The art of running slow enough
Many runners struggle to run slow enough on their long or easy runs, and it's so important for training. So in this post I'm going to explain why it's important and some tips of how do make sure you really are going slow enough!
Why you need to run long and easy runs slowly
The aim of long and easy runs is to build your endurance. Endurance is a concept that covers many different adaptations in the body but at it's core it's;
- Cardio vascular endurance, training the heart, lungs and circulation to be a big efficient engine that can keep going "at tick over" for long periods of time,
- Primarily use body fat as fuel. We all have enough body fat to keep us going for days. It's a big fuel tank and the more we can train our body to use that store instead of the much smaller glycogen fuel tank the longer we can run for before we run out of that quick release energy (often called hitting the wall).
How to make sure you are going slowly enough
There are a few ways to make sure you are running slowly enough. On a long or easy run you should;
- Be able to talk in full sentences on every out breath
- Feel like you could have easily kept going at the end of a run
- Feel like your effort level is low and the run isn't that challenging
- Be running noticeably slower than target race pace, even for the marathon
- Be in zone 2 or below if you train to heart rate (for more info on why heart rate zones aren't one size fits all take a look here https://we-run.co.uk/heart-rate-zones-running/ )
You can also use your watch or tracking app to help. Perhaps set a pace "ceiling" so it beeps if you accidentally run too fast. Or on watches with HR monitors you can set a maximum HR that it will remind you to stick to
Why can running easy feel hard?
I often get runners letting me know that running easy feels hard. Often that's because running is a very repetitive sport from a movement perspective. This means it's we quite quickly ingrain a a sense of a "go to" running pace that we do most of our miles at. It makes it easy to just slot into that familiar pace for the whole run, and often that familiar pace is too fast to get all the endurance training benefits. This also increases over training risk. We are creatures of habit, so what feels familiar often feels easier than a slower pace which is actually physically easier, as the familiar pace doesn't need as much thought/concentration.
What you can do to make easy feel easier!
So a big part of learning to run at the right, gentle pace for endurance improvements and long runs is practice. After a few runs that new go-to pace will start to overwrite than previous familiar pace.
One other thing that's sometimes at play which makes running more gently feel higher effort is some runners slow their stride rate or cadence (the number of times your feet hit the ground in a minute) slows when you run slower. You can run slowly with the same cadence though, in fact this is often more efficient. You can try using a metronome app, set it at your usual long run cadence and practice running more gently for the same steps per minute.