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Why Running Slow Is Good For You

There are all kinds of benefits from slowing down (and varying) your pace.

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No matter how fast or slow you think of yourself, it’s time to own it. There’s speedy for you, and then there’s your own version of a leisurely jog, and that’s the great thing about running—you can go at your own pace.

Running coaches will note multiple reasons why runners should incorporate different paces into their training. One of the most important reasons is because so many runners suffer injuries from not running slowly enough—or ever.

Think about it: Many runners simply head out the door and go as hard as they can. There might be a little variation depending on the day or terrain, but generally speaking, they have one pace and it’s go. Alternatively, if you’re always taking it super easy, where you are rarely breaking a sweat or not breathing hard, you should also challenge yourself with some speedy efforts. Variety is the key.

If you follow an official training plan, you’ve likely seen instructions for easy runs and faster ones. But a lot of beginner runners don’t really understand what that means—or why.

What Does It Mean to Run Slow?

Your own version of “slow” can be thought of as conversation-pace running. If you can pretty easily have chat with a buddy, then that’s your slow speed.

To give you an idea of the difference in fast and slow for two different runners, here’s the kind of information in the pace charts used by Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) coaches:

  1. Say you can run a 5K in 30 minutes, that’s a pace of 9:40 (fast); your easy long run should be 12-minute miles (slow).
  2. If you can run a half marathon in under 2 hours (about 9-minute miles), a slow run would be 10:22; you could expect to run a 5K in 25:30, at an 8:13 pace.

If you’re more apt to track your heart rate on runs, a gentle pace would likely find your heart rate at approximately 110 to 140 beats per minute.

These numbers may give you some idea of where you should be if you keep track of your time, pace, or heart rate. If not, don’t worry. These differences also relate to your effort and breathing—which relates back to the idea of being able to hold a conversation. If you think you’re the slowest runner out there (lots of people think this, but there’s no reason to compare yourself to anyone else) and still breathing hard and feeling like you’re going all out most of the time, then you aren’t going slowly enough at times.

What Are the Benefits Of Running Slowly?

Getting in your slow running time, at a conversational pace, has many benefits for your body (and a few for your ego):

  • Strengthens muscles in legs, torso, and arms
  • Adapts tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones to stress of running
  • Promotes efficient running form
  • Teaches patience, discipline, and how to handle physical discomfort
  • Trains the cardio, respiratory, and muscular systems to work more efficiently
  • Increases the quantity and size of mitochondria, improving oxygen use and glycogen stores

Longer life span could potentially be added to that list, as well. In general, runners have an estimated 25 to 40 percent reduced risk of premature mortality. However, a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that consistent slow and moderate-paced runners had an even lower risk of all-cause mortality than non-runners or strenuous runners.

How to Run Slower

Whenever you start running, it’s best to start slowly. Run at conversation pace for about 10–15 minutes to give your body a chance to warm up. Conversely, it’s great to end your workout with at least five minutes easy to cool down until your heart rate is below 100 beats per minute. This cool down time allows the blood that has traveled to your extremities during exercise to return to the heart and the brain.

Standard advice from RRCA coaches is to schedule no more than two to four “efforts” per week. An effort is considered a speed session or a long run as well as demanding cross-training sessions. Depending on how many days per week you run, the other days should be slower, conversation-paced running. This means 75–80 percent of your weekly mileage should be slower running at a pace your can comfortably talk.

If you have a high weekly mileage, it’s best to include a variety of distances. Including a short, easy run (less than 45 minutes) for example, is good for recovery and helps flush waste from tired muscles and builds strength.

Running a medium-distance run at a slow pace (45–90 minutes), allows your body to build strength without too much stress, both physically and mentally. This also increases your body’s ability to transfer and use oxygen.

A long, slow run (90-plus minutes) teaches the body to improve glycogen storage as well as increases the ability to handle discomfort.

Besides all of these varied benefits, you are also avoiding one of the number-one risk factors for injury: Going too fast or too far too soon.

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