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.
  • Also posted in Training section.  Suddenly thought it might be better here and there might not be much crossover between the two sections.
  • Moraghan I'm not sure what you get out of posting here and for doing your training threads but personally I'd like to say thanks, I get a huge amount of knowledge from them and invariably find them useful. So cheers.image
  • Great tips Moraghan.

    You're spot on when you say people get hung up on racing further and further and that people think you HAVE to run marathons. I have been just as guilty of this as a lot of people and have now realised that I can't really devote enough time to training for a quality marathon time. I think this is reflected in my PBs at shorter distances and marathon. Marathon PB is 3 hours 34 but my 10k PB is 39:00, 10 mile is 62:05 and HM is 1:31 (currently training for a sub-1:25 in November which touch wood, I'm on track for). I find the "shorter" distances much more enjoyable and easier to dedicate quality training to.

  • I've enjoyed reading all this and it gives an over view on training / racing / distance that I've not seen much of before. Appreciated that you took the time Moraghan.

     And I'm guilty as charged!  Currently training 25miles in a good week and doing half marathons ... (pb1.37). Cardiff HM is coming up and then I'll try to take this on board (which will involve an alarm clock as the heart is strong but the spare hours in the day are few...).

  • And a question: for the two quality HM sessions, what do you recommend?
  • Nick LNick L ✭✭✭

    woah - there is a lot there, and at a glance it looks very useful.

    'Training specific' springs to my mind as a general response. I am having to effectively start again after injury, so will take a look at more detail and see how/if it can be applied to myself.


  • Runners World.... can you please start paying this man, he knows what he is talking about, and this is the sort of stuff all Runners need to read about in your magazine. Thank you Moraghan.
  • Thanks Moraghan, that's really, really helpful stuff image
  • Thanks - I was half expecting to get accused of elitism or some such nonsense.

    i-plodder - that's a good question and I suppose my answer will illustrate what I mean!  

    A great workout for HM racing (and actually as upper aerobic prep for any distance) would be a marathon pace progressive run. So, run continously:

    2m easy || 1m steady state || 3m @ MP || 2m @ HMP || 1m @ tempo || 0.5m @ 10k || 0.5m slow.

    So that's a great quality workout for a HM because it hits paces either side, hits race pace and has you do quality late in a longish run but it's 10m in length, needs building up to (it's very tough) and needs considerable fitness (and a considerable easy mileage base) to complete.

    Another might be 2.5m easy || 2 * (1m @ HMP, 1m @ MP, 1m @ tempo) w/  2:00 jog rec || 0.5 cd

    Or straight HMP reps / 10k reps / short tempo run (in moderation).

    Off 25m per week those workouts would stick out like sore thumbs of course and any quality session you tried to do that was proportionate to your weekly mileage would be difficult to claim real application to HM racing....which I guess was my point!

  • Nick LNick L ✭✭✭

    Moraghan - you elitist cnut image













    better now? image

  • Good to get it out the way early.  image
  • cheers - those are monstrous workouts (from my current level where my weekly quality is a 4 * 1m) but something to build up to over six weeks or so I guess.
  • No, don't try and build up to that over 6 weeks!  image

    Your quality work is about right for your mileage at the moment but, as I said, not a great position to be in quality-wise when in training for a half - but that's life, make the best of it.

  • You are so right about distance. However I am really struggling to give up on the longer distance. As a pretty unimpressive runner the only real buzz I get is from completing marathons as I do not perform well enough in shorter distances to get the same feeling of satisfaction.

    I do resolve to drop the distance quite often and have started telling people that my last marathon is coming up - and after that I am determined to run shorter and faster.

    I made the classic mistake of entering a marathon after approx 1.5 years of running. As a consequence I seem to have totally skipped over the 'develop speed' part.

  • Quality advice as ever.
  • Moraghan, this is so helpful. Thank you so much.

    May I ask a question/favour too? My daughter is 8yrs. We started running in January and have slowly built up to 5k (I do 10k). We are currently running 5k at Park Runs every Saturday and I am hesitant to allow her to run much further at her age. But she wants to improve on what she is currently doing. Our 5k time is between 29-31mins depending on how she feels. Can you suggest a programme that would be suitable? Our running is mainly done on pavements with an occasional trail run thrown in as a fun day out.

    Many thanks


  • Hi Chilibean

    I'm not able to suggest anything specific - nothing personal, I'm just not familiar with the needs of runners of that age.

