Friday, August 19, 2011

Finding Your Best Distance

I recently ran a new personal record (PR) of 34:56 for the 10k on the roads at the Scandia Run in Junction City, Oregon.  For some reason I almost never race the 10k distance these days, which strikes me as a little odd.  I’ve run one 10k a year since I got back into running in 2007.  Maybe the 10k isn’t offered as much as a distance at road races these days.  It certainly seems true that there are more and more 5ks and half marathons than ever before.  When I was a teenager in the 1980s and running a road race almost every weekend with my father in some small town in central Minnesota, I recall the 10k being the distance of choice.  Not any more.

One reason I might not run the 10k as often as other distances is that it hurts.  It hurts alot.  To me, a 10k is like a really long 5k race and if I’m going to choose to hurt, why hurt for twice as long!  Granted, one is not really pushing the pace as close to the red line as in a 5k, but it is a long hard run at a pretty hard clip.  Maybe there is something about staying mentally focused on such a hard effort for 30-35 minutes as opposed to 16-17 minutes for the 5k.  The half marathon is a challenging distance too, but for me it is one that is just long enough (or maybe slow enough) to allow me some time to get into a nice rhythm.  Not so with the 10k, it’s get out, get the heart rate up and hang on.

In spite of my apprehension about racing the 10k, it has been a good test of my relative fitness and progression as an adult runner.  I’ve raced one 10k each year since I started running road race again in 2007 and have progressively dropped my time/PR about two to three minutes each time.  I certainly don’t think I can keep improving at that rate, but I do think I can run even faster.

My 10k road racing progression

2007 – 43:15

2008 – 39:50

2009 – 36:45

2010 – no 10ks run

2011 – 34:56

2012 – ????

One thing that running this recent 10k PR made me think about and ask myself is just what is “my” distance.  With what I think are my relative strengths and weaknesses in mind, and recognizing what kind of training and racing I enjoy most, what do I think I am particularly suited to run?  That’s a tough question, because I might not like the answer I come up with or the answer any of my friends that know me and my running may come up with.  There is no question that I really like running on the track and racing 800 meters.  I do still have some all out leg speed, probably more than most masters distance runners.  But I also can get into that groove and put it on cruise control for a few hours in a way that can lead to a decent marathon.  I’ve gotten my mileage up to consistently run 70 to 80 miles per week and have topped out at 100 miles in a week with no major injuries.  So, is the answer somewhere between?  Is my ideal racing distance, god forbid, the 10k?  It might be. 

Where this all leads me to ask myself, what do I want to focus my training towards next year.  Last year, my first as a masters runner, was the year of the 800 meters.  This year has been more of the year of the marathon and half marathon.  Next year I’m thinking of going for some really fast 5ks, both on the track and the roads.  So, what’s a really fast 5k for me?   A PR?  Well, my PR of 17:14 is soft in relation to my current fitness level, so that’s not the best measure.  Is a fast 5k for me what the McMillan performance calculator says I should run based on my 10k or half marathon PRs?  Maybe, but my 1500m and 800m PRs are faster than the calculator predicts.  The short answer is that I really don’t know.  That the fun part of all this.  I guess I’ll just have to run a few and find out the hard way.

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