I mentioned on Monday how I signed up for a 10k race to get my butt in gear for some more consistent training. Then I got to thinking, how much fitness does one really need to run a race, depending on the distance? Here is a quick break down of what I would be comfortable signing up for, in order of race distance. I’m not saying this is the only fitness level for each race by any means – just what I would feel comfortable doing. In every case, being trained for a race is the optimal way to toe the start line – this is just in case you don’t have that option.
A 5k road race, which is 3.1 miles, is relatively easy to complete if you have any sort of cardiovascular fitness. You can pretty easily walk 3 miles in under an hour, so by no means would I hesitate to sign up for this sort of race. If I was hoping to run fast splits or really whittle down my time, I would want a solid 8 weeks of speed work under my belt to achieve this. I’m talking 400’s & 800’s with active rest (aka, no true stopping). With that said, continuing with long runs and solid week day runs is key here too. When I ran cross-country in college, the courses were 5k in length, but we were still running 12 mile long runs on the weekend to build strength and fitness.
This distance is a bit more involved than a 5k – obviously twice the distance – so I wouldn’t be nearly as eager to want to walk 6 miles. For me to run a 10k in 4 weeks, I wanted to be sure I was comfy running 4.5 – 5 miles with ease. I was able to do that over the weekend, so I am not too concerned. I have been running 3-4 times a week for 3 or so miles at a time, so I have a pretty decent base for 6 miles. By no means am I saying a fast base – at all – but my cardio fitness is a-ok to finish. If I were racing the 10k, I would have wanted to have had long runs on the weekends, similar to that of a 5k training plan long run. For the workouts, think mile repeats and a bit more distance in each workout.
The 1/2 marathon
I wouldn’t want to come to anything like a half marathon (or longer) under prepared. Slogging through 13.1 miles seems really awful. I find it necessary to train for a solid 12 weeks for a half marathon and would say the minimal long run I would be comfortable with before running a 1/2 is about 8 miles. Much less than that, I wouldn’t be a fan. I do feel that a much more comfortable long run before a half marathon is 11-12 miles – longer if you are looking to really put some speed in there. My best half marathon times have always resulted from solid marathon training – think 18-20 mile long runs.
I’ve shown up to one marathon unprepared, and I swore I would never, ever do it again. I ran 16 miles a solid 2 months before race day, and did not get in many more long runs after that. Running 26.2 miles under trained is absolutely awful. If you haven’t had adequate time to train for a marathon (12-16 weeks, with a good starting base), then drop down to the half, or just defer until next year. You will risk injury and being unhappy the entire time if you go ahead with the distance. It’s really just not worth it! If you really want to excel with this race, be able to run 8-10 miles easily at the start of your training. Then, follow a training plan from there. Be consistent with your long runs and run solid during the week too. Get adequate rest and sleep during the training cycle, and you really should be set.
What are you comfortable with, fitness wise, when it comes to signing up for a last minute race?