    I would think the best thing to do would be to contact a running club - but only one that has a track and field team.  Given your daughter's age it's probably a good idea to try different events and a club would give you that opportunity and you can also keep running together at easy paces away from the club.

    It would be nice to get her an environment which encourages her to do some sprinting, jumping and developing all round athleticism than boring, slow straight ahead stuff! 

  • Chilibean - I am not a youth running coach - however my 11 year old son runs with a club and my running club has a youth section. They do a whole variety of athletic events ( as Moraghan suggests)

    - the type of thing my son is doing is much shorter distances - 1 mile max at the club - but plenty of shorter distances as sprints or semi sprints at different distances. They also focus on drills and other bits and bobs like press ups and squat thrusts ...... all the usual suspects - building muscular strength and stretching as well -all encouraging a wide variety of movement. They also warm up with games rather than just jogging which I am sure you can imagine goes down very well.

    So - as above, a good club will do more for her than just develop her running.
  • Hi GymAddict. Thanks for your post. It sounds a great club!

    I have looked into clubs around our area. The nearest one is 40min drive away and meet at 7pm on a Wednesday night which, being a school night, is too late for her at the moment. Although she may manage next summer.

    I also took her once to an after school athletics club. It was brilliant and I really wished that I was a kid so I could have a go! But my daughter is extremely highly-strung. She had never even seen pole-vaulting before, had no idea what was expected of her and burst into tears because she couldn't cope. Also they only did short sprints and she want to rrrrunnnnnnnnn......

    Running is a way she reduces stress and copes with stuff so running just the two of us (or short distances with my younger children) fits her need and mood. Putting her in a group with others is actually adds to her stress.

    Her ideal would be 1500m (at which she is faster than me!) or 3k, but there are not many of those around. Hence we do the 5k park runs on Saturday.

    We do stretches, but hadn't thought though of including her in the strength and core building exercises though- so shall do that. Thanks!


  • Moraghan

     Many thanks for posting this thread, really interesting stuff.  If you haven't tired of giving out bespoke advice I'd be very grateful for your thoughts on my position.

    I'm currently 48, going on 49.  I ran quite alot at school but to no great standard.  Gave up in my 20s and then took it up again in my late 30s, but just running 5 miles a couple of times a week for general fitness.  Five years ago or so I ran a 10k and ran just over 40 minutes and thought that I might step up my training a bit with a view to getting under 40 minutes.  A couple of years followed when I probably overdid it and keot getting injured and then I had a year when I managed six months or so of regular training and managed to to get my 10k time to 37 mins 12 secs.  Having the usual running mentality my thinking was that having made that improvement off a certain level of training if I were to step up the training further I must get faster still.  Since then I've had 2 or 3 years of what I like to think is decent training but further improvement has been glacially slow.  Earlier this year I dipped under 37 mins by a few seconds but I keep thinking that for all the running I'm doing I ought to be showing more improvement (although reading this thread you may well tell me that "all" the running I'm doing is not enough!).  I have a best 5k time of about 17.30 (set last year) and a best 10 mile time of about 63mins although I've only ever done two of these.  I've never raced a half marathon or a marathon and have no plans to do so any time soon.

     My weekly training generally looks something like this:

    Mon: rest

    Tue: intervals (generally on a treadmill); 10x3mins or 4x8mins or 8x4 mins - something like that, about 30-35 mins fast running, just varied to prevent boredom.  Done at current 10k goal pace (36mins) with 1 or 2 mins recovery at an easy jog

    Wed: 40 mins easy run (7.30 min miles) or maybe a similar time on the cross trainer if my legs are feeling sore

    Thur: steady run of about an hour (7 min mile pace)

    Fri: 40 mins cross trainer or exercise bike

    Sat: 5k park run; or hills (9x300m) or 20-30 min tempo run at 6.10 pace

    Sun: 80-90min run at 7 min mile pace

    I also go to the gym 3 times a week and do general conditioning with the emphasis on leg strengthening stuff.

    Maybe my current level is all I can expect at my age, not being blessed with any particular talent but if there is something I can do to get to the next level before old age catches up with me I'd be very grateful to hear it.

    Thanks in advance.

