This post goes into detail about everything you need to know regarding “easy running.” First, let me start with defining “easy pace” as it relates to running. Easy running is a pace that you can withstand for a long duration and is aerobic in nature, meaning done with oxygen, without producing an amount of lactate that would cause fatigue in the working muscles. This pace is different for everyone, depending on you level of fitness. The term can confuse runners for a number of reasons, especially those that are new to the sport. Running is not easy, but this pace is easy, or should be easy relative to the work that will be done at other paces. Most of athlete’s training should be done at a easy pace.
There are a plethora of benefits to running easy. The most important is building an aerobic foundation. Without it, all other types of running will feel unmanageable, and with good reason. The stronger the foundation, the better equipped that athlete is to handle tougher training, more volume, and will ultimately lead to better health and fitness. Aerobic running builds the internal plumbing that makes us more efficient as runners. Most runners have heard similar things reiterated time and time again. “The more you run, the fitter you become.” Well, I’m here to tell you that rushing the process is not the answer. I’m blogging about this topic because I’m as guilty as anyone else out there. You would think I would have picked up on this as a younger runner, especially with a degree in exercise physiology. I’m competitive and my easy days were rarely within the parameter of what they should have been. It’s easy to get caught up in running a faster pace when you are with a team or group. And since GPS watches hit the market, and websites like Strava, everyone wants to run a loop faster than before, or break segment records. What benefit are you gaining by doing this for a run that’s suppose to be aerobic/easy? You are definitely achieving the same benefits as you would by running your easy pace, but you are also breaking down your body more so than needed to achieve what could have been done by running much slower. Again, I’m so guilty of this!
These are the rules I have set for myself and the athletes I coach. First, easy runs should be done at least two minutes slower per mile than your current 5k pace. On recovery days, my runs are slower than two minutes per mile than my marathon pace, and that’s okay. I always ask myself the purpose of the run. For example, today’s easy run is meant to be restorative, help maintain aerobic fitness, and prepare me for tomorrow’s threshold session. Next, the pace should be conversational. If you can’t carry on a conversation, you’re definitely running too hard on a easy day. Easy runs should be done between 50-70% effort, or percent of max HR. You would be surprised at how many runners are much higher on easy days. This is what I like to call the gray area of training. This continued trend is not sustainable, and leads to burnout, injuries, and poor performances.
There are circumstances where running faster than easy pace is exceptable, especially for new runners. While running, you are probably higher than the 50-70% of max, simply because your body is not use to the pressure it’s under. This is where you want to take walk breaks if necessary. You’ll gain aerobic fitness faster by running/walking for a longer duration then going all out for 5 minutes. Once you’ve gained fitness, there will be workouts where you’ll push yourself. Right now it’s about consistency, building aerobic fitness, and staying healthy. Running is very demanding, so let’s do it the right way! I promise you”ll see a progression, and new runners will progress faster because they are starting from a relatively lower level of aerobic fitness.
The other instance where it’s acceptable to run slightly faster is when an experienced runner is coming off a break and only building volume. This type of runner has a sustainable high level of aerobic fitness from years of training. They have yet to start specific training, so they can afford to run a little quicker and have time to recover for a similar run the next day. While building back up, these runners are fresh and it can feel easy to pick it up a bit. I’ve often done this, but once my weekly volume gets high, and workouts are incorporated, I naturally slow down so my body can recovery for harder sessions. Our bodies need to soak in the training and demands that are placed on them. It’s simply not sustainable to hammer all of the time. Since slowing down on my easy days–workouts have been better than ever, I’m healthy, and most importantly, I’m enjoying the sport more than ever! I hope that you take advice from this post and apply it in your training moving forward. Best of luck!
Coach Guy Alton