When I start working with an athlete the beginning point of course is goal setting. It provides focus for training and of course specific workouts.
Some of their goals are very specific such as I want to qualify of boston. To which I may incorporate getting faster at a half-marathon. Or the goal may be to break 16:00 for a 5k and I may need them to get faster in general and incorporate getting fast at the mile.
Other times I get responses that are vague such as “get in better shape” or “get faster” which of course need some delving into. These general goals don’t provide much direction. After all, if you improve by 1 second in a 5k you are faster right? If you can run 1 minute longer than you ever have before you are in better shape. But is that what is really wanted? Doubtful.
And then again I will often get a comment to the effect that they want to get better at all distances and set PRs in everything this year from 1 mile to the marathon. Or race an sprint triathlon and Ironman equally well. This always causes some pause.
Now if you are a novice runner it is quite possible that en route to training for a decent marathon you may indeed set other PRs along the way – often the half-marathon and 10k. That makes sense.
But, for these novice runners, a sound training program (not some 12-week “miracle” run your marathon program) which progresses over 5 months or more in fact should incorporate enough quality work that indeed races even as short as the mile (1500m) or 5k can have dramatic improvements! I have had many such runners.
Over time however decisions will have to be made because you cannot continue to improve equally at all distances without focused training.
That being said, if you really want to get good at any distance you have to focus your training. And these are the prime combinations to set your goals upon.
- 800m and 1500m and mile/1600m training is similar enough to get good at those distances.
- Mile/1600/1500 and 5k can work for the right runner… but not all.
- 5k and 10k are very compatible in training and you can be quite good at both of these.
- 10k and half-marathon is a good pairing.
- 10-milers – half-marathon – 20k – 30k and marathons are good combinations.
What is a less likely combination? Events/distances with disparate training make it unlikely that you will set PRs. It is unlikely that you will set mile and marathon PRs on the same training program. It is doubtful that you will train for an Ironman and set Sprint triathlon PRs together. If you do PRs in these disparate events it’s most likely because you never run one distance or the other enough to have been your best at it.
So, you want a PR? You want breakthroughs? You want to find out how good you really can be? FOCUS your training. Stop trying to do it all – be good at all distances.
Focus your training for the next 6-9 months on that distance. You cannot train the way you always have. You cannot just add distance or just add some speed work and expect to be setting PRs in a few weeks. Train for it. Learn how to race it. Get your race tactics and pacing down. Only then will you know how good you really can be at any given distance.