  • N2N - will reply on other thread.
  • Food for thought there Moraghan, thanks. I've definitely been guilty of thinking the only way is up, distance wise, and seldom revisiting distances I've achieved with some proper quality training to improve times. It's easy to rush into a "must-do" marathon and then realise you've completely lost your 5K/10K mojo. The risk is getting permanently stuck on "get you round" schedules, with training distances never in excess of the race distance.
  • Well said Berry.
  • mikasamikasa ✭✭✭

    This thread couldn’t have been started at a better time for me personally. I’m an occasional runner, doing it more for fitness for my other hobbies than anything else but I do really enjoy it and the best thing is it’s free! This time round I’ve been running for nearly a year but not averaging even 2 times a week. image I usually start running  September time when the summer activities decrease and again I have a huge dip in running from June onwards.  I run on my own/ with bf/ with a running shop group and do the occasional park run; 3 since last November.


    Now, I have decided that I want to start training properly and not ‘just’ go for a run. But wasn’t quite sure how I should do this. On a good week I run 3 times, distances being 4 miles, 5 miles and the 5k park run. The furthest I’ve ever run is 6.3miles, this was couple of weeks back when I wanted to try out the distance. Did it as a very easy run and found it easy.


    Say that I started with the 20 mile week minimum ‘programme’, would I just run all the runs as easy runs for 4 weeks to build fitness and to make sure I could do the mileage? And would the occasional park runs be extra to this or should they be included in the total weekly mileage? I guess in terms of proper running, I’m a beginner.


    I have really no interest doing a road marathon. My aim is to do some park runs and get it under 25:00, PB 26:22. Start running some 10k’s, possibly the more ‘fun’ Mudrunner/Hellrunner type things, and maybe train for HM at some point. I’d really like to start trail/fell running but think I need to be bit fitter before starting that and what  we’d quite like to do with bf ( I think next autumn might be bit early though…) is some Mountain Marathons (we’ll see if I ever get to that point).


    Sorry for long post but thanks for starting a fab thread Moraghan, will be following keenly.

  • mikasa - You have to get to 20 miles first and that would be quicker and more safely done just doing the easy runs, although I'd always include strides on at least 2 days if doing this.  In fact, if you dropped the park run I bet you'd have no problems going straight to 20m per week over 4 runs.  From there I'd add in the park runs after about 4 weeks.

    I wouldn't race them every week, but people racing too much is another bugbear of mine and is whole 'nother conversation!

    In reality you could probably safely continue with the park runs whilst increasing mileage more gradually than the above as you already do them without problems.  You should always include all running in your weekly mileage.

  • mikasamikasa ✭✭✭

    Thanks for replying Moraghan. I feel privileged to receive some of your knowledge/help.

    I like park runs but I'm not desperate to do them every Saturday. Well, I've only done 4 so far so I think that speaks for itself. But it is the park runs that have really brought me to the point where I want to start training and not just running as I've realised my fitness approach to running isn't going to take me under 25:00 min 5k.

     My park run times are as follow:

    21/11/09 - 28:07

    01/05/10 - 26:25 (due to more running and lots of cycling)

    18/09/10 - 26:38

    25/09/10 - 26:22 ( I  went out for a PB and was bit disappointed with just 3 hundreds of a second improvement)

    Other commitments have meant I've only run once this week so far with possible other two to fit in, but have pencilled in my new schedule for next week  to start the 20 mile weeks. No park runs till the first phase is finished! Not sure I can make this week's either as have a  wedding to attend to at 11am.

     Oh, almost forgot. I've been reading other threads as well but can't remember exactly what you're supposed to do with strides? And how much should I do? Is there a description somewhere? Thanks in advance.

  • mikasamikasa ✭✭✭
    Ok, have kicked off my first 20mile week with easy 4.6 miles in 48 minutes. My easy pace seems to be between 10-10:30m/m;well, it can only get better.
    I guess I'm over thinking things already but should I just keep to this easy pace for the duration of the first 4 weeks as I usually find that I can start going quicker the more I do it. My legs are ok on the runs, it's the cv that gets me. But as the idea is to get used to the mileage I guess I just keep to the same easy pace?

    Would be nice if anyone else is outthere doing/starting the same thing to share progress etc. Otherwise I'll just plod along on my own...
  • yer majyer maj ✭✭✭
    Moraghan will you please move to Cardiff?  I've been running for 6 months and ran my first 10k race on Sunday.  The demons in my head want me to do the Cardiff Half this time next year and I have a looooong way to go for that!
Sign In or Register to comment.