I am 100% guilty of running too fast when it comes to my “easy” pace for most of my years as a runner. A combination of lack of knowledge and good ol’ ego driven pride led me to wanting my “easy” to be faster than it should have been. During a time when I was making progress and getting faster, I didn’t want to see the numbers go in the wrong direction and didn’t have the experience to know why runners need to do easy runs to begin with. Frankly I just had no clue how to do this whole running thing in the first place and I thought I was invincible. Silly runner, speed is just a small part of it. So just how easy does your easy need to be, and why?
First, The Benefits
According to Runneracadamy.com easy paced running is the foundation of any effective training program. Essentially by doing most of your running at an easy pace you are teaching your body how to withstand the demands of running both long distances and at faster paces as well. Sure, you need other types of workouts to build speed, but the easy paced runs will give your body the tools it needs to benefit from those workouts with the least amount of damage.
So, How Easy is Easy Anyway?
If you are able to easily carry on a conversation and are running between 1-2 minutes per mile slower than your goal marathon pace, you are probably spot on with your easy pace. Of course with weather and elevation variables, a good indicator is the effort you feel you are putting out rather than the numbers. A heart rate monitor can also help out if you are unsure just running by feel. Doing easy runs with my heart rate monitor helps me keep my pace slow enough when normally I would be tempted to speed up. For a solid easy pace, your heart rate should be at 65-75% of your maximum heart rate (MHR), which you can calculate here. For me that winds up translating to 125-140 bpm. I discovered that I had been running easy runs using a bit too much effort to gain the maximum benefits and reduce my risk of burnout, overtraining, and injury.
When Do I Use an Easy Pace?
Generally, the majority of your weekly runs should be at an easy pace, or at least ever other day. Runners World states that “top coaches and exercise physiologists believe that most runners should do 80 to 90 per cent of their weekly training at the easy run pace (this includes your long runs, done at approximately the same pace).” So if you run 40 miles per week, it’s recommended that 32-36 of them are at at easy pace, including your long run. That leaves just a few miles for a tempo run or speed intervals.
That Seems Like a Whole Lot of “Junk Miles”
True easy paced running is anything but junk miles. You are specifically training at this pace to fully benefit your aerobic endurance system and musculoskeletal system. Going too fast? Not smart! “Allowing your easy runs to become run at a faster pace is not improving you as a runner, but rather training entirely different energy systems that you are likely targeting in harder workouts such as speed sessions. If easy runs are always run at a harder than necessary pace you will experience reduced performance on your harder workout days and stress the body to the point of risking injury and overtraining.” – http://runneracademy.com/importance-of-easy-runs. But before you slow to a crawl beware; “On the flipside, you do want to make sure that you are not running too easy that you are barely exercising. If you run your easy runs too slow you are also getting none of the benefits described above and instead just wearing down your body without aerobic benefit.”
Do a personal case study on yourself to find your easy pace, and remember what it feels like!
This way you can be sure your miles aren’t a waste. Who wants to run 50 miles a week with no real improvement to speak of and only put yourself at an increased risk for injury? Doesn’t sound like a great idea when you put it that way, yet I signed up for that not realizing the damage I was doing. I can say now with certainty that easy paced running is an essential and huge piece of the training puzzle. Learn what it feels like when you are running with your “easy run” effort and stick to it! After all there is nothing to lose and new PRs to gain!
Do you do most of your running at an easy effort? Have you been a victim of the “faster is better” mentality? What was the outcome?