Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The NBA has their official 94 feet regulation sized hard wood court, the MLB baseball diamond is measured out at 127 feet from baseline to baseline, and the NFL gridiron is 100 yards from goal line to goal line.  These sports all play on one standard sized playing surface.  With running and racing you have a selection of distances in which to compete.  No one size fits all approach here.  A runner can decide to challenge themselves in the more traditional 5 Kilometer race, step up to the 10 Kilometer, and or a Half Marathon.  And if you really want the ultimate test, fitting the Greek legend Phidippides, you can run “THE Marathon.”  Or if that is not punishment enough you may try your hand (or feet) at an Ultra event found at distances exceeding 26.2 miles. No matter what the distance, there is a run for you.  But which race is right for you?  Just as there are different lengths to run, each runner has his or her own idea of which is the best race.  I’ll do my best to give you my impressions of the different races.  I’ll explain what I liked, what I did not like and why I run the ones I do.

5 Kilometer (3.1 miles) – The 5K is normally the entry level race for most new runners and it can be a fun yet highly competitive event.  These shorter races offer a manageable distance yet provide a good test of your fitness.  One of the reasons they are so popular is that they are over in a short period of time and are planned for early in the mornings.  These races offer you a chance to get a race in and be home early in the morning.  On the training side anyone able to squeeze in 3 runs a week for 6 to 8 weeks can easily get into shape to run a 5K.  As for the race itself….there’s not much in the line of strategy.  This race will test your legs ability to weather the storm.  If you want a good time, you need to run full out from the gun.  On the plus side the effort/pain only lasts a short amount of time.  The gun goes off and away you go.  I like running 5Ks, I get a good gauge of my “true” fitness and yet the pain does not last for long…I can take anything…for a short amount of time.

10 Kilometer (6.2 miles) – The bigger brother of the 5K is the 10K….and I hate this race!  Just like the 5K if you want a good time…you pretty much have to go hard for the majority of the race.  The goal of a well planned 10K is to run negative spilt times (faster on the second half).  Although longer then the 5K, this race is not long enough to make up any lost time on the front side.  Now the reason I hate this race is because of the level of pain.  If you want a fast time, you must run hard, the pain is more intense and AND it lasts twice as long.  Can you say lactic acid….I think you can.  I’ve run a bunch of 10Ks over my 11 years and I can honestly say I’ve only run one “good” race.  I normally go out to fast and can’t carry the pace for the closing 5K.  On other occasions, I’ve gone out to conservative and can’t make up enough time at the closing bell.  Now on the plus side, like the 5K these races are normally planned for early morning and you can be home before the kiddos or the puppies are awake.

Half Marathon (13.1 miles) – You’ll get many different thoughts/opinions on this subject, but to me this is the first of the “strategy” races.  At 13.1 miles in length….unless you’re a world class runner capable of running at full performance, most recreational runners use “pace and strategy” to help achieve the desired finishing times.  I enjoy running the Half Marathon.  Compared with the previous shorter races, where you’re running all out from the gun, “the Half” offers you an opportunity to plan attacks at favorable portions of the course.  This is a race where I feel like I can attack the course and plan my run to get me into a running zone and chip away at the clock.  The training involved in jumping from the 10K to “the Half” is not that great, throw in a few long runs and you’ll be ready to run your local Half.  The little sister to “THE Marathon” is also a race when you can count on a nice bag of running swag.  I may not stand on an Olympic podium, but I can rock the local swag.  On the down side, the Half Marathon is a long run and it hurts to run long distances, can’t say it any another way. But just as it is a negative I find that I enjoy “the Half” because that pain comes on slow.  Not sure about you, but I can endure a lot of pain…as long as it comes on slow.  A caution to newbie Half runner: this is where the big race crowds begin to show up.  Even the local Half Marathon draws crowds into the thousands.  With a field this big, it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement/energy of the crowd and go out to fast.  And when you’re running with a few thousand of your closest friends, it’s very easy to burn up a lot of energy trying to work your way to some open road.  If you’re able to mange both of these distractions, this is a great, fun race.  This is also a race where your performance, pacing and smart running can get you a great time.  With 13.1 miles…it offers you a lot of miles to leverage your pacing to eat away at the clock.  
THE Marathon (26.2 miles) – THE Marathon, just the name of this race envisions the physical struggle of a runner vs the road.  And for years this race was reserved for the truly fit, the truly competitive and the truly dedicated runner.  But with the running boom of the 1980’s and the marathon explosion of the late 90s/early 2000s a ton of recreational runners (half million annually) are running THE Marathon.  I’ve run Five marathons and I’m still amazed that I was able to go from run/walking my first miles to running FIVE MARATHONS!  And this is my favorite of all races for three reasons.  #1 It’s a MARATHON, Hello #2 It’s an EVENT not just another race and #3 the SHOCK FACTOR when you tell someone you run Marathons.

 On the race side I enjoy the marathon because it offers you the ultimate challenge.  This race is a 4+ hour (depending on ability) war against, the course, the weather, the clock, the road (surface) and the thousands of other things that can go right or wrong over 26.2 miles.  The best advice I ever heard was “PLAN the run and RUN the plan.”  For the Marathon I feel you must have a race day plan.  You must map out your plan of attack with both short and long term goals.  And your plan must include what to do when things go wrong, because they will.  

The best warning I received about THE Marathon was “You can’t fake a marathon” 
On the negative side, the length of the race forces you to “LIVE WITH” any problems that creep into your run i.e. stones jump into your shoes, elevated heart rate from going out to fast and the always loveable “belly issues.”  And unfortunately if these issues come out early, you get to live with them for a long, long time, but you can survive.  

On the plus side the length of this race gives you plenty of time to make up any lost time early on.  If you plan your run within your abilities and manage to stick with the plan, when the wall comes and it going to come, it will not be the defeating blow of legends.  I ran two well planned runs where I stuck to my pace and did not allow anything to upset my plan.  And come wall time, I found myself passing people as their bodies gave out at a much faster pace then mine did.  I could actually feel a lift in spirit and energy knowing I was on course for my goal.  Plan the run, Run the plan….and visit the wall not go crashing into it!

Another great advantage to running THE Marathon is you get an insiders tour of the host city.  I once read “there’s no better way to see a city then to run (walk) the streets.”  Well THE Marathon offers you 26.2 miles of some of the most scenic sights the host city has to offer.  And whether it be Richmond’s Monument Ave, or the Greenbelt of Strafford-Upon-Avon, I’ve found that some of these sights I would have never experienced without running THE Marathon.

Ultra-Marathons  I tackle these events at a later date.

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