The Purpose of Easy Running Days

Slow down to speed up.

That seems very contradictory, right? But that’s exactly what you should be doing on approximately 80% of your runs if you want to get faster. Every run has a very specific purpose, including easy runs! If you run every day at a clip that’s too fast for your fitness, you’re not going to see improvement.

Here are some of the benefits of easy running:

  • Easy miles give your mind and body a rest from more taxing workout days
  • It helps build endurance and allows you to run a higher volume during the week without added stress on the body (by building up the muscular and skeletal systems)
  • By doing a majority of your mileage at an easier pace, you are less likely to get injured
  • Slower paced miles help strengthen your heart and improve your aerobic capacity

What should my easy running pace be?

“Just how slow should I be running?”

I’m actually sort of amazed how often I hear runners (experiences ones at that!) asking that very question. But I get it. Even just a few years ago, and with nearly a decade of running under my belt, I didn’t really understand the importance of easy running.

Here are a few ways to determine an appropriate easy pace:

  • If your breathing is labored at all, or if you find it difficult to hold a conversation, you’re going too fast. If you’re questioning whether you’re going too fast, you probably are.
  • If you want a more concrete guide to a specific easy pace range for your fitness level, I highly recommend using the Jack Daniels VDOT Calculator. By inputting a recent race or time trial time, it will shoot out a list of prescribed paces for both easy run days and specific workout types.
  • Another common way to gauge easy running is with heart rate-based training. If you’re not familiar with this, you can read more about it here. But the idea is that your HR during easy runs should correlate to roughly 70-80% of your max HR.
  • If you’ve ever tried to race a 5k at a hard effort, you can expect to add about 2-2.5 minutes per mile to that race pace to get a range for your easy pace. For example, my current 5k race pace is 6:32 per mile. Most of my easy days are run between 8:30-9:00 pace per mile. Some recovery days are even slower than that if I’m extremely tired, sore, or running in adverse conditions (wind, heat, humidity, etc.).

Tips for slowing down on easy runs

If you struggle to slow down, here are a few ideas:

  • Leave the watch/Garmin at home. You won’t be tempted to hit a certain pace.
  • Schedule a group run with others who are slower than you. You’ll be forced to run at their pace, and you’ll probably find a lot of enjoyment in it!
  • If you usually listen to upbeat music, try switching to something calming, listen to a podcast instead, or ditch the headphones completely!
  • Remind yourself that easy runs serve a very specific purpose. Practice your mental game and focus on slowing down and working that aerobic system.

Check your ego at the door. Racing your easy days will not help you. In fact, you’re liking doing a lot of damage. If you are doing these runs too fast, you won’t have the proper energy in the tank for workout days. Even if you forego workouts (which is fine!), going too fast on easy days will still run you the risk of injury, you’ll never see significant improvement, and you’ll quickly burn out.

Do you struggle with slowing down to speed up?

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