    There is currently no quality in my training, as I'm building back up after a summer break. As a result it's all easy running. Also, at the moment my three easy runs of 6m are being done as 2*3m runs - in that I run as part of my trip to work. Does this matter?

    Thanks again for posting this......

  • In the context of this thread's topic that wouldn't really matter.  Stick the strides in though, even if just 4 * 75m.
  • Hi Moraghan, just a quick one and thinking specifically about the HM training you've mentioned - my quality mid-week sessions currently consist of  :

    1,    2mile easy with 3mile hill fartlek and 1 mile cool down

    2,   2 mile easy with 5 mile tempo run and 1 mile cool down

    Is this sensible for quality HM sessions? My other mileage is about on a par or slightly more than what you've detailed in your opening post...

  • ClagClag ✭✭✭


    Thanks for the advice and info. I'm one of the runners that falls into the camp you've described - too  much too soon! Joined a jogging group in 2007 and did a 5k that year, followed 6 months later by a half marathon. I did my first marathon in 2008 and have done another 3 marathons this year, with the occasional half and 10k thrown in. Having got a marathon PB of 3:59:04 at Lochaber this year, and with PBs of 1:47:12 for the half and 46:37 for 10k, I had decided that my focus should now be on shorter distances and trying to build up some speed before I attempt another marathon. Training, as you've said, takes up so much time when the miles are slower, and there's no way I can run the mileage suggested at present with the speed I go at!

    Currently I'm also studying part-time and working full-time, so I've got quite a constraint on my time and am having to prioritise. My current week is:

    7-8 miles @ around half marathon pace (7:50-8:00 min mile);
    Spin class
    5-6 miles variable (tempo or easy) - aim to go to club reps but never make it due to timing!
    10 mile long run (slow & steady)

    I have cut back the mileage quite a bit from marathon training when I was running less than you would advise, but around 45 miles a week at peak. Is this a sufficient way to maintain things - not convinced I've got the time to try to get much better this year! I'm 37, female, and never going to be a super speedy runner! Thanks! image

  • TwattTwatt ✭✭✭


    I like reading your posts.  You are clearly knowledgeable about running.  In a slightly disconcerting way you remind me of myself when I was younger.

    My approach to running has mellowed quite a lot over the years though.  I used to read all the physiology and training books and spend a lot of time thinking (possibly obsessing) about my training.  Now, I just have a vague plan of what I am going to do for the next couple of days, and sometimes this can change.  I think this is partly because I feel I have got to the stage where training principles have become more instinctive, but I think it is mostly because I can't really be arsed spending much brain space about whether my tempo runs should be 10 seconds quicker per mile or my rests on mile reps should be 3 minutes or 4 minutes, or whether my easy pace was slow enough.  I still enjoy running and racing as much as I used to and I can train very hard when required, so it's not a case of losing motivation, but I prefer to be more casual in my approach.

    I think that a good proportion of people on here may also take a slightly more laissez faire atitude to running.  It is an outlet from our normal duties in life, and who's to say that a person who likes running marathons can't do it on say 30 miles per week if that's all they want to commit on a weekly basis.



  • Davies1927 - looks fine to me.  Keep the tempo based work interesting and challenging but using different paces, sometimes in the same session.

    Clag - that would certainly maintain things, although if that was the real goal I'd probably swap the quantity of quality mileage with easy stuff.   I'd also swap the spinning for easy running, but you may have other reasons for doing that.

    Twatt - good post.  I'm not too anal about paces for my own running, although probably far too anal with its planning.  As you say, each to his own and your assessment of some people's motivations covers a far greater range of runners than I can realistically expect my post to strike a chord with.  I'm sure you'll agree that the longer someone's been running the more they can take liberties with any of running's established 'rules' anyway.

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