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An Easy Way To Get Faster: Slow Down

It is crucial for your training to take easy days. Are you slowing down enough?

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For years, I ran all of my training runs relatively hard. I believed that if I took it easy during a run, I would become more comfortable running slow. And then when it was time to race, I wouldn’t remember how to run fast. (Note: “Slow” and “fast” are all relative in this article.) I thought that if I ran at (or close to) my goal race pace on a regular basis, the pace would start to feel easier and eventually I would be able to run the entire race distance at that pace.

I look back on training logs and posts from two years ago and cringe. Despite being fitter, stronger and faster now, I was running my easy and recovery runs 30-45+ seconds faster back then. I remember feeling like I pushing hard virtually every single day during my training cycles. There were countless missed runs because I felt exhausted or wiped out to even consider a few miles. Even a few long runs where I quit early. These are clear signs of training outside my ability or even overtraining. Needless to say, those training cycles were not smashing successes.

I didn’t understand that the easy, slower days are incredibly important, especially as the distances you are training for and miles you are logging on a weekly basis increase. It’s necessary to let your body recovery from the hard workouts by either resting or doing an active recovery with easy-paced comfortable miles— miles that should be run at paces WAY slower than your goal pace. These miles should make up the majority of a training plan and help build your aerobic base. According to a recent study: “The training intensity distribution of the more successful runners in this study—80 percent low, 10 percent moderate, and 10 percent high—is believed to be optimal for most runners.” (Source)

It could be tough to ease up on the relaxed days and watch your pace slow down. Remember that just because you can run faster doesn’t mean that you should. Honor the purpose of the run. It takes a lot of confidence—in yourself, your ability and the training plan—that the slower pace will actually, in fact, make you stronger and fitter rather than slow you down.

If you are struggling with taking it slower on the easy days, here are a few ways that could help you ease up:

  • Ditch the GPS and run by perceived effort. I was a slave to the number on my wrist. I was too focused on the pace, rather than on the effort or with how my body felt. I spent most of the winter running without my Garmin or with it tucked under my shirt or jacket—a great alternative if you want all the fun data, but just not in real time.
  • Use a heart rate monitor. If you know your training zones, this is a great way to stay on track on the easy days. It “allows runners to see objectively whether their intensity level is actually easy, moderate, or hard.” (Source)
  • Use a training calculator. While not 100% accurate, these calculators can get you in the general range of where you want to be for your easy runs. Maximum Performance Training and McMillan Running are two of the popular ones.

Since pulling back on my easy runs, I have found a few things to be true:

  • I am more energized on a daily basis. I don’t wake up in the mornings sore, tired and exhausted.
  • I feel stronger – both on easy runs days and workout days. I am running slower on the easy days and much faster on the harder days.
  • I am enjoying training more. I actually look forward to my easy days, something that I didn’t experience two years ago at the peak of my overtraining. I also return from them feeling relaxed and energized. I am ready and excited for the hard days because they aren’t every single day.

How do you ensure you are taking it easy on your easy days?