19th October 2017. When it comes to the running world, there's one thing you'll see hammered home as more important than anything else: distance, distance, distance. Everyone seems to want to be able to claim that they ran farther every week. Marathons are often held up as a serious goal for many. Even half marathons continue to gain popularity, and there are the super endurance tests you'll find in the "ultra-running" community. Is focusing on distance and endurance the only way to go when you want to run for fitness? Absolutely not! In fact, there aren't any rules that say focusing on long-term stamina is the best practice. Why punish yourself with hours-long runs when it just makes you not want to run at all? Short distance running is not only easier to accustom your body to, but it can have distinct health benefits of its own. It's also easier to fit shorter runs into a busy schedule or when the weather isn't good. So, what are these benefits and how should you approach this challenge? Once you develop the right routine, you'll find that working on your mile time is far more enjoyable than trying to shave seconds off a 5 or 10k run. First, let's look at the reasons why you should consider shortening your daily distance goals.
The health advantages to short, intense runs
In general, the health studies out there have found that short-distance running presents the same type of health benefits as long-distance running. In fact, there appears to be almost no difference between the two regarding their benefits. Whether someone ran 180 minutes per week or just under an hour did not matter; both studied groups saw improved heart health, increased cardiovascular endurance, and an overall lowered risk of death. If you're concerned that running less than your peers will have an adverse effect on your health, don't worry! Any exercise at all contributes to improved health, and focusing on shorter, more intense runs will still yield plenty of perks. Because shorter distances lend themselves well to high-intensity interval training, you can achieve greater results with this method rather than long distance running. You could see your lung capacity improve measurably, and you will still be developing stamina ? just in a different way. The result is that your body improves, and that's what's most important. Combine these benefits with the fact that you don't need to sink such a huge amount of time into your weekly exercise commitment and you can see much more clearly why it's worth a try.
Short distances can still build endurance and efficiency
You might think that by shortening the amount you run, you lose out on the opportunity to train your body to be better. As we've already seen, that's not exactly true regarding health benefits ? but what about the actual athletic improvements you want to see? Here, too, you won't notice many downsides. A short running workout can have a structure that still lends itself to developing endurance, efficiency while running, and of course a high overall speed too. By focusing on "VO2 max" workouts ? that is, exercises that focus on improving your body's ability to use oxygen ? you can see some pretty impressive gains. Endurance doesn't have to be built up over many miles if you're instead expending your maximum effort in short bursts. Over time, your body will begin to adapt to this need for explosive energy. When you start to stretch your pace out for a slower run, you'll find that you have much more energy to use. You may even be able to develop a comfortably fast mile pace that doesn't leave you feeling exhausted. Once you reach that type of plateau, you can use it as your baseline for future growth.
Short runs leave you with more energy for other things
It's a fact that sprinters can access more energy for fast, short bursts of speed, but did you know that means you're leaving a lot on the table when you do shorter runs? You won't end up burning all your energy stores, especially if you're eating a healthy diet balanced for this type of exercise. That means you can balance your running with other forms of exercise that can help improve your short distance running. For example, you might work on your cardio endurance by working out on a spin machine before you hop off and do your run for the day. Working out on tired legs helps to build that endurance. Weight training is an option, too, as you can hone the muscles in your legs and core to provide improved stability when you run. When you aren't spending hours on the running trail and leaving your body exhausted and spent, you can channel that energy into other areas. This is a distinct advantage of focusing on faster miles rather than marathon-like distances: you gain more control over your exercise regimen. You don't have to strictly be "a runner" to see the improvements you want.
Getting started: the best way to approach shorter distances
Focusing on shorter distances means that long running routes aren't necessary. If you can find access to a local track for running, this can help you make effective decisions when approaching your training. You can break your runs down into laps, measuring your distance with ease. To start your efforts in running faster miles, figure out where your comfortable pace is at first. A few days of regular effort to start will allow you to warm up and ease into the process. Now takes things a step further ? try interval training, running short bursts of 100 to 200 meters at your maximum effort level. Take a short break, then go again. Repeat this several times before you call it quits for the day. This will help build up your power and endurance. Translate these gains into improvements in your mile pace; start running faster with each attempt you make. Note when you begin to fatigue. Over time, you should see it takes longer and longer to reach that point. Don't forget to spend time working on your running form as well, though; running a speedier mile will require some training at slower paces focused on your striding form.
Setting goals and working towards them
You may not train for a marathon, but that doesn't mean you can't take some of the marathon runner's mentality and make it your own. Improving your mile times will take effort over weeks and months, not just a few days of work. When you know where you can comfortably peg your mile, though, you can start setting goals to shave seconds or even a few minutes off your time. Be reasonable ? don't try to make big jumps until you're ready. Let's say you want to improve from a "slow" pace of 13 minutes per mile. For many long-distance runners, this is a very comfortable pace, but for beginners, it can still be a challenge. A good initial goal might be to try lowering your time to 12 minutes, then to 11. The interval training described earlier will help you work up the endurance necessary to speed through your mile. The first time you reach one of your goals, celebrate! Your hard work paid off. Afterward, start planning how you'll knock the next minute off your time. Ultimately, your goal should be a "race level" pace that would speed you past competitors ? if you cared about the long haul!
How fast can you make your mile time?
If you're after the right to boast to your friends, working hard until you can run a faster mile than they can, will surely do the job. When you don't enjoy the gruelling pace and difficulty of long-distance running, go the opposite direction and explore what you can train your body to do over less ground. From the heart health benefits to boosting your lung capacity and more, you'll also know that you're still receiving an excellent workout. Try to create a regimen of strength training that helps you to bolster your explosiveness during sprints, too. Altogether, you'll find there are many benefits to taking this approach to running ? and that it can be tonnes of fun as well. Maybe next time you meet up with your running buddies, you'll even challenge them to a short footrace! Follow @SportNessUK