You’ve been crushing it at the 5K, and you’re thinking you need a new challenge. Or maybe your training buddies are signed up for a marathon, and you’ve got major FOMO. Whatever your reasons for considering a new race distance, it’s important to make sure you’re ready for the challenge.
“Once a runner completes a 5K, it’s exciting to think about a 10K. Or after few half marathons, it’s only natural to start thinking about the magic distance of the full marathon,” says Paul Greer, professor of health and exercise science at San Diego City College and head coach of the San Diego Track Club. “But it’s still a big decision – you’re essentially asking your body to do twice as much as it did before.”
So how do you know you’re ready to move up in distance? Greer says there are a few keys to taking on the challenge at the right time, for the right reasons:
1. You’ll make the time.
If you’re considering a longer distance, don’t just look at how many hours you’ll spend running each day. Training for a longer distance requires you to make time for other things as well: adequate sleep, proper nutrition, strength work, and recovery become all the more critical as the miles increase. Be realistic about your schedule – can you (and will you) make the time to invest in your training?
2. You’ve put in the training.
“If a runner can only complete 5 miles for their longest run in training, they have no business attempting to race a half or full marathon,” advises Greer. “You must be physically fit.” That’s not to say you can’t get there eventually; a longer distance is a great long-term goal! In the interim, set goals for completing a full cycle of training for a 5K, then 10K, then half marathon, then full marathon. In addition to helping your body adapt to the demands of longer distances, you’ll have short-term benchmarks to keep you energized along the way to your big day.
3. You’re healthy.
Have a nagging injury from 10K training? It’s not going to go away just because you signed up for a half marathon. “The runner who consistently gets hurt when they increase mileage and intensity might have to wait awhile,” cautions Greer. “The body needs to be healthy to adapt to the higher intensity that is involved when moving up to a higher distance.” Address the root cause of your injuries with a coach or physical therapist before signing up for another race. For some, this may mean a period of rest with a gradual return to training; for others, it might involve addressing biomechanical weaknesses with a strength-training routine.
4. You’ve got a “why.”
When training for a longer distance, you’ll likely have days when you want to quit. What’s going to keep you going? Whether you’re doing it for your health, your kids, or the epic race-day selfie, having a clear motivation for doing the race is important. “If the mind is willing, this goes a long way in being ready for a higher distance.”
5. You want to do the race.
No, you don’t have to do a marathon. Some people feel they need to go longer because it’s the next logical step in their evolution as a runner, but that’s simply not true. If running longer distances simply doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty of other ways to challenge yourself at shorter distances, like setting a PR, tackling a super-tough course, or taking on a new kind of race, like your first sprint-distance triathlon or even obstacle course racing. There’s no right path for everyone, so make it your own.