What's the Best Running Race Distance?

Sooner or later, you're going to be faced with a decision. What is the race distance I want to focus on?
What's the Best Running Race Distance?


Sooner or later, you're going to be faced with a decision. What is the race distance I want to focus on?

Because if you're going to go marathon, you're probably not going to have the speed that you can really use to maximize your 5k. If you're going 5K, you're probably not going to be the best at the marathon. So is there a best race distance and what is the best race distance to focus on?

I'm Jesse Funk, this is a show I call Runner's High, where we talk about everything running, including today's topic, what is the best running distance? What's the best race distance? Now, obviously, this is one man's opinion on what the best race distance is, and I have my own biases, but we'll see if it holds any water for you when I go through all these races and figure out what is the best one.

So if you love running and you love this discussion, hit subscribe. Stick around with me for more episodes. They come out every Tuesday and Thursday.

So let's talk about, off the top, what is the best race distance and then I'll tell you why I think the best race distance is a half marathon. Now I know there's a lot of glory to be had in the full marathon, but I think the half is the best. It takes a little bit of talking, a little bit of explanation to get to why I think the half marathon is the best.

So let's start at the bottom and then we'll go to the top and we'll kind of work our way in the middle and figure out why exactly that is the best race distance.

Obviously, we start at the bottom right. If we go to the real bottom, we're talking about the mile, which is a terrible, terrible event for anybody that doesn't run track because it's really short, aggressively fast. And so if you're not up to snuff with your top end speed, well, it's not going to be a great race to run. You're going to feel terrible, not have a good time, get left by the field and then wonder why the heck you're doing this. On top of finding a mile, a race is not very easy. If you're in school, you have track meets and you can run the mile.

But just as a general population kind of thing, not very accessible. So because it requires really a lot of specialized training, I would consider for a most distance people. And because it's not really accessible, the miles out, it just isn't going to be the best race distance.

So what is more accessible to most people? That 5K, right? And that's where I love to sit personally. 5K, 10K that's my jam. That's my bread and butter. That's what I like to do. But it is not going to be the best race distance and here's why. So the 5K is really accessible, right? 5k is going to be a distance that most people can complete. That's why of all the finishers of racing run races in the U.S. on any given year, about 45 percent of those people, almost half are finishing 5K's. And then the other finishers are split up among the other distances. So we know a ton of people are completing it, and that's great.

But what if you want a little more challenge?

Of course, you can't go like me and say, I want to specialize in like, get as fast as the 5K is I can get. But not everybody's going to have the speed required to run at the top end of the field, so what do you do there? Most people go longer. So because of all, say, the "easiness" of a 5K in that many, many people can complete it. But also the somewhat top-end difficulty of getting to that front of the field going to be more based on your genetics, I would argue, than simply training.

Those things kind of rule out the 5K for me as the best race distance. Of course, we have the 10K, which is like the redheaded stepchild of the running world. I like doing it because it is the redheaded stepchild, and that's kind of the thing I do. It's how I got into running the first place. Everybody else hated running, so I'm going to run.

You hate running hills so I'm gonna love hills. You hate the 10k. I'm going to do the 10k. So the 10K is out because it's kind of this like in between distance. For many people, it doesn't really feel like either. It's accessible because they can just complete a 5K. That kind of beginning run where many, many people can complete it, but it takes more training to actually do a 10k. So it's not really accessible to the masses, but then more serious runners often go, it's not really long enough.

Most people that are really good at 10K specializing in 10k, 10k, 5k because of their ability to have that high-end speed. So the 10K just doesn't really appeal to many people because it's that in-between distance, it doesn't really feel like those long, grueling endurance tests. And it also is too long to be fast, fast, short, like the 5K or the mile if you want to specialize in that. So the 10K is out for me, both lack of popularity, which I think is a good reason because it's not accessible to most people and then also too short for people that are going to typically be putting in more miles.

So let's jump all the way up on the other side and go ultras right? Going to work our way down. Ultras are out. Yes, I think they are one of the ultimate tests in endurance.

Ironman, Ultras kind of the same playing field, right? Ironman for triathlon because, you know, it takes 8 hours for the top men to finish, although there's a project to work on subset and right now. So I assume we'll be proven wrong. And Mark Allen, who I interviewed on the Smart Athlete Podcast the other show I do on this channel. Subscribe comes out of Friday's. Mark Allen made the prediction that somebody's going to go 6:33.

