Slow runs are an essential part of running and can make you a faster runner. Despite this, a surprising number of runners either run them too fast, or don’t run them at all. Skipping them means missing out on all the benefits of slowing down. For many people, slowing down to get faster sounds contradictory, but it’s true!
The Benefits of Slow Runs
The main benefit of slow runs is that they improve the aerobic system. While running in the aerobic zone, your body iburns fat as fuel instead of glycogen. Training your body to run off of fat will cause it to be more efficient. This will help you run longer, as your body won’t burn through its limited glycogen stores.
Slow, easy runs are also much, much easier on your body than fast runs are. Your ligaments, tendons, bones, and joints don’t take nearly as much pounding. This is extremely important when it comes to staying healthy! If you are hurt, you aren’t getting any faster. Many running coaches recommend that an athlete’s easy mileage be in the range of 60-90% of their total weekly mileage (depending on your coach). This allows them to have consistently high mileage weeks, while still getting in all their speed and tempo runs.
Other benefits include:
- Improved ability to handle physical discomfort
- Promote healthy running form
- Help to strengthen your muscles, especially in your legs and torso
- Train your respiratory, cardio, and muscular systems to be more efficient
- Helps your body flush toxins resulting from muscle fatigue
- Increases both the size and number of mitochondria, improving the use of oxygen and glycogen stores
- Getting to enjoy your run and the scenery more!
How Slow is Slow?
There are several different methods to determine your slow pace, include heart rate, going by pace, and the conversation test.
The most advanced method is using heart rate. If you use heart rate (HR) zones, Zone 1, 2, and 3 would be considered an easy run. Staying in these zones will ensure you aren’t using your glycogen stores. Even if you don’t use specific HR zones, staying below 80% of your maximum heart rate is considered an easy effort (roughly 110 to 140 beats per minute).
[The simplest method for finding your Maximum Heart Rate is 220 – Your Age = Maximum Heart Rate]
Going by pace can be a little tricky, as everyone runs at slightly different paces. However, below are a couple examples for different paces/lengths of runs.
- If your fast run is a 30:00 5K or 3.1 miles (6:00/km or 9:40/mile), your slow run should be ~7:30/km (12:00/mile)
- If you run a half marathon in under 2 hours (~5:35/km or 9:00/mile), your slow run should be ~6:25/km (10:20/mile)
The simplest method is the conversation test. If you can carry on a conversation with a running buddy while running, that is your easy pace. If you can’t, you’re going to fast and need to slow down.
Also, if you are a newer, slower running, your easy pace may include some walking. This is okay! The point is to keep the effort down so that your body is able to actively recover, and so that you don’t get hurt or burn yourself out.