I was having a conversation with a runner friend of mine recently about… well… running, and he made an interesting observation. It went something like this – “It seems that most runners I speak to are of the opinion that everyone should continually strive to run further and further. I’m not sure we should be thinking like this. Not everyone wants to go from a half marathon to a marathon to an ultra to some epic multi-day mega-run. It’s ok to just find a distance that you are happy with, find events and races that are in that range and run them”.
While I instantly agreed with him, I also paused for a moment and reflected that I was guilty of believing that constantly striving to run further and further is the way to go. For me, this way of thinking is in line with my urge to test my limits and see what I can get from my body and my mind. But this may not be the case for everyone and nor should it be. As a coach I’m responsible for advising and guiding a lot of people in their running careers. It would be irresponsible of me to force my beliefs onto other people and this conversation was a good reminder for me. I make it a priority to fully assess my runner’s goals and mental outlook on running so that I can create training plans and racing schedules that suit their personal aspirations.
There are a number of people that I coach who are very happy with running similar distances each week and gradually improving in the areas of speed, power, technical ability, etc. There really is no need to constantly grow your weekly mileage to the point where you are running and have no time for anything else. The main thing is that your training is aligned with what gets you excited.
I’ve run some pretty long stuff over the years and have absolutely loved every race I’ve done. Each and every one of them has given me something different. In recent years, often out of convenience, I’ve also entered some shorter races and to my surprise, really enjoyed them. While they may not have challenged me mentally in the same way that trudging over mountains for 20+ hours can, they have given me the chance to reach into other areas of my performance that can only happen when you are running at the very top end of your effort. Similarly, sometimes it is the shorter races that teach us more about “pure guts” racing, where the longer runs are better at teaching us how to measure ourselves out, strategy and control.
If you enjoy both the long and the short stuff, then great, you can learn valuable lessons from both. But if you find that you are drawn to and enjoy one more than the other, then that is great too, because you have found what works for you.
So let’s not be distance snobs. There is plenty of elitism that goes on in other sports and the beautiful thing about running is that it is essentially an individual pursuit and one that holds a personal meaning for each participant. So run as far or as short as you like, run because it is what makes you smile, run because it makes you feel alive and run because it makes you a better you.
Run long… or short!