For the first half of my running “career,” I was the runner who would go out day after day and run the same 3- or 4-mile loop at the same pace 5 times a week. As a beginner, consistency by any means necessary was my primary goal. And it worked for quite some time.
After a few years of 5Ks and 10Ks, I trained my sights on my first half marathon. I learned to vary my distance to run longer and stronger. I added miles to my Sunday run each week until I reached 10 — double digits! With a race like that under my belt, of course, I wanted to improve my time. So, I headed to the track to do repeats and did other speed-play on the treadmill and roads.
The only way to progress and become a better runner is to run all workouts longer and faster, right? Well, that’s true, but not the whole story. In my last training cycle, I experimented with running my long runs faster than I had in the past. I did them about 30 seconds slower per mile than my goal race pace. A somewhat demanding clip, but still comfortable.
I did fine at my race (and PRed), but I always felt the workout was just too much and made me skip other runs early in the week to recover. It took me a good month after that race to feel like running regularly again. I was mentally fizzled.
So, I’m trying something new this time around. Something that is, at least from what I’ve been reading and hearing from running buddies, something I should have started long ago. Yeah. What’s taken me a super long time to try out and accept is that running slow — snail-paced during long runs and an honest easy pace during easy runs — has major training benefits.
Here’s a few reasons why:
- In a running program with a couple quality speed workouts sprinkled in weekly, easy workouts, truly easy (as in a minute to two slower than race pace) workouts, helps the body actively recover from the muscle wear and tear, preventing injury and mental burnout.
- “Even the most highly competitive runners jog most of the time,” which is something I was surprised to learn. Since running easy is, well, easy — you can handle more of it and gain fitness from an increased base without the fallout.
- With regard to marathon training, Hal Higdon advises in all his plans to RUN SLOW. “The physiological benefits kick in around 90-120 minutes, no matter how
fast you run . . . Running too fast . . . may unnecessarily tear down your muscles, compromising not
only your midweek workouts, but the following week’s long run.”
How does this work in practice? Well, I used to run my long runs at about 8:15 to 8:25/mile. These days, I’ve been experimenting with 9:00 to 9:15. Furthermore, by leaving my watch behind on easy days (those filler 3- and 4-milers we all have in our plans) and running at a pace where I can easily carry a conversation, I’ve been able to add another day of running to my week — thereby increasing my overall mileage.
My legs feel fresher, my mind feels less heavy, I’m skipping far fewer workouts, and I’m running more overall. So, consider taking a look at your easy pace days and long SLOW distance runs and slowing down even more. You might surprise yourself with the benefits.
Written by Ashley Marcin.