Going out for an easy run might seem pointless. It’s hard to make sense of getting faster by running slower. The truth is you do actually have to run faster sometimes if you’re going to lower finish times at races but you definitely don’t want to do it all the time. A balance between hard and easy running workouts is the best way to build fitness without risking injury, overtraining or burnout. The ultimate purpose of an easy workout is to build a foundation you can then load intensity on top of. The lower effort runs allow your body to adapt to the stresses of road running while still being able to recover fast enough that you can get out there day after day.
Taking your workout intensity down with easy running will help you earn stronger bones, tougher joints, improved running economy, develop slow twitch/fat burning muscles and increased aerobic capacity without leaving you begging for an ice bath. While some people might consider dramatically slower than race pace runs (up to 2 minutes per mile!) pointless, it’s important to remember every workout has a purpose. Yes, we all need fast days to work on turnover, VO2max and race pace but getting time on your feet, recovering quickly and having a nice relaxing run isn’t logging ‘junk miles’ if your session has a purpose, it’s working towards your next race goal.
When you ask yourself why you’re running ‘so slow’ keep in mind that going hard all the time is begging for an injury (trust me!). Your body has to adapt, recover and repair after a beat down on the track or a big hill. Muscles are damaged and full of waste. Blood vessels have to expand while learning how to process the higher oxygen demands you just put on them. An easy running day can actually help speed those adaptations by clearing waste from muscles and increasing circulation. If you go hard every time you run your body never gets the chance to adapt to higher demands you’re placing on it and things like overtraining, stress fractures and burnout all become big risks.
Alternate hard and easy workouts while listening to what your body tells you during warm up. Maybe today isn’t the best day for those all out 100M repeats or a 5k time trial. Make sure your easy running is just that, easy. A conversational pace with a low heart rate up to two minutes per mile slower than race speed. Keep the benefits of easy running in mind when you’re a little tired or a little sore and never be afraid to slow things down. As long as your workout has a purpose, you can’t go to slow.
How many easy running miles do you log? Do you have trouble slowing things down?