Why running slow will make you fast :)

Running slow to get faster seems counter-intuitive, right?

There are many running philosophies out there. 99% of them agree that easy running is the foundation of a training plan for any distance runner. 

“easy running” can create some grey area for runners. What is easy?  Many runners can have a distorted view on what “easy” means.  Distance runners are taught to “push through the pain”. We know how to push ourselves to the limits. Sometimes we are not slowing down enough on our easy days.

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Many runners I coach have a tendency to not run “slow enough” on their easy days. Ironically, slowing down can actually be VERY hard for distance runners, but it is critical for improving as a runner.

As a coach, I am a firm believer in the 80/20 rule from Matt Fitzgerald. 80% of your weekly mileage should be run at a slow and easy pace; the remaining 20% is reserved for faster/moderate running (tempos, speedwork, etc). Easy running is generally 65-77% of your max HR. I will go into more detail below

Scientific Studies:

1-“In a 2013 study, the University of Stirling in Scotland had male recreational cyclists follow the 80/20 approach and then switch to 57 percent of their time at low intensity and 43 percent at middle intensity. The gains in power and speed after 80/20 training were more than twice as high.”

2-“Another study, published in March in the Journal of  Sports Physiology and Performance, compared runners logging 30 to 43 miles per week. Half followed 80/20 and the others spent most of their time at middle-to-high intensity. The 80/20 group improved their 10K times by an average of 41 seconds”

Here are some benefits to running slow:

  1. Active Recovery- running at a slower pace helps facilitate blood flow to muscles that need repair after a hard workout (fast running). It will help speed up the recovery process if done correctly. When your heart is working too hard (running too fast), it actually puts more stress on your body and debilitates the healing process. When your body is not able to recover correctly between “fast” running days, it can lead to burn out or injury.
  2. Micro level adaptations- Low-intensity training helps the growth of mitochondria, which helps the body burn fat efficiently. Using fat storages to as fuel will allow your body to become a more efficient aerobic runner. This will allow you to be able to run for a longer time without hitting a wall. An increased capillary capacity so oxygen can be exchanged in your cells more efficiently. This means your muscles can get the oxygen they need to keep running faster the more your capillaries are developed.

Tips for slowing down:

  1. Go off heart rate NOT pace. A good rule of thumb for easy/recovery running is 67-77% of your max HR. You might know your max HR from a workout or many people calculate it by taking 220-*your age*.

Example: 24 year old: 220-24= 196 max HR. Easy pace should be 131-151 BMP

2. Go without music OR listen to slow music when you run. Music has this ability to make us run faster or slower based on the rhythm. Pick something slow and relaxing for these easy days!

3. Run with someone who is not capable of running your “hard pace”. I would recommend running with someone who is 60-90 sec per mile slower than you in races for your easy days. This will help you learn how to slow down and relax on your runs

4. Rationalize it- running easy and slow might feel really weird at first. The stride might feel unnatural, but if you realize there is a purpose behind it, it will help you stay in control! I run a 6:15 pace for a 5k, but I run 9:15 pace on my easy days! Don’t be afraid of ashamed of running slow on your recovery days!

What a 3:14 marathoner’s training looks like:

Workout day:

Hitting 6:30-6:35 pace for 1200 meter intervals

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Easy day:

cruising at 9:40-9:00 pace

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