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The Importance Of Varying Race Distances
Too often, runners find one race distance they like and continue to train repeatedly for that one distance. This is especially true for many marathon runners, who will often race three marathons a year, in consecutive years, without taking time to work on other aspects of their running fitness. Not only does continually training for the same goal race distance lead to burnout, but is also one of the main reasons many runners fail to consistently improve year after year.
Train All Your Energy Systems
Each race distance requires that you shift your training focus to a specific set of physiological demands. There is certainly some over overlap between distances, but the exact demands are still different.
For example, the primary focus of training for the marathon is developing your aerobic threshold (the fastest pace you can run while staying aerobic), increasing muscular endurance (how long you can run without your legs falling apart), and fuel efficiency (how proficient you can be at burning fat instead of carbohydrates while running at goal marathon pace). Conversely, in the 5K, your primary training focus should be on increasing your VO2max, improving your speed endurance (your ability to maintain a fast 5K pace for the entire race), and running efficiency (the ability to recruit maximum muscle fibers with each stride without increasing effort).
If you’re a marathoner and you neglect training for shorter distances (5K/10K) for a year or two at a time, you may never improve your VO2max and running efficiency. Eventually, this will limit your ability to improve at the marathon distance down the road.
A good way to visualize this concept is to think of a how window blinds work. To raise a blind, you usually have two strings you need to pull. Each string controls one side of the blind. If we imagine the blinds themselves to be your race performance and the strings to represent separate energy systems, you’ll find that you can only raise one side (by pulling on one string) so far before you need to begin raising the other string. Your body works in much the same way.
Along the same line, if you neglect certain energy systems or physiological elements for a long period of time you’ll start to lose overall fitness. To continually improve, the body needs a constant change of stimulus.
Repeatedly training for the same race distance, especially if you rehash the same schedule and simply change the paces, trains your muscles and metabolic systems in the same exact way, which doesn’t ignite growth and development.