So, you know, despite that as a tremendous effort, six hours and thirty three minutes of racing, even if that is the most phenomenal race somebody could ever have, it's still six and a half hours of racing. It's crazy, crazy a long time for most people, so the amount of dedication it takes to get to Ultramarathon or Ironman level events, I think eliminates it, and that is because you basically stop having a social life and you have to neglect your family, likely assuming you have a job.

You have to neglect your family for training because you've got to put in tons and tons of hours and you may have very understanding family, and that's awesome if that's the thing you do. I've talked to many ultra marathoners on that Smart Athlete Podcast that come out on Fridays. It's great to specialize in in a blog people find solace in it. But the accessibility is the complete opposite of that 5k.

It's just going to be in the echelons of you just can't. You can't do it. So let's move down to the marathon. The marathon's close. I think the marathons, in many ways, the gold standard of endurance racing for runners, in large part because it has so much difficulty to it like most people are not going to just be able to, "Oh, let's go out and run a marathon" can't do that. It requires that dedicated training that ultras do, but not quite to the same degree. And because it's more endurance-focused, the sharp increase in speed isn't quite as noticeable over the longer distance.

Yes, you're going to spread out. Of course, the top end the elite field is going to be ridiculously fast compared to average Joe. But I feel like the amount of people that come around to do this event because it become, you know, a trophy, so to speak, a hallmark of I'm now officially an endurance runner that makes it more accessible in that you'll have training partners. That's great.

But because you need more training time, and I see it as this mentality of many people are like, I'm doing a marathon, meaning I'm training for the next six months to do a marathon and then I'm hanging my shoes up. I'm going to throw them into the shoe tree like we did in college and then just not going to put it back on.

So the marathons out because of the accessibility in that it is often one and done or not a sustainable practice. But that brings us to why I think the Half marathon is the best racing distance. And that is that it hits this sweet spot. It does require dedicated training. You know, somebody who's been running for a long time like me, it maintains regular distances. I can go complete half marathon.

It used to be depending on where I am in my schedule. That's kind of what I do as my recovery run on Sundays. However, just because I can complete the half marathon doesn't mean that I can race a half marathon. So it's more accessible in terms of mileage, right? It doesn't require you to put as much time and dedication into it to complete it.

So that's great. It's accessible to more people, but it still requires that training. There's a balance there, right? And on top of that, you can't just if you want to be really good at it, you can't just be like, "Ah! I haven't done much training, but I can come out and just do it". There's a few people that every once in a while, can do something like that. But you'll see that more in the 5K because it's so short you can kind of get by on guts. You can't really get by on guts with the Half marathon. You've got to put in specific training and it's a sweet spot of long and also kind of fast.

You haven't swung one direction, the other when you go to ultras. We're not going fast. We're doing the most sustainable pace we can for a long, long time.

5Ks, you're going hard if you want to be competitive.

The Half marathon, you've got to mix it two. You've got to have good endurance skills, you've got to had good speed skills and the mentality to sustain that over a period of time. Top man like an hour, me in particular hour, 15 hour, 20, probably about where I would finish if I was actually training for Half marathon. You know so. And then average Joe probably closer to two hours. Women a little bit slower than that. It is definitely going to be an endurance test.

So it is the best race distance to me because it's accessible but not too accessible. It's speed, but not too fast at the same time. It combines all of the elements of the good long distance races and the good short distance races. You can train, save 5K, 10k and still go out for a half marathon, or you can train for a marathon and then do a half as like a speed work to get ready for it.

This middling distance of the half marathon is accessible, I think, to the most people that are really serious about running. So that's why I think of it as the best racing distance, because once you've committed to say I'm a runner, this is a distance you can come at from almost any discipline and be competitive with a similar group of people, even though they may be on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Whereas I may be doing like 5k 10k work and maybe you're doing marathon work. But when we get to that half marathon because of the combination of skills that are required to complete it and do well at it, we may be matched because maybe I don't have as good endurance as you do and you don't have this good speed as I do, but the opposite is also true. And that brings us to this distance where we can compete together and have this kind of nice camaraderie in social aspect of the race, despite our completely opposite race disciplines.

So that's my opinion for what that's worth. If you want to check out conversations about Smart Athlete Podcast again, subscribe. If you want to check out that conversation with Mark Allen, it's going to be on the screen here shortly. Click on that. Check that out. Really great conversation to have with one of the greatest, if not the greatest, endurance athletes of all time. As always, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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