I meet with comments to the effect of “Coach, I don’t like that event” from a number of runners. I understand that too. We all have our favorite races. Some of us just prefer running long and that marathon pain is just something we seem to cope well with. Others love the feeling of power and flying through a track race – 400, 800, 1500, 3000. Others yet like the pace and effort involved with that 5k-10k distance.
As I have outlined in the past, everyone is certainly “made” for different events both mentally and physically. This is not a bad thing at all. Having race preferences is not a bad thing either. In fact, it is quite beneficial because it create focus in training. The flip side of the coin is if we become too focused on solely doing our favorite event we never develop into the best runner we can possibly be. Therefore, our strengths indeed becomes our weaknesses if that is all we focus on.
We need to take lessons from the best in the world to learn how to be the best we can be. If you follow elite marathoners you will find them often jumping into 5000s and 10000s on the track. You will find 800 specialists moving down to 400 and up to the 1500/mile. 5000 runners often drop to the mile and move to the 10000. Many of these same runners will run cross-country too which ranges from 5k to 12k.
It will be rare that you find a sub-2:09 marathoner who hasn’t also run a sub-4:00 mile! Did you know that the world record 5000 is almost three consecutive 4:00 miles (4:03.8)! Did you know that the last 400 of a 5000 is often run in 55-56 seconds? Or, did you know that the last 400 in a 10k can be run in 57 with the last 1000 meters in 2:32 (just over 60 seconds per lap for two and a half laps)? This pace versatility is in a large part a result of working at different distances.
One of the key practices in becoming the best runner you can be at your chosen specialty is to RACE longer and shorter. Shorter races force you to develop your higher end speed. And the longer races develop strength and endurance. And no, it is not the same as doing practice reps.
In the process you also learn more about tactics, pacing, and mental strategies that will serve you better in your primary race.
Running hard for 800 requires one kind of mental approach while running a consistent and controlled hard for 5k is different. Because you can blast 800 and tolerate the searing discomfort or because you can run a 50k and tolerate nagging deep whole-body aching does not mean you can maintain the effort required of a 5k.
So, to become the most well-rounded runner and ultimately be the best runner you can be at your chosen distance get out and race longer and shorter and get out of your comfort zone… there is method to a coach’s madness.