I love to run fast! In high school my coaches loved to see me run fast as well. It seemed like every workout was designed to be fast. I rarely held back in those workouts. I sometimes ran five to six hard workouts in a week. We weren’t taught anything about recovery days back then. In college I ran more. There were easier days but it was hard to slow down and take it easy. Running with teammates meant we were usually running faster than what we would probably would have done by ourselves. You can call it peer pressure and our competitive nature.
Now that I am in my 40’s, I can’t really train like I’m a teenager or young adult. My body needs rest and recovery between hard days. Honestly, if had done better about slowing down back then between hard workouts, I would have ended up a better runner. Running slow in strategic times allows for a runner to go harder and be faster when you are supposed to be. I see a lot of runners obsess over pace. They get a bit discouraged that their “pace” was too slow on what I would call a recovery day. The problem with pushing too hard on an easy day is you have less to physically and mentally give on a fast day or hard workout.
Let me give you some examples. This monday I had a hard day. I did a total of 28 miles of running in one workout. I started out with a 21 mile run. The pace was slow and then I did pick it up by the end. For some context, I am an ultra runner so I run a lot. My main workout was 16X400m intervals. I did those in 76 seconds a piece (that is about a 5:05 mile pace). I finished with a 3 mile cool down run. As you can see, I put in quite a bit of mileage but I also pushed my body hard on those quarter repeats. I was moving! This workout wouldn’t be possible if I had run too fast over the weekend. I wouldn’t have had the legs and strength to pull it off. On Saturday I did a slow 10.3 mile run at 9:20 a mile pace. On Sunday I did 7.35 miles at 8:33 a mile pace.
On my easy days I could run a lot of miles sub 8:00 with no problem or easily settle into a pace between 8:00 and 8:30. However, it has taken me time to realize that it benefits my total body recovery and ability to go faster on “fast/hard” days if I slow it down even more on recovery days. I think a lot of runners struggle with this. I know I do. I like to go faster. However, learning to go slower has been good. It has not only allowed me to be more ready for fast days but it has allowed me to relax more and enjoy running in a different way. I don’t always have to be racing, moving fast, or feel guilty about pace.
To give you some more reference. I train at about a 6:10 pace for the marathon or a 2:41:41. On my long steady runs I will easily be under 8:00 a mile. Therefore, it would be easy for me to justify an 8:00 to 8:30 mile as easy pace for recovery days. Hey, it’s 2 minutes slower than my marathon pace. However, I have found it beneficial to run at about 2:30 to 3 minutes slower on some of my recovery day runs. It’s not uncommon for me to run a 10:00 mile from time to time and a lot of my miles are well over 9:00 a mile. In fact, I have whole runs like today’s 17 mile run that was done in a 9:24 pace.
I think some people are amazed at how fast I can run but they don’t see that I also run slow a lot of the time. In fact, I run slower than a lot of people do on their easy days and then way faster on my hard days. Keeping the heart rate down and running in the different zones is important. Most runners may get caught up into how fast other people are running and feel like they need to push the pace everyday but don’t do it. Listen to your body and make sure your recovery days and easy days are well in that range. Even if you feel really good and can go fast, discipline yourself to take it easy. This is especially true if you have a hard day or fast day coming up the next day.
So there it is. Sometimes the key to faster and harder workouts is in how easy you pace yourself on easy days. Isn’t it nice to know you don’t always have to run fast to be fast? Sometimes when all of our running and paces start to look the same we end up in a rut in terms of physical progression. Try mixing up your paces and don’t neglect your recovery. Take back easy day and make it easy again. Slow it down friend!