Runners are some of the most accepting, generous, kind people you will find. We can also be prone to bouts with pretentiousness—“running” pretentiousness. It's not so much that we're full of ourselves. It's more that we tend to think of a runner's ability or experience based upon the distance he or she races. We're not trying to be snobs or anything. It's actually a lot like asking where someone went to high school. We’re trying to build connections and draw a mental picture of where that person is coming from.
I remember rooming with a guy at the USA Cross Country Championships several years ago. He was a 4:01 miler who was looking to break the magical 4-minute barrier the upcoming spring. He worked at a Fleet Feet in another state and was telling me about how his customers kept trying to talk him into a marathon. When he'd talk about his mile goals, their response was, "Yeah, but you could probably run a 2:30 marathon." While a 2:30 marathon is a really nice time and all, it's nowhere near as impressive as a sub-4-minute mile. Just because this guy chose to race the mile doesn't make him less of a runner than someone who runs marathon.
It's not their fault that they looked quizzically at him. The marathoners aren’t being malicious. It's simply that we're used to climbing the distance ladder. If the mile is good, the 5K is longer and therefore better, right? The prevailing opinion is that once you hit the marathon, you've graduated to a "real" runner. But the truth is that real runners come in all strengths and distances.
It's time to view racing differently. Rather than simply completing a distance, we should focus on competing. Instead of building mileage to hit the next race distance, work on running a faster time at a current or even shorter distance. Quality versus quantity. Run less, but run faster.
Shorter races can be every bit as extreme as the longer ones. Instead of the long slow burn, we can learn to appreciate the intense flame that torches and tortures us during a grueling speed session. The self-discovery we feel as we pile on more mileage in longer races can also be found as we peel back the layers to find out just how much more we can push when we're breathing fiery cinders with a half mile to go and our PR is hanging by a thread. A 5K car sticker can be just as memorable as 26.2 car sticker. A sub-20-minute 5Ks or sub-7-minute miles can test our mettle as much as or even more than a marathon.
Before you start training for your next half or full marathon, start working on the quality aspect of training. Now is the time to kick it up a notch. Training for shorter, faster races will allow us to get more comfortable at speed. This in turn will allow us to make sure race pace and redlining aren't too close together in the longer races. Training for shorter races helps our longer races increase in quality. It's time to see short races as challenging goals rather than simply as a gateway drug to the "thons."
Tim Cary is Head Track & Field and Cross Country for Lindenwood University at Belleville and the former Fleet Feet Assistant Training Manager. Over his more than two decades of coaching, Tim has coached athletes to three national team championships, five national individual championships, two national records, and numerous All-American and All-State honors. Click here to subscribe to our blog.