What're the differences between short and long distance runnings?

Last updated on February 16th, 2024

Dylan Bowman running

Is it true that taking your time and being consistent is the key to winning in running? Well, opinions vary depending on who you ask. Runners can generally be divided into two groups: those who focus on speed for shorter distances, and those who prioritize endurance for longer distances. Regardless of your preference, all types of running fulfill our natural desire for a sense of belonging.

"In today's world, there's a deep need to feel belonging, and it's hard to find. The thing that brought me into the sport was the curiosity of the human challenge. But the thing that's kept me in it is the community and the friendships." - Red Bull ultrarrunner Dylan Bowman

It's true: Runners from all walks of life, such as those competing in the multi-level Wings for Life World Run, share a unique bond.

To discover your running community, begin by determining if you're inclined towards short or long-distance running. Are you drawn to the thrill of a quick sprint, or do you yearn to test your limits and go the distance like Bowman? Continue reading for a comprehensive comparison of short-distance and long-distance running, and determine which running style aligns with your preferences.

running girls

If you excel in fast-paced, intense exercise, then short-distance running could be your calling. By engaging in short-distance running, you will utilize rapid bursts of speed for distances less than a mile. Termed as sprinting, this form of running maximizes brief surges of vigor, making improvement solely reliant on increased velocity.

There are various advantages that come with engaging in short-distance running:

  • Enhanced strength and speed. When you engage in short-distance running, you specifically focus on activating the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your body. These muscles are responsible for providing the rapid bursts of energy required to surpass your personal record.
  • Faster pace. The ability to sprint over short distances can be a valuable skill that can benefit you in various sports. Take baseball, for instance, where mastering the lightning-fast sprint to home plate can be enhanced through short-distance running exercises.
  • Improved heart health is one of the benefits of short-distance running, as it helps develop leg muscles and enhance lung capacity. Furthermore, the high intensity of this type of running can accelerate calorie burning.
  • Lower chance of sustained injury. Individuals who engage in short-distance running face a decreased likelihood of experiencing muscle fatigue over an extended period of time. However, it is important to note that this form of running still carries some risk, just like any other physical activity. Thus, it is crucial to adequately prepare and warm up before engaging in this exercise.
raod running girl

If you enjoy a slower-paced exercise routine or want to improve your endurance, long-distance running might be the right choice for you. Long-distance running encompasses any distance longer than one mile, which offers a wide range of options. You can participate in moderate runs like 5K and 10K races, or you can challenge yourself even further like ultrarunners such as Bowman, who go beyond the 26.5-mile distance of a typical marathon.

There are various advantages that come with engaging in long-distance running:

  • Enhanced endurance. Endurance athletes, like long-distance runners, depend on their slow-twitch muscles to effectively utilize oxygen as a source of energy for extended durations. Engaging in activities like basketball, which require continuous running throughout the entire game, could potentially increase your stamina.
  • Improved mental concentration. Sustaining your endurance for an extended run demands an equivalent level of mental and physical exertion. Engaging in regular long-distance running can therefore enhance your focus in various aspects of your daily life. Additionally, like most types of physical activity, consistently running for a minimum of 30 minutes can significantly enhance your mental well-being.
  • Reduce chances of developing chronic illnesses, as stated in a 2022 Scientific Reports study. By building up their cardiovascular endurance, they can lower their risk of long-term health issues such as specific types of cancer, chronic heart conditions, and strokes.

Short-distance and long-distance running are different. They require different approaches. It's not just about distance and speed. You need to fuel yourself and coordinate a training plan. Here's what you should know about the key differences between short and long-distance running.

Just like any type of sports training, it is crucial to gradually progress towards your objectives in order to allow your body to adapt accordingly. Taking care of your body after a run is just as important as the run itself. This principle applies to all types of running, although each category has its own unique approach to recovery.

If you've been running long distances consecutively, take it easy today by going for a two-mile jog if you covered 10 miles yesterday. Running for long distances can also challenge your mind more than running short distances, so it's beneficial to give yourself a small break. Incorporating some sprints to improve your speed can also be helpful, and you can break up your routine by including strength training and lifting weights between runs. However, the key focus should be on gradually increasing your distance through longer runs at a moderate pace.

When it comes to sprinting, your goal is to improve your speed rather than your distance. Start with a proper warm-up and then gradually increase your sprinting time in 30-second intervals, taking one- to two-minute breaks in between. After your sprinting session, don't forget to cool down with a light jog or walk.

drink water

When it comes to running, it's important to fuel your body with healthy carbs and nutrient-rich foods. The longer you run, the more fuel you'll need. As a general guideline, if your run is under an hour, your pre-workout meal or snack should provide enough energy. However, if you're running a marathon or going beyond 12 miles, you should plan for fuel breaks along the way.

When engaging in a lengthy run, it is essential to have durable equipment. The most crucial item is a pair of reliable running shoes, particularly for races covering long distances. Additionally, wearing breathable fabric is vital to prevent heat rash caused by excessive sweating. It is also advisable to stay hydrated by drinking water during the run. Moreover, if you aim to monitor your progress and achieve personal goals, a smartwatch or running watch can be extremely useful.

When selecting the most suitable running style for yourself, there are several aspects to take into account. Your personal muscle composition could play a significant role in this decision. Certain individuals naturally possess a higher proportion of either short- or fast-twitch muscle fibers. If it requires a few miles for you to properly warm up, you may be better suited for long-distance running.

For a lot of people, the key is striking a balance between the two. Unless you strongly prefer one over the other, why not switch between speed and endurance and reap the rewards of both?

When it comes to running, whether it's short distances or long distances, there isn't a definitive right or wrong choice. At events like the Wings for Life World Run, runners of all types and abilities should take pride in their dedication and achievements. So, lace up your shoes, hit the path, and don't let anything hold you back.