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The following question comes from one of our favorite readers, Cathryn:
In the past 18 months I’ve brought my half marathon PR down from 2.06 to 1.53, and I’m definitely faster than I was. However my usual running pace (i.e. when I’m not doing tempo work or purposefully including faster miles in my run) hasn’t really changed much – anywhere between 9.00 and 9.20 is about normal. This is a bit disheartening – I’m pleased as punch about my new PRs but I would love to be running faster on a daily basis without having to concentrate on it. Any thoughts?
Today we’re doing things a little differently. Cathyrn’s question about easy day pace is, well, not easy. In fact, her question sparked an interesting debate amongst us Salties. As a whole, we agreed that easy day pace varies from person to person but the variance in our responses called for a roundtable dicussion to answer her question. So instead of one Salty answering today’s question, we have many answers!
I think that one of the main reasons I got faster is by doing my easy runs at a faster pace most of the time, as well as running higher mileage. I think some of it may have to do with v02 max. I think always having a goal pace in mind can be very helpful. For example, right now I’m training for a November goal pace of around a 24:30 6K. To do this, I really shouldn’t be running easy runs slower than 8:30 a mile. Granted, it does happen, and terrain can certainly cause variances, but nevertheless, all runs should have a purpose, even easy runs.
I was able to finally run a breakthrough marathon last year after I made efforts to speed up my “easy” pace. It was hard the first few weeks, but after a while the faster pace began to come more naturally. It is true you don’t want to race all of your easy runs, but it is equally true you don’t want to run too slow. They key is finding the right “easy” pace and there are several calculators out there to do it.
Another point is an easy run is very different from a recovery run. A recovery run should be truly slow and comfortable. An easy run shouldn’t be as, well, easy, it should be more of a general aerobic run. If you run a lot of miles, you’ll need a lot of truly slow recovery runs. If you are running more moderate miles, you should find a good aerobic pace and try to stick with it (altering if needed, of course, based on how recovered you are, weather, terrain, etc.).
For what it’s worth, my easy pace was between 8:45 and 9:00 and I ran a 3:23 marathon. So your “easy” pace does not seem slow to me, Cathryn.
Easy runs need to be easy. With that being said, some of us have a faster easy pace than others, but you should always run an easy thinking like you could run harder if you needed to. I used to get hung up on easy run pace, but I stopped when I realized that I had to go slow on easy runs when getting used to altitude. I agree that you don’t want to go too slow, but the goal of the easy run is to keep it easy. To get faster, be sure to be keep doing speedwork. Striders (25-40 seconds in the middle or at the end of an easy run) are also helpful for getting faster. Core work and lunges are too. Also, be sure to check out Camille Herron’s post about slowing down the easy run. She’s a 2:37 marathoner who runs 9 minute miles on her easy runs. Colleen De Reuck and Jay Johnson will also tell you that easy runs are also best when done without a watch and going based on feel.
I think that the “magic bullet” all depends on the runner. Some runners need to slow down their easy runs because a faster easy run pace tires their legs too much and reduces the effectiveness of their workouts. Some runners need to speed up their easy runs because it helps them get themselves used to running at a slightly harder effort (while still very aerobic) which makes them more efficient overall and increases their speed in the long run. Some runners need to increase their volume and consistency (running more days a week). Increasing volume slowly but surely over time makes the muscles and all the connective tissue tougher and makes you more efficient, causing you to tire less quickly.
All runners need to do EFFECTIVE core work that builds stabilization. This is not crunches. This is planks, side planks, paloff presses, etc. Effective core work increases efficiency over the course of any run because it reduces the breakdown in form. Drills fall into this as well.
So unfortunately there is no one answer that will certainly make you faster. First things first, if your race times are getting faster then you may want to just stop worrying about your easy run pace. Obviously you are getting faster regardless of the pace of those easy runs. And you certainly don’t want to gut it out and speed up on your easy days at the expense of your workouts.
As someone on the extreme end of the spectrum and not training at a certain pace this entire marathon cycle, I’ll await to see if running by feel does reap results when I run the marathon in a few weeks. It may or may not but what I do know is that it takes awhile to learn what works for you and it’s important to first realize that everyone is different and not to get discouraged if you struggle to hold a certain pace on an easy day. In fact, I believe that if you are struggling on an easy day than the pace is too fast. Something that has also been helpful during this training cycle is starting off my easy runs as relaxed as possible and usually by the last 10-20 minutes of the run, I will have naturally picked it up to a pace that feels relaxed but is also not that slow. Many Kenyans train this way and will often start off as slow as running 12 minute miles but finish their runs under 6 minute pace. Talk about variance!
As a coach I will give you my approach to this: First, most long runs should be “slow” – but “slow” can change over time. The key is to have varied workouts and move through training cycles while building upon what you’ve already done. The way that I do this with my runners is to use tempo runs, hill training (sometimes repeats, sometimes just hilly routes), and fartleks. These are used during the “base building phase” while keeping long runs slow. The faster stuff I may use a HRM for to monitor intensity. One of the biggest mistakes I see runners make is trying to either run everything too fast or to try to cut mileage and just focus on a few harder efforts. Mileage MATTERS (contrary to the “run less, run faster” approach).
This is a great question and one I often wonder about. For me, I feel like when I’m training hard all my easy runs turn into slow recovery slogs – 9:00 pace isn’t unusual when I’m in my best shape. Even to this day I feel like under 8:00 pace is a fast easy run and something I can only do when I’m not doing hard workouts 3 times a week. I have found that I can run faster on easy days than I think. I am in a low to mid-8:00 habit and going faster still feels fast even when my race fitness says otherwise and I think it’s mostly because that 8:00-8:45 pace is so ingrained in me. If you’re not feeling broken down, then you should try bumping up your easy pace :15/mile for a week or two and see how you adjust and go from there.
That being said, I really really think you’re best going by feel for easy runs and recovery runs, especially when training hard. I often leave my watch at home and just run whatever feels good. If I’m stuck on the mill I start ridiculously slow and work my way down. It’s a way to keep me from overdoing it. I think you have way more to lose by running too fast than you have to lose by running too slow.
What do you think? Should Cathyrn focus on speeding up her easy runs? Are easy runs supposed to be run at a certain pace or by feel?
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