I have a lot of friends who run marathons. I often go to cheer them on, which involves parking the car and waiting at a certain spot along the route to wave at them and yell their name as they pass. Sometimes it involves sprinting to or from the car if it takes a long time to find a spot and you don't think you're going to make it in time to see them; when this happens, it's funny to joke about how tiring it is to watch a marathon for those of us too "lazy" to run 26.2 miles.
I don't run marathons, but I do occasionally do shorter races. Somehow, marathons have become a symbol of True Athleticism, while runs like 5Ks have been demoted to being "easy" or "fun," although I'd wager that some of the people doing the running don't think of them that way. Still, I had written off my shorter distances as being a lot easier than long-distance endurance running — that is, until I read an article entitled "The 5K, Not The Marathon, Is The Ideal Race."
The article makes the point that yes, running is good for you, but contrary to popular belief, more isn't necessarily better. As a matter of fact, there was a study done at Iowa State University showing data that "after a certain point, additional mileage provided diminishing returns." Also, with increased mileage comes an increased chance of getting injured, something a number of my friends can attest to after years of running marathons and having to get surgery or stop running long distances altogether as a result.
Shorter runs like 5Ks, on the other hand, can provide a better workout than many people assume. Training for 5Ks offer optimal distances for health (10-30 miles per week), as well as a decreased risk of injury and more time to spend on other activities. One thing I've noticed when my friends are training for a marathon is that I see much less of them, because they are spending so much time getting in the miles to build up their endurance. And while many people just jog 5Ks, it's very easy to bump up the aerobic fitness level of the training process by doing high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. According to the article, "Studies show that [HIIT] workouts produce greater improvements in VO2 max than the kind of long, slow workouts emphasized in many marathon training plans."
The best part of all of this? 5Ks are shorter, cheaper, and more frequent, which means that there are more chances to get better; if you don't like your performance in one 5K, there is likely to be another one nearby soon after, which means you can consistently be pushing your limits. This article was a good reminder for me that there is never just one way to do something: By approaching the 5K from a different angle, it's possible for it to be an effective, less time-consuming way to maintain your physical health.