To become faster, you might need to run slower. It’s a puzzling concept that confounds many runners. It seems counter-intuitive that you can build a faster running body by running most of your miles at an easy pace, but amazing adaptations occur at a conversational pace.
Running performance depends largely on one’s level of aerobic fitness. To exercise, your body needs to break down sugar and convert it to glycogen, so that it can be used as energy or fuel. If your muscles have plenty of oxygen to produce all the energy they need to run, you shouldn’t feel out of breath. This is called aerobic running.
If you push the pace, and you can no longer supply your muscles with the oxygen they need to perform, you’ve crossed the line into anaerobic exercise. At this point, you gasp for air and your body begins to burn sugar for energy. This process produces a substance called lactate which causes a burning feeling as it pools in your muscles.
The key to running faster is to improve your aerobic fitness. Being able to sustain faster paces without crossing into anaerobic territory translates into faster finish times. The best way to do this is to add some long, easy runs into your training regimen.
By running successively longer distances at an easy pace, you’ll build up your aerobic capacity by expanding capillary growth around muscle cells for more efficient oxygen delivery. This gradual progression of easy miles will also strengthen your running muscles, ligaments and tendon leaving you less susceptible to common running injuries. And, best of all, these marvelous developments occur at a very pedestrian pace.
According to legendary running coach Jack Daniels, easy runs should be done at a pace that is roughly 2 to 3 minutes slower than your 1-mile race effort. You might also take your 5K race pace and add 2 minutes to that. So, if you race the 5K at a 8:45 pace per mile, you would want to run your easy runs at about 10:45 per mile.
Some people like to use the ‘talk test’ to calculate their effort level. If you can talk in complete sentences, rather than short 2 or 3 word bursts, you’re running at an easy pace. For those of you that are running alone, you may want to try the Brady Bunch approach. The goal is to sing each of the opening lines to the Brady Bunch theme song without pausing for breath.
Here's the story of a lovely lady (breathe)
who was bringing up three very lovely girls (breathe)
all of them had hair of gold, like their mother (breathe)
the youngest one in curls (breathe)
Don’t underestimate the power of easy running. It will help you build a strong aerobic base and increase your endurance. Of course, you will have to add some faster workouts to increase your overall speed, but no more than once or twice per week.
Jason is a competitive marathon runner and RRCA distance running coach. He's the senior editor at SaltmarshRunning.com, and writes for several online health and fitness publications. When he's not running on the roads and trails, Jason can be found enjoying life with his family and friends on the New Hampshire seacoast.
Main Photo Credit: l i g h t p o e t/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Daxiao Productions/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Dudarev Mikhail/shutterstock.com