Ron Marinucci October Column: "Race Distances"
by Ron Marinucci, Oct. 14, 2021
Road races appear to be resurfacing—in-person, not virtual. After a year or more of postpone-ments, cancellations, and virtual events, perhaps runners can return to some semblance of pre-CoVid racing. For the past month or so, I have been receiving entry forms for in-person races.
Some of those returning (some are gone for good) have modified their races. For instance, 10Ks have become 5Ks or even events that included both distances have opted for the shorter one. With luck, runners will soon have a variety of distances from which to choose—again.
One of the great things about running road races is that they offer a remarkable number of options. Runners can choose to race a mile or a marathon or ultra, with a good variety of distances in between.
Examining race distances, for quite some time the 5K has been the most popular race distance. I don’t necessarily believe it’s runners’ favorite, but it attracts the most entrants year after year. Often annual 5K races draw twice as many runners as, well, the runner-up 10K. Some years, I think I have read, there are more 10K races, but they draw far fewer runners.
Mostly, in order of number of annual entrants, the 5K and 10K are followed by the half-marathon and marathon. Some sources, though, report 10 milers in between.
Of course, 5Ks have their advantages, not to be overlooked in comparison. They serve well for entry-level, first-time racers. They attract beginning runners. (I wonder how many runners’ first races were half-marathons. Mine was. And I followed that up a couple of weeks later with an 18-mile race. What did I know?) Although short enough, 5Ks still provide a significant challenge and test of ability and fitness. For most runners, recovery from a 5K race is relatively short, allowing for more frequent racing.
For race organizers, they can be billed as a “Fun Run,” even for charity events. Plus, fewer volunteers are likely required. It’s probably a lot easier, too, to convince local government officials to get on board, e.g., shutting down city streets/roads.
Of course, other distances have their advantages, too.
As noted, most popular doesn’t necessarily translate to favorite. At least that’s so for many runners. Like most people with most things, runners, too, have their favorite race distances.
Scott Sullivan is a past editor of mine at Michigan Runner. Although he’s had to give up running due to serious, potentially crippling foot and ankle misalignment, “the love still remains.” He continues to direct and announce local races, while doing some live radio commentaries, too.
When still racing, he remembers, “My favorite distance when I ran was the one in front one of me.” Candidly, he admitted, “I was too slow to run fast 5Ks and lacked stamina to excel at marathons; plus they beat up my body. So my favorites were 15Ks to half-marathons, where,” he quipped, “both shortcomings reached full fruition.”
My first editor at Michigan Runner was Dave Foley, a top-flight runner, too. At 74, he’s “still running four miles a day. I’m closing in on 100,000 miles since I started recording mileage in 1975.” As of now, he’s accumulated more than 98,700 miles!
“My favorite distance is the marathon. It’s long enough that you can’t fake it. If you’re not in shape that will become apparent. Racing 26.2 miles gives you a chance to employ some tactics and demands that you know what your limitations are. In a competitive race mental toughness can come into play in a big way.” He put those all together to run seven marathons between 2:25 and 2:28.
Tracey Cohen is a long-time runner, usually winning or among the top finishers in her age-group. She’s also been writing about running for quite some time.
“I tend to favor the longer distances,” she said, noting “my longest is 100 miles, but hope to go longer someday.” Yet she added, “I truly love and appreciate all of the distances.” Cohen cited “unique distances,” such as the 7 K and 15K, which aren’t raced very often. “I recently ran an 18K in Idaho through the mountains. It was amazing!” But she repeated that “each race is unique in its own right. I appreciate all the work of race directors and volunteers. I understand how hard their jobs are and am grateful…for the privilege to run.”
Eric Stuber said, “My favorite race distance has always been the half-marathon.” Although hasn’t run one in a year or so, in 1986 he had “a great year with ten half-marathons between 1:05:26 (Dexter-Ann Arbor) and 1:08:36 (Run Thru Hell).”
He explained. “You can’t beat a half marathon for testing yourself, but still be able to do something the rest of the day. And the next morning you can walk!”
“For me, it was always the marathon,” chimed in Ellis Boal. Although he hasn’t run a marathon in some years, “I had eight or ten of them, including one I won overall in the Arctic Circle.” He noted in citing his creative side, “I composed a long poem for it, which I recited as my acceptance speech.” His first marathon, in 1979, was 2:59:52, “on poor training.” Seven years later he posted his PR, a 2:36 at the Free Press.
Now, “My only racing is on skis here in northern lower Michigan. He’s done longer races with that too, “traditionally 50Ks, but last winter I dropped down to 20Ks.” Combining running and skiing miles he’s close to 82,000 miles on his feet, “three and a quarter turns around the equator” he noted.
Due to an injury, “I broke three toes in early March,” Jillian Peck said, “I haven’t been running much this year.” She was training for a spring half-marathon and “I was ready. A simple accident took me out for two months.”
She said, “13.1 miles is my favorite distance. It’s enough of a challenge and I can still juggle training and work.” Now “cleared to run,” she is planning to get back to the half-marathon. She’s registered for the Free Press half, but “I’m not putting in the miles for a confident 13.1.” With ten miles under her belt recently, “I know I can cover the distance and time doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’m going to enjoy my time in Detroit. Maybe I’ll even take my phone and stop for some photos along the way!”
Her husband, Dennis, did the Lake Placid, NY Ironman in July. He said, “I love the mile,” but clarified that. “Specifically, the last mile of any race distance.” He noted, “If you have run a good race and paced correctly, you should have just enough left to pass a few people.” He joked, “While it’s a bit shallow, it’s always fun to say ‘On your left’ when the finish line is in sight.” Also in his “sights” is a full Ironman next year.
For me, my favorite distances are from 15K to the half-marathon. Like many others, I lack much foot speed for the 5K. The 10K is my least favorite race—the hurting from the faster effort of a 5K is over pretty quickly, but it lasts and lasts and lasts in the longer race. The marathon is looonnnggg! It takes a lot of training and if, on race day, it’s not your day, well, there’s no repeat next week.
Those distances from 15K to the half are just right. I can run a fairly fast, but comfortable pace. And as Dennis Peck noted, there is running faster that last mile. But as Eric Stuber said, I can still do stuff the rest of the day and can walk the next.
But, in the end, it’s all about personal choices. Fortunately, road races give runners the opportunities to pick and choose. Happy racing the rest of 2021!