So, the last time you heard from me, I preached the gospel of taking time for not running to improve your running. I’m not done suggesting counterintuitive stuff! Indeed, today I’m going to talk about running slower in order to race faster. What the heck?!
I used to be a consistent 21-22 minute 5k runner through college, eventually progressing to break 18:00 at the age of 26 and run 16:56 at 30. I made a lot of changes in order to achieve these improvements, but the one big thing that did not budge has been my easy day pace. I still run about 8:30-8:45 average on non-workout days. Yes, this is a full 3 minutes slower than 5k PR pace! Check out my training logs for proof.
Why do I run so (relatively) slowly?
First, as I’ve increased my weekly mileage over the years, my legs are more tired on a daily basis. I’ve also learned to run my workouts harder which contributes to the cumulative fatigue. A good slow run helps move the blood around and loosen up my stiff muscles. If you are a lower-mileage runner or not doing tempo or speed workouts you may be able to get away with a brisker pace.
Another factor in my average pace is the inclusion of an organic warm-up: I allow myself to shuffle the first mile or so. This drags down the overall average pace. A 3-mile shakeout often is the slowest run of the week because I’ve barely had time to warm up!
Why should you slow down?
Slowing down your easy pace will help you increase weekly mileage and the intensity of your workouts. Both higher mileage and faster workouts are associated with faster race times. Slow down to get fast!
Easing off the intensity of your easy days will also reduce your injury risk. An easier pace is gentler on your musculoskeletal system while still giving you the benefits of aerobic exercise. I haven’t lost more than two consecutive days of training to injury in over 10 years (also aided by my strict system of a biannual break from running).
Slowing down may also make these basic runs more enjoyable. Rather than monitoring your watch, check out the scenery or focus on conversation with your running partner. When I have sought out coaching, one of my stipulations is that I can continue to run how I feel on non-workout days — for me, the pleasure of running is an intangible factor in reaching my goals.
How to slow down?
Some of you might be able to skip this section, but I’ve heard from a surprising number of runners that backing off is difficult. Here’s a few tips:
- Find a slower run buddy, preferably someone who will be assertive if you accidentally push the pace.
- Wear your “slow clothes.” For me, these are my baggy old shorts and heaviest shoes — essentially the opposite of my race day outfit.
- Use your GPS or heart rate monitor as a leash. Some devices have settings that will beep annoyingly if you exceed a set pace or heart rate.
- Run for time rather than distance. Sometimes we inadvertently speed up in order to get X miles done in our allotted time slot. If you only have 45 minutes, plan on 45 minutes rather than squeezing in, say, 5 miles.
- Avoid the comparison game whether it’s comparing your paces to someone else’s, a pace calculator, or to your previous speed on a certain route. Save your competitiveness for race day.
- Take into account terrain, weather, and other factors. Give yourself even more leeway for a slow pace if you’re at altitude, running through snow, or training on hills.
What’s your easy day pace in comparison to your PRs? Have you slowed down or sped up your easy days? How are the results?