Most weekends I do a longer run with my friend Mina and most weekends I find myself feeling like I’m holding her back, that if it were up to her she’d be running a little faster. Meanwhile, I feel the exact opposite: that if it were up to me, I’d be slogging along more slowly, at least for the first few miles.
During a recent Sunday, as I simultaneously struggled to hold us back and keep up, Mina told me how her weekday easy runs have been faster than they “should” be. In 7:40-7:50 range, her easy runs now are faster than my easy runs have ever been, even at my peak fitness, when I ran 6:34 pace for a half marathon in tropical weather. Back then 8:30s were truly easy and anything under 8:00 happened with intention.
But this isn’t anything new. All my running life, people who ran similar race times to me almost invariably ran their easy runs way faster than I did. Even after all these years, I’m still amazed how 30 seconds slower than half marathon pace can feel easy to someone, when two minutes slower is sometimes barely slow enough for me!
How do some people run their easy runs so fast, when others, like me, find they must run relatively very slow to keep their efforts easy?
Maybe it’s because back in 2004 when I started running, there was no social media of any import (yeah, I forgot about Friendster too), there was no Strava or widespread online log stalking, or famous running bloggers, but whatever the reason, I have never been one to run my easy runs too fast. I didn’t pay much attention at all to what other runners did as I trained for my first half or my first marathon and then as my curiosity about others’ training increased from there, I guess I didn’t spend too much time worrying about what pace they ran their easy runs.
So when I started to find other people to train with who raced similar times to me, I was shocked to discover they often ran their easy runs considerably faster than I did. After I broke 1:30 in the half marathon for the first time, running 1:28:48 in May of 2007, I decided to train with my eye on a sub-three marathon. Why not? Even then, I regularly ran my mid-week easy runs slower than 8:30 pace, often 9:00 or slower, but others who raced times similar to mine were running easy runs under 8:00 most of the time. I tried this a couple of times and did not like it. I enjoyed my plods.
More recently, I trained with a team and we shared our training logs with each other and our coach. I was often embarrassed by how slow my easy runs were compared to my teammates. Even the teammates who raced or ran workouts at similar times to me were blowing my easy run pace away by 60 to 90 seconds per mile! Sometimes I’d succumb to self-imposed pressure and try to run my easy runs faster, but it impacted my ability to perform on workout days and, more importantly, my enjoyment of running overall.
While I intellectually know that easy is an effort and not a pace and that it’s perfectly acceptable for a good runner to run really slowly relative to her race times, I guess I always had this nagging question about whether there was something weird about me that caused me to run so slow most of the time when others did not.
And sure, every runner is different, but what makes one a slow easy runner and someone else a fast one? Is Mina or others who run their easy runs relatively faster than I do, running them too fast? How can they know? Could I be running mine too slow?
When I contemplate things like this, I always look to the purpose of the run. Back during 2011, the year I was most fit and training my best, I did five runs a week with quality running, meaning I had five runs a week that were not truly easy. One day was just strides, but I did a medium intensity semi-long run that was around marathon pace, slightly slower at best, a long run, a tempo run, and a track workout. That’s a lot of quality running. It’s no wonder I was slogging the rest of the runs so slowly. I was tired and those runs weren’t just easy, they were truly recovery runs. I needed them to be that slow, and probably slower!
There have been times in my running life when I wasn’t doing hard training, but was pretty fit, and my easy times were quicker than usual. And I think I was adequately recovering and training and racing at my best when I’d ditch the watch all together and just estimate my easy distance. If I was comfortable, yet sweating and elevating my heart rate, surely that’s good enough. The legendary Jack Daniels says the most important thing about easy runs is to keep the effort, well, easy!
Lately, I’m not training for anything. The purpose of my runs is to enjoy them — to enjoy the scenery, the company, the physicality, the run. If I feel like running fast, then I’ll run fast, but if I don’t, that defeats the purpose no matter what pace I should run.
But looking back, I think enjoying running is always part of the purpose, and keeping easy runs enjoyable surely helped get through those tough training runs and races while preserving the run love.
Are you a tortoise or a hare when it comes to your easy runs?