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

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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:

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  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 should your easy run and long run pace be❓

🅰️: 2+ minutes per mile slower than your 5k race pace is a great guideline! 👍

❓: HOW is easy pace calculated❓

🅰️: Easy pace is calculated using a VDOT calculator. VDOT is a measure of your current running ability. The calculator determines training speeds for each type of run (easy, threshold, interval, etc.) based off of a recent race performance. If your 5k time is 25 minutes (8:02 avg. pace), the VDOT calculator will determine that your easy pace is 10:00-11:00 avg. pace

❓: WHY should long runs be done at easy pace and not race pace❓

🅰️: Every mile in your training plan has a purpose. The goal of the long run miles are to build endurance through the growth of mitochondria and teaching your body to burn fat efficiently. This is accomplished at EASY pace. If you run too fast, you defeat the purpose of the long run. You also will require a lot more recovery time afterwards which won’t allow you to do a hard workout a few days later, thus setting you back overall. Your risk for injury and burnout increases as well. As you get closer to your goal half marathon or marathon, you may have some workouts/harder miles situated within your long run to practice running faster on tired legs 🏃💨

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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The short answer is ❌NO!❌


👉As long as your gait is not altering and your heart rate is above 60% of your max heart rate (and below 80%), you cannot run too slow. Make sure to keep your cadence up and your form strong on easy days. Easy runs provide a great opportunity to focus on engaging your glutes and working on your cadence!🏃‍♂️


👉Yes! We like to give our athletes ranges for their easy pace. Some days it might be 11:00 min/mile pace, other days it might be 12:00 min/mile pace. It all depends on what your workout was the day before, if you’ve recently been increasing your mileage to prepare for a race, your nutrition, sleep, stress levels, etc. You are ❌NOT❌ a ROBOT 🤖 and running does ❌NOT❌ happen in a vacuum!

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