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Setting Running Goals: Shorter and Faster for 2014

SU12KR1066_1For the past several years I’ve been in marathon mode. I don’t know exactly why or how it happened, but I fell into the trap of feeling like I needed to run a marathon (or three) every year. To be honest, ever since qualifying for Boston back in 2011 I haven’t really enjoyed the marathon very much. I’m not sure if I’ve fallen out of love with training for and running long races, or if life and circumstance have simply conspired to make doing so exceedingly challenging, but I’m feeling a need for change. .

I need to start loving my training again. Notice I said training and not running. I still love running, but for the past 9 months or so I’ve been running solely for fun and without any real direction. Aside from the Vermont City Marathon last May, a 4 mile race on July 4 in Maine (in which I won my age group), and a brutal trail 5K later that month in Craftsbury (in which I walked, a lot), I haven’t raced much in the past 18 months.

My running this winter has been erratic. I’ve run consistently despite the brutal weather, and I even managed to get my mileage up for a few weeks in January, but February was a mess of snowstorms, impassable sidewalks, and unsafe roads lined with giant snow banks. On top of that I managed to throw my lower back out for the 4th time in the past five or so years mid-month (by pushing a piece of wood with my foot, go figure…). So yeah, February sucked.

I ended the month of February with a trip to Florida. My back was feeling better and I managed some decent runs around the Disney property. I also walked a ton around the parks, I’d guess I tallied 50-60 miles walking and running combined over the 9 days I was there. Running in the warmth of Florida reminded me that Spring is coming (said in my best Eddard Stark voice; I’m ignoring the big snowstorm coming Wednesday night, let’s just pretend that’s not going to happen…). It reminded me that runs would soon not require 15 minutes of prep to bundle up in order to stay warm. It reminded me that I have about 10 pairs of road shoes that need to get reviewed, so I had better start upping my mileage. It reminded me that race season is around the corner.

One of the topics that we discussed at the Craftsbury Running Camps last summer was how to identify the type of runner you are. Lynn Jennings talked about how she knew that she was meant for the track and XC, whereas her contemporary Joan Benoit Samuelson wound up excelling at the marathon. It’s partly about knowing in which races you are most competitive, but also knowing the type of training that you enjoy. I’ve thought a lot about this since last summer, and even chatted with Lynn for a bit about my own running. I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy speedwork. I like hill repeats. I like the track. I like a max of about 12 miles for a long run. I don’t like running 15+ miles by myself on roads, at least not at this point in my life. I overperform in shorter races, and underperform in longer races. I think my body is built for racing short and fast.

When I think back to the most fun I’ve had in training, it was probably during summer 2012 in the lead-up to the Smuttynose Half Marathon. Caleb Masland coached me during that time, and I set monthly mileage PRs in both July and August that year. I ran a lot, I ran hard, and I had a blast. But I never ran longer than about 14 miles. And I wound up setting a huge PR at Smuttynose in a race where everything clicked (photo at the top of this post is from that race). It almost felt easy. It was probably the most fit I’ve ever been, and I long to get back to that.

So, last week I shot Caleb and email and told him I was ready to get back to it. My goals are to run hard and have fun, and to not run a marathon. I plan to start by focusing on the 5K. I have a long-standing PR at the 5K distance that needs to fall, and I’d like to do it before I turn 40 in November. I’ll stick with short and fast through the summer, then maybe a half marathon in the Fall if I feel a desire to go longer. No marathon for me this year.

