Why You Should Run Really Slow

FlexRunnerWhether you’re a novice runner or you’ve been running for months or even years, there’s a common training mistake you could be making – running too fast, too often. I had been running for about three years when I finally learned that my usual training technique, which involved going out and running as fast as I could on every training run, was a big mistake. Training this way led to a string of injuries that took me months to recover from, and it didn’t help me get any faster. In fact, after the initial increase in speed I enjoyed once I’d gotten into running shape, I plateaued for about two years, and then started getting slower. But learning how to train the right way has helped me run relatively injury-free, and it’s made my runs so much more enjoyable. I’ve got my eye on a half marathon date a couple of months from now, and that will be the test to see whether running slower in training really can make me faster on race day. Here’s why it’s important to run slow, and what I mean by running really slow.

Grow Your Lungs, Save Your Legs
Running at very low intensity allows you to run more miles per week without putting as much stress on your legs as you would if you were running faster. Some studies have found that this results in fewer injuries among novice runners, and it definitely translates to faster recovery between workouts. Logging more training miles is generally associated with faster running times, so logging more miles – even very slow ones, should translate to better race day performance.

Start Off at Walking Pace
This is what I mean when I say run really slow. Especially if you are relatively new to running, or picking it back up after months or years off, you will need to slowly build your aerobic base up over time and the best way to do that is by running at “conversational” pace. This is the pace at which you can run and carry on a conversation. If you’re running by yourself, sing along to your playlist, maybe quietly, so people don’t think you are strange. For me, conversational pace is barely faster than my fastest walking pace, but when I first started running at conversational pace, it was at brisk walking pace, so I’ve gotten faster by over two minutes per mile! Be patient and build up your speed slowly as you make fitness gains. I know it can be hard to run slow, so here are some tips in an article I wrote for Active.com.

Follow The 80/20 Rule
Once you’ve been doing three 30-minute slow runs per week for at least a month, it’s time to add some other types of runs to your training regimen so that you can start to gain some speed and really ramp up your aerobic fitness. You should still keep the bulk of your training runs slow – around 80 percent of your training minutes should be spent running at conversational pace. The other 20 percent of the time, though, you’ll want to speed things up, and not just a little bit. You should split this fast 20 percent between tempo runs and speed intervals. A tempo run is like a mini race without a kick at the end. You do these runs at a constant, hard pace for the entire duration. If you’re using a heart rate monitor, tempo runs should be run at around 80 – 85% max heart rate. Speed intervals are just what they sound like – you alternate very fast running with slow recovery periods. The speed interval should be near sprint pace and close to HRmax, and the recovery period should be between one and five times as long as the sprint. A good place to start is by warming up for 10 minutes with easy, conversational pace jogging, and then do four or five intervals of 20 seconds very fast followed by 1 minute and 40 seconds very slow (walking is fine here). As you get more fit, increase the number of intervals to eight or ten, and then start increasing the speed interval time as you decrease the recovery time. You can also use hill repeats as a speed interval workout. Here’s more information about hill runs, also from Active.com.

4 comments

  1. Mary Rawles says:

    Hey Rashelle,
    I love this post! This is exactly how I approached a run I did over a year ago. I was 67 andI hadn’t run in 20 years, I started out walking/jogging and the jogging was s-l-o-w (but safe) but after several months of training my pace picked up, my endurance increased, and, miracle, I placed 2nd in my age group. Ok it was a small race. But I want to add one thing. Strength training was my base. A regular strength training program provides an overall fitness that’s like a miracle drug to help you perform better.

    • Rashelle says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Mary. I have to agree with you about the strength training. I always lift consistently, even when I’m training for a marathon. A lot of runners don’t but many studies have shown that strength training can benefit running economy and overall performance. Also, as we get older it’s crucial to combat muscle loss in order to retain functionality. At 67, it sounds like you’ve got it all figured out already. Good for you!

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