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Short Distance Running: 5 Training Benefits of Short Distance Runs

Short distance running isn’t just for sprinters or those training for 5ks. Short distance runs can be beneficial for runners of all types – from long distance runners to those training for track and field events.

What is short distance running?

In general, short distance running refers to intervals and training runs that take anywhere from a few seconds to 30 minutes to complete. When training for a marathon, short distance runs would be those mid-week runs ranging from 1 to about 4 miles in length. When training for a 5k, short distance running would be those short sprints and intervals that take place during training runs.

What are considered short distance runs?

Many runners have different opinions of what a short distance run is – usually depending on what type of training they are doing. However, short distance running typically involves anything from sprints up to a 5k.

Mile repeats, intervals, or short training runs could all be considered short distance runs. In general, anything more than about 3 miles in length is not be considered a short run.

Differences Between Long and Short Distance Runners

Long and short distance running differs in more ways than just distance. Long distance runners typically run at an easier effort for longer periods of time, whereas short distance runners often run at harder efforts for shorter periods of time. Because of this, these types of runners usually vary in physiology.

Long distance runners

  • Engage slow twitch muscle fibers
  • Typically run at slower, easier paces to sustain the effort over longer periods of time
  • Muscles use fuel efficiently and gradually
  • Utilize aerobic fibers, producing energy from oxygen
  • Very resistant to fatigue

Short distance runners

  • Engage fast twitch muscle fibers
  • Typically run at harder, faster paces since the effort does not need to be sustained for very long
  • Muscles use fuel immediately and deplete stores quickly
  • Utilize anaerobic fibers, producing energy without oxygen
  • Fatigue and burn out quickly

Are you a long or short distance runner?

For some, it is quite obvious whether they are a long or short distance runner. Many runners find that once they have been running for a while, they naturally gravitate towards one style of training or the other. Some love the long, slow runs of marathon training while others just want to give it all they’ve got for a few miles.

Genetics play a surprisingly significant role in whether your body is more inclined to run short or long distances. While it’s still possible to strengthen the fast or slow twitch muscle fibers, it will take much more effort to do so if you are genetically inclined for the opposite style of running.

Race and training performance is very helpful when determining whether you’re a long or short distance runner. Here are a few other ways to decide.

You’re a short distance runner if…

  • You prefer to give it everything you’ve got
  • You love to push the pace and intensity
  • You are satisfied with short, hard efforts during training
  • Running for more than half an hour feels boring
  • Repetitions of short, fast intervals are enjoyable
  • Your training involves weight lifting and other activities
  • You focus on quality over quantity in training
  • You get injured with higher mileage

You’re a long distance runner if…

  • You prefer to feel comfortable and continue to run for longer periods of time
  • You love lower intensity that burns out over time
  • You enjoy long, sustained efforts
  • Running for multiple hours is enjoyable
  • Comfortable efforts throughout the week are satisfying
  • Your training primarily involves runs of varying lengths
  • You focus on quantity of miles during training
  • You get injured with speedwork and intervals
Here’s how to tell if you’re a long or short distance runner. Plus 5 reasons to try short distance running regardless of your training goals!

5 Benefits of Short Distance Running

Even if you find yourself gravitating towards long distance events, short distance runs can be incredibly beneficial to include in training. There are many benefits to these short, hard efforts that can be advantageous for all runners seeking to improve their fitness and strength.

Helps build endurance

It might sound counterintuitive, but running short distances can actually help improve endurance for running longer distances. Short distance runs such as sprints, intervals and even short tempo runs improve strength and muscle resilience, helping the body overcome adversity and power through difficulty.

Increases mental stamina

Short distance running usually involves harder efforts, which requires quite a bit of mental fortitude to stick with and complete each week. Incorporating short distances in your training plan, especially if it is not your favorite, forces you to overcome your doubts and discomfort on a regular basis, thus improving mental strength for the future.

Prevents injury

Adding some short distance running to your training plan is a great way to mix things up and strengthen different parts of your muscles. Including a variety of workouts will help prevent overtraining, which often leads to injury.

Improves fat and calorie burn

Short distance runs usually rely on fast twitch muscle fibers and keep the muscles in an anaerobic state. These intense efforts require a lot of fuel, therefore burning more than if you were running at a slow, steady pace. HIIT training, such as running intervals or sprints, burns more fat than long steady runs as well.

Boosts muscle strength

Pushing your body to maximum speed, even for short distances, requires strength. Doing so on a regular basis will help increase your muscle strength and power over time, giving you more energy to sustain the training you need to hit your goals.

Short distance running can be polarizing among runners – you either love it or you hate it. However, regardless of your feelings towards short distances, including some on a regular basis will help you stay injury free, gain strength, and mental power. Try it this training season!

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