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Why are Short Runs So Hard?

BY Hal Higdon

You are carrying the fatigue and possibly a certain amount of muscle damage from the previous day's long run into the next day’s short run, therefore your short runs may feel much harder.

Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


Why do my short runs always feel awful, but my long runs (6 plus miles) always make me feel awesome? Even with positive thinking, I dread my short runs.


You should not, because doing short runs on one day is the reason you feel awesome on the next day. Most of my training programs are based on the hard/easy pattern popularized by the late and great University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman. I certainly consider Bill one of my mentors. If you analyze most of my programs, you will quickly see that I usually prescribe a hard day followed by an easy day or, looking at it from a different perspective, an easy day followed by a hard day.

Examine my novice marathon programs: Week 8 of Novice 1, Tuesday offers an awful 3-miler, followed by an awesome 6-miler, followed by another awful 3-miler. You might not have felt that bad on Tuesday, because Monday was a rest day, but Thursday you are in recovery mode after two consecutive days of running including that awesome long run. You are carrying the fatigue and possibly a certain amount of muscle damage from the long run into the next day’s short run. Plus if the short distance tempts you to run faster on Tuesday, you may be suffering from cumulative fatigue.

The same things happen with the taper, three weeks out from the marathon. People complain the shortened runs seem tough. It is because of the high mileage, including the final 20-miler, in the climactic week 15.

The way to combat this problem is to make the short runs truly “easy.” Start slowly, perhaps even walk, then gradually build to a comfortable pace. Back off that pace toward the end of the run. Walk a bit before climbing into your car.  This also would be a good time to stretch. And while you are running, enjoy the scenery, knowing your next long run of 6 miles or more is going to feel awesome because you rested in the day or days leading up to it.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.