Which is better? A fast mile or a slow marathon?

The field of sports, nowadays, offers athletes a huge variety of sports, to choose from and, above all, enjoy; either as an amateur or a high-level athlete. Not to mention, this benefit of choice, allows athletes to find the race that best suits them, too; in our case, for today’s article, a fast mile or a slow marathon.

As you’ve probably guessed, this article is all about a “one-mile run” vs a “Marathon run”; two undeniably different endurance running sports. 

A fast mile or a slow marathon — deciding what suits you best

So, we have two runners. One engages in a mile run (1,6 km), and the other in a Half Marathon (13mi/21km) race. Both are considered endurance athletes. However, they have a very different training approach to their sport; although, the common goal in both cases is to be able to travel the distance, as quickly as possible. 

A  mile a minute: The one-mile runner’s case  

For a one-mile athlete to achieve the aforementioned goal, they should try to race at a speed corresponding to VO2max; if not more. To point out, the duration of the mile race starts at 3:43.13 (official record by Hicham El Guerrouj). According to modern scientific literature, an athlete can maintain this speed, for 3-5 minutes. Therefore, the mile runner has to follow a specific tactic for this middle-distance race. 

To elaborate, they’ll start at a speed that corresponds to VO2max; and, in the last meters, they’ll develop as much speed as their body and respiratory system can support. 

That said, during the training process, the athlete has to focus on a very high-intensity zone. Especially, since the objective is to increase the VO2max and, consequently, the speed corresponding to it. To achieve this, the runner should mainly stick to the interval training method (of maximum or super-maximum speed). 

Indicatively, we mention the intermittent training method with intensity over 95%, and up to 120% of the maximum aerobic speed; and, duration less or equal to that of the race — always in accordance with the intensity of the training.

A million miles away: The Marathon runner’s case

The Marathon runner, on the other hand, follows a completely different plan of action. The race duration here can range from 1:59:40 (unofficial record by Eliud Kipchoge) to over 6 hours, for slower Marathons. Hence, this athlete’s training needs to be based on a velocity that corresponds to the first Lactate Threshold (LT1). This speed is known as Critical Velocity ​​(CV). 

In addition to CV, running economy also plays an important part in races like Marathons. But, what is the running economy? Simply put, it’s the utilization of the long-distance runner’s energy; based on the physiological and industrial factors that contribute to it.

A method widely used in a Marathoner’s training process is the Polarised Training method. We’ve written a detailed article entitled “Endurance training strategies that work”, if you want to read more about it. In short, a Marathoner’s training process includes workouts for which approximately 80% of the training hours include:

  • training within the low and moderate intensity zone; and,
  • at the same time, training below, and equal to the first lactate threshold (LT1)

Finally, about 20% (of the training) should correspond to the high and very high-intensity zones, above the second lactate threshold (LT2).

A fast mile or a slow marathon? Two races, miles apart

The fact that the two races — and thus, the training processes — are ‘miles apart’ (pun intended 😊), doesn’t change; and, this extends to the tactical part of these races, as well. Keep in mind that both the tactics and the race results are likely to change several times during the race. If anything, the whole event can be influenced by various factors; as it usually happens with Marathon events, whenever there are unexpected weather conditions.

So, ‘a fast or a slow marathon?’ is kind of a rhetorical question. Besides, how could we compare two athletes with such different training programs and tactical approaches?

In conclusion

Every race has its own beauty and charm. It’s only natural for a runner to wonder, at some point, if they should run a fast mile or a slow marathon; yet, they’re both equally important and remarkable events. Each athlete, with their coach’s help, sets their goals and strives to overcome their own limits in every training session.

At the end of the day, fellow runner, the real question is which sport and race strikes a chord within you. You should also ask yourself if you have fun when training, and whether you get to achieve your goals. Rest assured, when you cross the finish line, the joy and the smile on your face will be the same; regardless if you decide to run a fast mile or slow marathon.

Try Endogusto!

Which is better? A fast mile or a slow marathon? was last modified: July 27th, 2022 by Marilena Kokkinou