Slow Down to Get Fast

In the fast-paced world of running, where personal records and intense training regimens often take center stage, the idea of spending time running slowly might seem counterintuitive.  However, there’s a compelling case to be made for incorporating slow, easy runs into your training routine.  Yes, you can get faster by running slower!

What is easy running?

Easy running is your sub aerobic threshold, which is equivalent to heart rate zone 1-2 (~60-75% of max HR), or a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 1-3 out of 10 effort.  This is a low intensity run where you can hold a conversation or sing a song.  But don’t think of it as your easy pace, think of it as your easy zone or easy effort.  The pace of your easy effort will change depending on factors such as your fitness, fatigue, weather, stress, etc.  This is a great run to do with a friend.  Have a conversation and you know you are running easy enough.

How does easy running make me a better runner?

Makes your Engine Stronger:   The size and strength of our aerobic system determines how far and fast we can run.  This is your engine!  The aerobic system is what converts fuel (food) into energy, and it requires a good oxygen supply.  Easy effort running enhances capillary growth (more oxygen to the muscles!), boosts the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel, and improves mitochondrial density. If you remember from biology class, the mitochondrion are the powerhouses of the cell.  It’s where fuel gets converted to energy.  Training in your easy zone helps to build the number and size of mitochondria in the muscle cells, which means more energy production!

Injury Prevention and Recovery:  Lots of runners suffer injuries because they don’t run slowly enough (or ever).   Intense workouts and high-impact training put stress on muscles, tendons, and joints. Regularly incorporating slower runs provides a valuable opportunity for these structures to recover, reducing the risk of overuse injuries.  This also allows you to maximize your effort and performance on the hard days.  Don’t be surprised if your speedwork improves once you start incorporating easier runs!

Mental Benefits Running isn’t just a physical pursuit; it’s also a mental challenge. Easy runs offer a mental breather, allowing you to relax, reflect, and enjoy the simple act of moving. The absence of performance pressure enables you to reconnect with the joy of running, prevent burnout and reduce stress.  

How do I incorporate easy running into my training?

About 70-80% of your weekly mileage should be easy.  As your fitness improves, you can increase the duration and pace of your easy runs, as long as it still feels like you are running at a 1-3 out of 10 effort.  A smaller percentage of your training (20-30%) should be harder runs, incorporating speed and tempo work – this type of training is also crucial for getting faster.

By spending more time running at a lower intensity, you lay the foundation for sustainable long-term progress, improved performance, and enjoyable running for the long haul.  So don’t be embarrassed to post a slow run on Strava.  Be proud when you are the one to kill it on race day.

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