The case for running 5ks — not marathons

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Many executives agree that despite their jam-packed schedules, fitness is a top priority. Not only does regular exercise improve health, it also enhances your mood and mental clarity. Running — and running marathons in particular — is often the sport of choice for bosses. This is understandable, as the determination and stamina required to complete a marathon are also required to excel in the C-suite. But an increasing number of running coaches and exercise physiologists are advocating for much shorter races instead of marathons, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Running a marathon is a serious accomplishment that requires intense training. Shorter races, such as a 5k — 3.1 miles — are often belittled as a "fun run" or a jog. It is true; nearly any healthy person in relatively good shape could run a 5k without significant training. But experts say shorter runs are a better choice for many people, and can produce just as significant of health results and competitive satisfaction, according to the report.

"Everyone thinks the marathon is the holy grail, when a lot of people should really be doing the 5k," said Jason Karp, an exercise physiologist and running coach, according to the report.

Some people's bodies are more suited to focus on speed than endurance. Additionally, if one is running for fitness purposes, studies suggest moderate mileage can be more beneficial to health than long distances, which required in marathon training regimens.

At the American College of Sports Medicine meeting in Boston this month, Paul Williams, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley (Calif.) National Laboratory, presented findings that show running can reduce body mass index, improve cholesterol and reduce the risk for cancer, gallbladder disease, cataracts, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's mortality and respiratory disease, according to the report. But these health advantages don't improve with more logged miles. Mr. Williams' research also found these benefits start to disappear at higher distances.

Benefits of shorter runs

Keeping running mileage on the lower end has several other perks. For one, a shorter run reduces the risk of injury, as running injuries are "typically related to training volume," according to Mayo Clinic sports physician and exercise researcher Michael Joyner, MD.

Runners who focus on 5ks can still maximize fitness gains. According to Dr. Joyner, training seriously for a 5k can help you reach your biological potential for aerobic fitness. High-intensity interval training is the key. This type of exercise regimen is characterized by short periods of very intense physical exertion followed by milder periods of exercise for recovery.

Another benefit of 5ks: Training for them doesn't require nearly as much time as a marathon demands. "The bummer thing about marathons is that you have to put aside so much personal time to train," said Lauren Fleshman, who finished the New York City Marathon in 2011 in 16th place with a time of 2:37:22. "The 5k is so much more sustainable — it's a moderate event that you can bring intensity to without it wreaking havoc on your life." 

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