It seems logical that in order to run faster in races you need to be running faster in training. While this is true in part, it should not be taken as principle across all training runs.
Training at race pace persistently can leave runners exhausted. Which in turn saps the benefit gained from important workouts. Doing this continually can lead to injuries which stagnate progress completely.
Easy runs can be used to build endurance and train the body to burn fat as fuel rather than glycogen. This is essential for those longer races where the body needs to rely on these stores to prevent hitting the dreaded ‘runners wall’.
But what actually is an easy run? Of course, the pace of easy runs does depend on the person and their own maximum speed. But as a rough guide on an easy run you should be running at a pace two minutes per mile slower than the pace you race a 10K. This pace should be comfortable for conversation and should leave you feeling fresh after the run not exhausted. If you are a data addict, it might be useful to know that you should be running at only 60% of your max heart rate.
Now don’t be mistaken, training hard is still essential to improvement, as we need to train our body to go quickly too. But it is equally essential to have these easy days of running around your workout days which your body can use to recover while still improving upon your endurance.
The importance of easy running is recognised and commonly associated with Kenyan runners who are renowned for their endurance and speed. Sally Kipyego, an Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000 meters, has shared that while she holds a sub 5-minute mile pace on race day, her easy runs are no faster than 8:30 minute miles.
With a culture that encourages us to share our runs across social media platforms, there is a pressure which encourages us to push to our max every single run. Alongside this the fact that many of us simply don’t have enough time to go out on 7 runs a week, makes it appear wise to take every opportunity we can to push hard. However, to make the most of the training we do get in, easy runs should be prioritised just as much as hard sessions. This will ensure when race day comes we are refreshed and ready to knock off those extra seconds or even minutes!
So this year to reach your running goal, do what IS good for you not what looks good.