Caleb sent me my first weekly training schedule on Saturday, here’s what it looks like for the week (I plan to shuffle the workouts/days a bit, for example I did Wednesday’s workout today since I ran with a co-worker. It’ll take a few weeks for Caleb and I to best assign workout types to particular days ):

  • Monday: 3 miles easy; 5 x 15 seconds strides after the run (walking recovery in between strides)
  • Tuesday: 3 miles easy. TKD at the gym.
  • Wednesday: 4 miles easy
  • Thursday: OFF from running
  • Friday: 4 miles easy, then 5 x 10 seconds hill repeats (hard effort up, jog back down, rest 10-15 seconds, repeat)
  • Saturday: 3 miles easy
  • Sunday: Longer run for the week, 7 miles

Looking at this schedule makes me smile, and that tells me it’s the right menu for me. It’s only 24 miles this week, but we’ll build on that going forward. I miss strides, I miss hill repeats, I miss the track. I’m excited to get started!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Whether you run 7 miles or 70 miles, you are still an inspiration! I feel so fortunate to have found your blog 3 years ago when I was ready to start trying to run again. Your guidance along the way in the beginning was very helpful and kept me from getting another injury. You will have a fantastic summer now that you will again be doing something that holds a special place for you with no pressure. :)

  2. Christian says:

    Hi Pete.
    Glad you are getting back to coached running- hope your back will hold!
    I immensely enjoy the processes of training for the long distances but there is always so much riding on the one marathon/ultra you can run every quarter or so- this is so much less dramatic on 5Ks to HMs.

    • I think that’s part of it for me, so much riding on one long distance race. So much effort going in. And so hard to predict what things will be like on race day. With 5K you can run one every weekend and track progress much more easily.

  3. That’s generally my plan for the coming year as well, after completing my first marathon in the fall. I basically set all my PRs last year (5k, 10k, 10mi, and marathon), so now its time to go out and drop some of those further and start to include some track/speed workouts in the mix.

  4. I’ve been saying for months “this is the worst winter to train for a Spring marathon.” I live in Indianapolis and will race in Oklahoma City in late April, and nearly every run has been sub freezing (some sub zero) or on the treadmill or indoor trck (gah). But the one thing the Spring marathon has done is force me to get out of bed and get moving during these cold, awful months. I’ve never been in shape this good at this time of year. From a cardiovascular perspective, I’m amped up for what this running/triathlon season will bring. But, MAN, do those long, cold, country road runs get lonely!

  5. I think that’s a great move Pete.

    I have lost my mojo with training this winter, partly by being very busy with work but mostly because I’ve been running a couple marathons a year for a few years now and my long distance training has become a bit stale.

    Therefore I’m going to concentrate this year on shorter targets and speed work. I’m sure after a break I’ll be ready to get back to 26.2.

    Good luck with the new plan Pete.

    • Same boat. Between work, 3 kids, and all the other stuff going on in life the marathon training was just becoming a nuisance and stopped being fun (for me and my wife). I’m in a better place now work-wise, but still not crazy about the idea of spending 3 hours on weekend long runs.

  6. William Nee says:

    Nice post! I think there’s an unhealthy tendency to always want to go “up”: 5k -10K -hlaf -full marathon- 50K — 100K — 100 miler — more!

    Going down can also provide a new challenge.

    Also, if you think of almost all great marathoners’ histories, they were great at speed before going long. Many of us who start training as adults simply start by going long without getting serious about shorter distances, and I wonder if this is a mistake?

    In any case, best of luck to you! I’ll be doing 3-5K training this summer/fall as well!

  7. Mike Mundt says:

    Now your speaking my language. Last summer I went up in mileage and running days per week (including camp) thinking I’d run my first marathon in over 20 years and instead ended up with the longest injury I have ever had. So I have been thinking about this very same topic for months and come to the same conclusion. I love the track too and have now been back to running 2 times a week for 3 weeks building towards 3-4 days per week and looking to do the same type stuff you are doing. Thanks for the extra motivation.

    • Awesome Mike! IT’s all about doing what you enjoy, for too long I felt like I wasn’t a real runner if I wasn’t doing marathons, finally have gotten over that.

  8. Samuel Ho says:

    Yeah I think ultimately running is livelihood for a really small percentage of people For everyone else the performance goals are really just an intermediate surrogate for the long term goal which is good health and good quality of life! So whatever performance goals help keep things exciting and consistent are effective in getting us to that bigger long term goal.

