How to Gel 5K and 10K Racing with Marathon Training
Running season is officially here and 5Ks & 10Ks are everywhere! BUT you are also starting your Marathon buildups which means increases in long runs and total mileage. The question, then, is how do you make them both work without getting injured?
Well, first, you need to sit down and do a little planning. Long runs are very important so skipping or missing too many is not a good idea if your goal is a successful Marathon in the Fall! However, running a 5K or 10K on a Saturday and then doing your long run on a Sunday can lead to injury. On the other hand, running your long runs on Saturdays and then doing a 5K or 10K on Sundays can both lead to slower race times and injury. So then you ask, “How do I accomplish both goals?” The answer is: there are actually several ways to do it. However, I’ll be honest.. If your goal is a fast 5K and/or 10K, then you need to focus on those and, if your goal is a fast Marathon, then you should not aim for more than a few short races sprinkled in over the summer (usually in place of a weekly speed workout) or you will compromise your Marathon goal. Now, aside from the Elite Athletes or those fastest among us who need to be great at one or the other, the rest of us can be successful doing both. If you plan correctly, these goals can complement each other.
Living in the huge metro area of the greater Chicago, we are lucky enough to be able to find more than enough 5K or 10K road races within a 45-90 min drive on Saturday or Sunday from April to October. This makes it easy to look at your Marathon training program and then pepper in those short races and adjust your schedule without undermining your Marathon training or getting injured.
The first way to fit it all in is to change your long runs to Wednesdays and then do the 5k or 10k on Saturdays or Sundays using them to replace your speed workouts. In some cases, they can also replace a tempo run. If you want to participate in a local race but not necessarily go all out, then it might be possible for it to be a tempo run. (It is easier to do a tempo run (3-5 miles typically) when you are in a race situation as opposed to doing it on your own in a park or on a track.)
The second way you can incorporate a 5K or 10K race into your Marathon training is to look at your middle distance long runs and utilize them to do a short race. Let’s say, for example, you have the following long runs scheduled over a four-week period:
· Week one: a “step down” week of 8 miles (recovery week)
· Week two: a 10 miler
· Week three: a 12 miler
· Week 4: a 14 miler before stepping back to 8 or 9 again
In this scenario, you could choose the week with the 10 miler and do a 1.5 mile warm up then race a 10k and then do a 1.5-2.5 mile very easy cool down. From a fitness standpoint and the stress load on your body, you’d “get in” the 10-mile run or its equivalent. I’ve used this technique with my athletes for many years with successful results.
Once, I’ve even worked in a Half Marathon race into the schedule later in the season. If you are training for a late fall Marathon (latter part of October or early November), a September Half can be worked into your build pretty easily since, typically, your 16-20 miler would fall on the same day as an early September Half Marathon. Seldom would I recommend racing it all out (it would need to be a very conditioned athlete and fall on a 16 miler run day probably); however, if you ran the race at 80-90%, then it would fit in great with your program! You would do a 1-2 mile warm up, then settle into a “controlled fast pace” but not quite true all-out Half Marathon race pace. Finally, after the race, you would stretch, rehydrate, and then head out on a very easy slow cool down of 2-5 miles (depending on your goals mileage for the day). You get to participate in a race and practice race day routines while keeping your long run… it’s a win-win!
Many times, runners can even achieve “PRs” using this strategy. In my experience, this happens because they run the first half more in control, which is a nice lesson unto itself. This is more likely to happen if you are newer to Marathon running, or running in general, and you have not reached your true running potential yet. When you are newer, you will see many PRs from both increases in overall fitness from more consistent mileage and longer runs as well as from increases in speed and conditioning from speed workouts.
There are other ways to creatively mesh these two slightly opposing goals together. The key is to take some time to plan and then stay true to that plan. I urge you to avoid randomly jumping into short races and then finding that you either skip your long runs or risk injuries by keeping them.