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Run Slower to Get Faster



If I had to choose a single tip that would be the most transformative to the largest number of people... it'd be this.


Slow down.


For most of your runs, run easy. No, easier. Easier.... yes, that’s easy enough. You should feel like you can run for hours. It should feel conversational, like you could talk a friends ear off while running. Or sing your favorite song. Your breathing will be faster than when you’re stationary, but it should never feel like you’re gasping for air, even if you miss your rhythm while you’re talking. When in doubt, slow down further. Many runners may need to walk hills or even predefined intervals in order to keep their effort low enough.


The Science

Easy running is where many of the physiological benefits of running happen, including higher cardiac stroke volume, increased capillary growth and aerobic enzymes, mitochondrial development, and research suggests it can possibly even gradually change muscle fibers from fast-twitch to slow-twitch.


Easy running allows your body to recover from your harder efforts, increasing the adaptation (benefits) from that training. It also lets you run more with less stress on your body, and strengthens your muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments with minimal injury risk. It allows you to run higher volume, which means you reap even more benefits.


Is there such a thing as too easy?

Probably not, within reason. The big concern would be if you are altering your running form in order to run at an easier effort. If running feels like a slow and bouncy slog, is causing more impact, or feels more mechanically difficult, then you should be cautious.


If your aerobic fitness is such that you need to stay that slow to keep effort easy, the solution is simple: walking breaks! There is ZERO SHAME in walking breaks. I often say "just because you can run continuously, doesn't mean you should." Sometimes adding a few 20-30sec walking breaks every few minutes is enough to keep your normal running form from drifting out of the easy range.


Wait – do I do this ALL the time?

No! Just for your runs that are designated as easy runs. If you have speed-work, threshold runs or focused long runs, they should be run as intended. Even for easy runs, if you are consistently diligent about keeping most of your easy runs at an 'honest-easy' effort, that also gives some freedom to occasionally pick things up to moderate when everything is feeling good and flowing well.

What you want to avoid is getting 'stuck' in the moderate zone that offers much fewer benefits yet increases your risk of injury and burnout.


Guidelines

How easy should you go? A lot of people will scream “Zone 2” until they’re blue in the face, but that only works if you have accurate heart rate zones and a reliable chest strap. That involves physiological testing in a lab, or at least several difficult self-tests.

If you’re using a heart rate strap (not optical) my advice is to subtract your age from 180, and use that as an approximate cap for your easy runs.

If you use perceived exertion, it should feel very easy, and you should be able to talk or sing almost normally! Remember, erring on the easier side isn't a bad thing!




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