Every run has a purpose. Many runners, especially new runners, are under the impression that in order to get faster, they must run all of their runs faster. This, very simply put, is not true and can quickly become counterproductive. Your easy run is a key building block for endurance races, but only if done correctly.
In order to understand why, you need to think about how training works. When you work out, you are applying a stimulus to your body. That stimulus breaks down our body, and then our body adapts. The adaptation occurs because our body repairs itself stronger then it was before. The problem is when you run all of your runs too fast then you aren’t allowing your body to fully recover. Many runners, even more experienced runners, will run in the “medium” zone. Individually, the runs can feel easy. The problem is, the body isn’t being allowed to recover. Slowly the body begins to break down and eventually leaves the runner feeling fatigued or injured.
Running Easy for New runners
This is very hard for new runners, who find themselves struggling to complete new distances or increase their weekly mileage. Your body can only take so much before it breaks down. If you are completing new higher mileage, both in individual runs and in weekly mileage, than that is the training stimulus itself. Running it faster will only increase your risk of injury.
Your body has two main energy systems; anaerobic and aerobic. While training you can’t efficiently build both at the same time. As a new runner, your focus should start on base mileage. Base mileage develops your aerobic system. As you build this base mileage, slowly, your body adapts in many ways. You muscular-skeletal systems needs to adapt and your body begins to use oxygen more efficiently.
The act of running is hard on your body. Allowing your body to get use to the pounding that occurs with every step is important. Increasing, the speed only increase the amount of force being applied to your body. When you run slower, easy mileage to build you endurance base, the heart becomes stronger, pumping blood more efficiently by increasing stroke volume. The mitochondria, remember the powerhouse of the cell, becomes stronger and more efficient. Also, your capillary density increases, which brings blood flow to your muscles more easily. (If you can read and follow that, thank a middle school science teacher).
So new runners, it’s okay to slow down. It’s actually good for you! If you’d like to know what a good pace for you to be running at, and you have a race time. Try one of the calculators I have linked below to get an idea of where your runs should be. As a new runners who should be focusing on building base mileage, I would focus on easy pace runs only for a while.
Here are two great calculators from well know professional coaches;
Running Easy for Experienced Runners
More experienced runners, who have developed a general endurance base, often add in some type of speed work. This speed work, is meant to begin working on your anaerobic systems. There are a large variety of speed work outs but the idea behind running easy, or taking off days is the same. You are engaging in active recovery and the key word is RECOVERY!
Pushing your pace on our easy day is further fatiguing your body before you next key workout. At the very least, running a tad faster than a true easy pace, you are not allowing your body to full recover between those key workouts. Your subsequent workouts will begin to suffer. Your growth is going to come from recovering from those workouts, not from going 15-20 seconds faster on your easy days. You are putting the work in, but you won’t see the growth. If you continue to run like this, your body will build up cumulative fatigue. This will cause your performance to plateau, get worse or worse you are at a high risk for injury.
Use a recent race time to get a good idea of what your easy runs should be. These are estimates, the key should be listening to your body. It’s not uncommon for me to run a day or two slow than my recommended easy pace because my body is still recovering from a hard run.
Here are two great calculators from well know professional coaches
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