You're Running Too Fast

Friday, January 29, 2016

Yes, I'm talking to you! You are running too fast and you need to slow down! Yesterday I had a great run. I say it was great even though I ran 5 miles at an 8:57/mile pace (my 5 mile PR pace is 6:30/mile). So why would I call that a great run? The answer is because slow, easy running is great for my training and fitness.

Sorry he looks so creepy today.
For a long time I fell into the trap of trying to do every training run as fast as I could. I'd muster up as much speed as I had that day and try and set a new record. Maybe you can relate. You try to run as fast as you can and feel bad if you are slow (whatever slow means to you). After all, you aren't going to get those Strava kudos on a slow run! This approach, fortunately, is a mistake. It is important to have some fast runs. It's a huge part of becoming a faster racer. However, if every time you lace up you go all-out and try to be speedy Gonzales you are actually going to hinder your training and end up injured.

Slow running has many advantages to your training. Even elite Olympic athletes incorporate slow running into their weekly routine. So what exactly do I mean by slow running? There are a couple of ways to define it but the easiest is 1.25-1.5 times slower than your 5k PR pace. If you don't have a 5k PR pace just go a minute or two slower than your race pace for any distance. For me, my 'slow running' pace is anywhere between 7:54-9:27. Realistically I aim for about an 8:15-30 but I'm not afraid to go slower! A slow pace for me is keeping my heart rate at about 130 or lower.

All that being said here are three reasons you need to slow down for some of your runs:

1. You burn the same calories if you go fast or slow.

It's amazing how many people don't realize this simple truth. If you run a mile at a 10:00/min pace or run a mile at an 8:00/min pace the calories you burn are basically equal. There's a lot of debate on this subject but for all practical purposes they are equal. The only advantage to running faster is you can fit more miles in the same amount of time, so you could burn more calories per hour. But 5 miles slow or 5 miles fast will yield the same result. If you are trying to shed some extra pounds or running to maintain weight and health a faster pace won't really help you. (Note: running does, however, burn more calories than walking.)

2. Slow running builds your aerobic capability with less wear and tear on your body.

When you run your body experiences stress. Your legs, joints, lungs, and heart all are stressed. At the end of a tough run, your body sustains micro-tears in muscle fiber, dehydration, glycogen depletion, and more. Your body responds by making adaptations. These adaptations are things like stronger muscles and tendons, and a heart that can pump more blood more efficiently. When you run slower you put less stress on your muscles and joints, but your heart still has to pump blood. Running slow applies "gentle" stress to your cardio-vascular system, which benefits you on a run of any speed.

If you need more convincing here's a great video from Sage Canaday, a 2:16:52 marathoner, about the benefits of slow running:


3. You can run more miles with less risk of injury.

The rule of thumb for runners is to only increase one thing at a time; speed or volume. If you try to increase your speed at the same time as the number of miles per week you run (also called your 'base') you will likely get injured. Let's say you are training for a half marathon. You currently run 15 miles per week and you know you need to get more miles in to run a good race. Slow runs will allow you get more miles in with less risk of injury. Making a few of your runs 'easy' runs will help you build your base without causing too much stress on the other parts of your body. If you are prone to injury or have been injured in the past you should really give slow runs a try. Incorporating some slow days into your weekly routine also allows you to really push it on tempo or speed work days.

One last thing about slow running; it is freeing! Knowing that it is OK and actually beneficial to take some runs slow is a great feeling. It will help you enjoy your runs more. It's ok to stop and smell the flowers or enjoy the view. In fact you should really give this a try. Stop during your run and look around, enjoy God's creation and stop worrying about how fast (or slow) you are going. There's a time for everything under the sun, including slow running (Ecclesiastes 3), so get out there and log some slow miles!

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