Running easy is one of the simplest things you can do for your running that will have the biggest impact. But it’s one of the hardest things for runners to do. And I don’t think social media is doing any favors in getting the run community to actually slow down and run easy for them.
When I got onto Instagram back in 2014, all the Instarunners would post their distance and times everyday in the photos. And we were seeing a lot quick easy runs. No one was posting “slower” easy runs. So even though I was running nice and slow for my easy runs, I wasn’t about to tell anyone just how slow I was jogging out by myself for recovery runs.
When I started improving pretty quickly in 2017-2018, I was running workouts out of my mind. But in order to keep up with the super fast girls (all competitive runners—and most had been running in college) I was running with, I had to take my easy runs really easy. Not even because I wanted to, but because that was all I had left over on my recovery days. I had zero pride about what my easy runs looked like because I so badly wanted to hang with the faster girls on my speed days. And it worked. My 10–12 minute easy-paced recovery runs helped me to recover enough to be running the fastest workouts of my life. And I started sharing how big my pace differential was between my speed workout days and my easy runs so that truly easy runs were being normalized.
Are You Actually Running Easy?
That’s the first thing to explore. Most people think they are running easy, but when they look at their heart rate, that’s another story. Use heart rate to recalibrate for you what easy running actually feels like. If your heart rate is getting up to 170 beats per minute on your easy run, newsflash: This does not feel easy to your body. And worse, it keeps your body from recovering in time for your next workout. Your heart rate should be 60–75% of your max heart rate when you’re running easy.
For reference, I try to stay in the 130–140’s for my easy run. I’ll set my watch to just show heart rate, because pace is truly irrelevant on my easy days, and I’ll just keep an eye to make sure my heart rate stays low. If it’s creeping up, I will slow down even more.
Triathlete managing editor Emma-Kate Lidbury recently discovered the difficulty—and benefits—of keeping your heart rate low on easy runs. Being able to embrace the ease is key to overall running success.
Keep the main thing, the main thing
What is your easy running for? The purpose of easy runs is to benefit aerobically from the lower intensity. So faster is not better. Depending on your body’s need to recover, “easy” will be different paces on different days. Mitochondria (stores energy in muscles) and myoglobin (transport oxygen to muscles) both develop faster at lower intensities. Again, faster is not better.
Easy running is a feeling, not a pace
This is one of the most important concepts you can get that can transform your running. There is no strict easy pace formula to follow. It’s really about how it feels to your body (which is related to so many variables) what your training load is, how hard your workouts were that week, how your sleep has been, how hot and humid it is, how much stress you have in your life … the variables are many and not always quantifiable.
So what do I focus on? I focus on running by heart rate and using that time to work on my form. Easy runs are great time to work on form, because you’re not concerned about hitting a pace like you would be during workouts. The only thing I’ll track metric-wise while on my easy runs are my heart rate and my cadence.
Focus on form
Another important thing to note with easy runs is just because they are supposed to be slower, does not mean they are supposed to be lazy. You can still run with great form and intent even on easy runs. What does this mean? It means you’re running with a positive mindset, being encouraging to yourself, and coaching yourself to good form on your run.
When you do that, you’re making your easy runs serve their purpose: they help you to build aerobic fitness, clear that lactic acid from your muscles, improve your running technique, and are a great opportunity to build your mental strength and positivity.
Your running breakthrough could be as simple as adopting truly easy running. And once you actually run easy for your body, your performance for your speed days will improve exponentially. You’ll unlock your body’s running potential when you train smart— which means easy days easy, hard days hard. Pretty simple, right?!