If you’re a runner, chances are good that you are working towards a goal like building up your speed, increasing your distance, training for a race, or achieving a new personal record. So what if there were one simple thing that you could do to help you achieve all of those goals? There is: slow down.
It may sound crazy, but recent research has shown that elite runners spend more of their time running at an easier pace than recreational age-group runners. In a survey of athletes in Olympic team trials, elite female runners stated that they spend more than two thirds of their training running at an easy pace. Their male counterparts spend more than three fourths of their training at an easy pace. The slower pace keeps them from burning out and gives them an energy reserve to draw from when they do increase their speed.
By comparison, recreational runners often have less time to run. Many people want to make up for lost time by running at a greater intensity, but this taxes the body more and builds up a burden of fatigue that recreational runners carry with them each time they run – including on race day. Running the same amount but at a lower intensity most of the time can reduce fatigue and help make the most of your runs.
So how should you adjust your training to incorporate more running at a lower intensity? Think 80/10/10: do 80% of your running at an easy pace, 10% at a moderate pace, and 10% at high intensity. Getting a heart rate monitor can help – calculate the heart rates that correspond to each intensity, and then stick within them. Runners often think that they’re taking it easy when they’re really not, so having the numbers right there will help to keep you honest.
It can also be helpful to work with a coach to develop a specific training plan that works for you. But in any case, you’re probably doing a lot of running that is too fast, and your performance can probably benefit from enjoying a slower pace.