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Does running short distances help your training?

Article written by Pip Coates on March 10th 2015 for Executive Style


Does running short distances help your training?


James Nipperess


Here’s how the conversation typically goes:

“I was planning to go for a one-hour run but don’t have time now.”

“You could go for 30 minutes; just a quickie.”

“Waste of time; I wouldn’t get anything out of it.”

This conversation is one you are having with yourself, of course. Perhaps you’ve never had it; perhaps you make the most of any opportunity to lace up and get out, no matter the compressed timeframe. But you’d be a rare species.

I know I’ve done this self-talk, usually when the day has got out of control and I’m full of resentment that my exercise plans have been derailed. I’m in a bad mood and I’m tired, and because of this I convince myself that it’s not worth going out. These are, in fact, the very reasons I should go out, for the sake of myself and all the people in my immediate orbit.







You also might have done this self-talk simply because you’re convinced that small amounts of running are just a waste of time and provide no advancement to your fitness. That more mileage doesn’t translate to any benefit.

Either way, you ought to be aware of the ‘little and often’ philosophy of training.


Little and often

Physiotherapist and endurance athlete Mark Green says the way we apply load to our body makes it able to cope a lot better with small sessions frequently than it does with long sessions infrequently.

As an example, Green says if you are planning to do an event and the training plan calls for you to run 50 kilometres in a week, you don’t do the whole lot in one go. If your body is not used to it, everything is going to hurt and you might need a couple of weeks off running completely to let your body recover.

“If, however, you live 5km from work, you could commute by running,” says Green. “Split the 50km up into 10 runs of 5km each way. Your longest run of the week is only 5km, but you’ve still managed to get through that 50km. Plus you can train the next week because you haven’t broken yourself.

“The short runs are always worthwhile. A lot of people think it’s not worth doing if it’s only 6km, but every 6km run adds up and makes a massive difference to your event in the long run.”

Green says ‘little and often’ is especially good for anyone who has a niggle. Since most running injuries are short-term conditions that respond to early intervention, it’s usually possible to maintain some form of training that doesn’t compromise your routine, while still giving your body the chance to heal.


Active commute

Commonwealth Games 3000m steeplechaser and physiotherapist James Nipperess is a fan of ‘little and often’. He runs 13 times a week. Some sessions are really hard, such as a 32km long run done in 2.25 hours, but others aren’t. Most morning runs are about 40 minutes; the shortest is 20 minutes to and from work once a week.

“The most specific form of training for running is to run,” says Nipperess. “My shortest run is my active form of recovery, it doesn’t stress my body. I certainly don’t get a VO2 max effect from it, but that extra 8km is worthwhile in my program. In the same way, those extra kilometres in the 40-minute runs add up throughout the week.”

Nipperess says that success is achieved with consistency in training, and having shorter runs within his program has allowed him to achieve success.

Running by commuting is certainly a way to crank up your mileage in an incidental way that is also time effective and can’t be derailed. I’ve started cycling to and from work whenever possible – an extra 100km a week sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t feel hard when broken into 10km chunks.

For those still in doubt, the last word goes to Scott Douglas, from his The Little Red Book of Running:

“Even if you think a run doesn’t advance your fitness, it has other benefits – promoting blood flow, clearing your mind, getting you away from the computer, burning calories, getting you out in nature, helping you spend time with friends, giving you much-needed time by yourself, maintaining the rhythm of good training, and infinitely so on.

“There are a million reasons to go for a run today that have nothing to do with running faster next weekend.”