Sunday, June 22, 2008

Distance vs Speed: Where Is The Love?

While I was away, there’s been a question that’s been heavily debated among my RBFs. In a nutshell, the controversy revolves around the following essential questions: Why do marathoners get more kudos than speed racers? Does training for distance somehow trump training for speed? What is up with the general fascination with the marathon distance? [See nyflygirl’s post titled "Does marathoning a runner make?" for her take on the matter.]

Since I train for both speed and distance at different times throughout the year, I consider myself both a speed racer and a marathoner. As such, I have equal admiration for both runners who run fast and those that run far. Having said that however, I think there are perfect logical explanations why the marathon, and by extension its participants, is held in such high esteem by both the general public and within the running circles. [Disclaimer: The perspectives shared in the following list do not reflect the views of its author…in other words, I’m just stating my observations for why things are they way they are…]

Why Distance Gets More Kudos Than Speed

  1. People can identify with distance more easy than they can with speed. As a concept, distance is more tangible than speed. If you’ve never ridden in a race car before, can you really tell what the difference is between driving 150 mph vs 200 mph? By the same token, for those who don’t run or don’t run for speed, can they really appreciate the difference between 6:00 pace vs 5:30 pace? Distance, however, is totally recognizable. For anyone who’s ever put on a pair of running shoes, the workout is almost always measured by the number of miles they ran that day. And for those that don’t run, they still use standard measures of distance every day…as in next freeway exit is 2 miles away, or the fuel tank gets 25 miles per gallon. So in general, I think people can appreciate distance much more easily than speed.
  2. The general perception is that it takes patience, persistence, and dedication to run a marathon, while some people can run fast just because they’re fast, not necessarily because they trained to be that way. Let’s face it, for the majority of us, we’re never going to run as fast as the Kenyans. No one knows how or even if the Kenyans train to be so much better than the rest of us. I bet even if they don’t train, they’ll still beat any of us in a footrace. But as far as the marathon goes, we’ve all been there, and know all the hard work, sweat and tears that go into training for one. And there’s really no doubt in anyone’s mind that there IS lots of training. After all, you can’t just roll of bed and expect to run a marathon without preparation. [I guess there are some exceptions out there…no need to name drop…you know who you are!]
  3. The training required to run a marathon is very regimented, and is familiar to most runners; training for 5Ks and 10Ks are generally not. Consider the following exercise: We all know the popular marathon training programs: Galloway, Daniels, Pitzinger, SmartCoach, etc; but can anyone name me a popular 5K or 10K training program? We know the key elements of marathon training: long run, tempo runs, general aerobic runs, intervals, but what are the key elements for 5K/10K training? The point is that speed training (for the shorter distances) is an esoteric subject. Because of the paucity of programs, Speedwork training for those who are even interested is often very individualistic and subject to interpretation. Moreover, there is no guarantee that just because you’re running a 5K/10K, you’ve adequately trained and prepared for it. At least with the marathon, you can be certain that most of the people who toe the starting line have had to go through some sort of training to be there.
  4. The people giving the kudos have a secret desire to run a marathon, but not necessarily to run a fast 10K. We all know people who’ve run one marathon because it was on their list of life things to do. For them, merely crossing the finish line is an accomplishment. Whether it’d be in 3, 4, 5 or even 6 hours, they aren’t so concerned. Heck, many of them have even probably spectated a marathon or two. But what about the people who run 5Ks or 10Ks…how come no one makes a life wish to run those under a specific time?
  5. In general, most runners participate in only do one to two marathons a year, while the 5K and 10K road races do not require similar constraints. I think most people do not hold 5Ks or 10Ks in such high esteem because there are so damn many of them. You could probably run one every week if your little heart so desires. This is in contrast to marathons, where most dedicated runners will not run more than 2 or 3 a year. So just by the sheer numbers, a marathoner has fewer opportunities to showcase his talent than the 5K/10K racer. This contributes to the sentiment that the marathon is a unique event.

These are just some of the reasons why I think we see and hear more fanfare surrounding marathons. What do you all think? Feel free to agree/disagree and leave feedback in the comments.

12 comments:

Andrew is getting fit said...

Interesting. I think most of us think we could complete a marathon but have very little chance of ever doing a sub 20 minute 5K for example.

Laura said...

Your post makes so much sense! Though now I want to set a time goal for a short race on my bucket list (not that I have an official one, but if I did).

Meg said...

Great post! I agree with your reasoning, especially that most people think you are born with speed or without, but almost anyone can train for distance.

nyflygirl said...

You do make some good points here-but honestly...I feel like speed, and getting faster, is a factor no matter what distance you run. Hence the obsession I see with BQs, sub-4s, sub-3's, etc...

And even though shorter races are held more often, I think it's usually not in my best interest to race them too frequently...better strategy is picking a couple goal races to peak for. unfortunately, with NYRR holding races every weekend, it is so easy for people to over-race.

But seriously-I think as long as runners put in the work, they can improve their speed and performance-long distance and short.

This comment is sorta all over the place :)

nwgdc said...

you bring up grat points. i especially agree with #4. it's tough to get in more than 2 in a year, considering travel, training, and timing!

runner26 said...

Great thoughts! I agree that distance is a more tangible concept than speed. Also, the marathon has so much publicity surrounding it that the general public knows what it is (and many of the (American) general public might not know exactly how far a 10K is).
Regardless, running a good race is commendable no matter the distance. And I think most runners will acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of someone who has run a good race.

P.O.M. said...

Agreed. Plus I can work hard and train for distance and go further and further, but no matter how hard I work, I will probably never be THAT fast.

bill carter said...

Hi Lam

Another great post. I couldn't agree with you more on why the marathon is held in higher asteem than the shorter, faster races. There is just something about going 26.2 that levels the playing field. As I have said so many times before, anybody who finishes a marathon is a winner. Would we go as far as to say anybody who finishes a 5k is a winner?? Maybe they are and I would be fine with that, but there is such dedication and hard work that goes into marathon training that there is no doubt about the relevancy. I would even go as far as to say that those who finish a marathon feel part of an elite group...

Great article and your Golden Gate experience sounded truly amazing.

Best of luck with the training and I am looking forward to seeing you at Boston '09??

sarah said...

i just wanted to say i was super excited to find your blog after seeing your profile! i am a peds resident in NC and i am planning on specializing in peds endocrinology. i've maintained training throughout intern year which is just ending (although i got sidelined with an injury just before a marathon i was completely prepared to run!) and it has truly helped keep me sane and balanced. anyway, i'll be reading, and this will be inspiration for me to keep it up as i progress throughout (medical) training!

sRod said...

It's like you read my mind! The second I read the question 4 of the 5 points you brought up popped into my head. Well written Lam.

Leslie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Laminator said...

Thanks for the positive feedback, everyone. I'm glad my thoughts are in tune with the rest of the running community.

 
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