  9. I’m so there with you Pete! Last year it 3 marathons and a 50k. Boston is coming up in a few weeks, and then I’ve decided to forgo a fall marathon in order to work on some 5k speed. I’ve always considered myself a distance runner, but lately track workouts and hill repeats are what I look forward to most! Change is good. Hope it revitalizes you!

  10. Pete Heyes says:

    It’s the same story here, Pete. I originally planned a marathon for the spring, but I couldn’t face the training mileage that would be needed to get the time I wanted.

    Combine that with a change of job and increased travel, and a change of plan was inevitable. I’m now aiming to smash my 10k PB over the course of a few races and hopefully revisit the marathon next spring. My running has been revitalised as a result.

    Good luck with the new training focus!

  11. You’re onto a good thing Pete. After being injured for most of last year, I tried something different and opted for short, frequent runs.

    Building up my frequency of running instead of milage (yes, overall milage was inadvertently build up. But the milage of each run remained almost the same. If you want to read up on it I blogged on it over 8 weeks. I had no idea if it would work but I wanted to openly blog it anyway. I’ve tagged each post under “high frequency training”.

    Now my wife and are focused on running 5k and 10k’s this year instead of getting caught up in the marathon bandwagon. We need to break down this notion that the 5k is for beginners – I’ve been training for 16 years.

  12. Good for you, Pete. So many people (myself included at times) get caught up in long races. Short races are every bit as respectable (and hard as balls if you run them correctly). Not to mention, even if the marathon is your primary event, mixing it up on the track (or short road races) will only make you faster.

    • Yeah, it’s been so long since I’ve trained for short races, I’m really interested to see what I can do. I surprised myself racing 400s on the track at Craftsbury last year, still have a bit of speed in these legs – better use it before I’m too old!

  13. Running has to be fun, if that means short and fast or long and slow it doesn’t really matter, just as long as you enjoy yourself and stay fit.

    The only thing I’d query about is the assumption that marathon training requires regular long runs. While most marathon training schedules have weekly long runs, I really don’t think it’s critical.

    For running a marathon well you need good aerobic fitness, and training for a 5k requires this too, so by simply doing 5k training you’ll be much of the way there. Marathon adds a greater requirement for burning fat, but with greater aerobic fitness comes greater ability to burn fat anyway. If you wish to tip things further towards fat burning then training fasted, or doing back to back tempo/marathon runs will provide a similar stimulus to doing single long runs without the need for being out for 3 hours.

    For marathon training you’ll need to add a bit more structural resilience than you need for a 5k, for this finding some long hill descents to properly stress the eccentric loading of the quads will do wonders.

    Put approach together and I’m sure you could run a run a great marathon without venturing longer than 2 hour long runs.

    To illustrate the point, I’m currently training to do the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in June. I’ve been training for 3 months now and my longest run in this period has been a 18 miler done a few days ago. I’m doing regular longish runs of 10 to 15 miles a few times a week, with the idea that regular moderate stress to improve endurance is less stressful and more effective than irregular high stress.

    It does seem to be working, I am recovering very quickly from these runs. I am sure you can scale things down to work for a marathon too.

    So go train for the 5k, but don’t loose sight that that fitness you build isn’t limited to the 5k, with a few tweaks you’ll be able to then run a great half or marathon.

    • Thanks Robert. I don’t doubt that the marathon or an ultra will be start calling my name down the road, maybe even next year, but for now I think I’m in a good place with my decision. It’s not just the long runs, but the cumulative time spent running interfering with stuff in my life. With three kids 10 and under, now at two different schools with different dropoff and pickup times, and a wife who is starting to explore career options after being a full time mom for 8 years it’s just not the time for 50 mile weeks for me. Once my littlest is in school every day things will get easier I expect.

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