Irina recently brought up the topic of long run training pace. It is something in which I'd been pondering myself over the last few weeks.
I've heard it said many times that if you want to run faster, you should train by running faster (aka speedwork). Tempo runs, repeats, fartleks, training at race pace.
I don't do much speedwork. (This past spring, I was on a good stretch where I did weekly fartlek workouts over a period of about two months. I let that go by the wayside and I haven't picked it back up ever since.)
Seems counterintuitive. But in practice, I could embrace running slower to run faster a lot more easily than I could embrace running faster to run faster (if that makes sense).
I did some research on the concept of running slower to run faster. One source says:
"By running slowly, you train your body to perform better at moderate levels of exertion and derive energy from longer-burning fat instead of carbohydrates. Eventually, your aerobic capacity increases, and you end up running faster and stronger."
Another source says:
"There's serious trauma associated with the act of running fast. Running fast all the time clearly won't work over the long haul because sustained trauma over time will inevitably lead to burnout and breakdown... Think of slow running as the foundation of your running house... Too much "tortoise" and you're looking at performance plateaus. Too much "hare" and you're looking at increased risk of aggravations and injuries. Ultimately it's training a bit like both that will take your running to the next level."
Basically, what I get out of this is that it is best either to run slowly or to run fast - but also to mix things up between both. Training at the in-between paces is what I believe many folks refer to as "junk" miles.
I think I have been guilty of running a lot of junk miles throughout my lifetime. So it is time for a proclamation: NO MORE JUNK!
Over the past few weeks, I've giving this concept a whirl whereby I have begun purposely trying to run slower in training. How much slower? We are talking about a good 3 minutes per mile slower than my 5K race pace. (I will admit that it would be easy to let my pace drop even further than that, but I don't want to go overboard with reducing my pace.)
I wasn't sure how it would feel, but I've found that I do like it. I feel fresher after the slower runs, both mentally and physically. I also enjoy my surroundings more. In training I rarely run more than 20 miles a week, but dare I say that I would be up for running more miles per week when done at slower paces? To me, that is already a great sign.
The true test will be to see what kind of impact this practice has when done over an extended period of time. Ideally I would incorporate true speedwork into the mix, as well, but initially we'll take things one step at a time.
I've had a lot of success with running slower to run faster. When I'm training I'll set up my week so that I have speed work or a long run followed by a day of slow miles (but never two hard days in a row). I find that running slower after the more difficult days helps my body learn to run on tired legs and also prevents injury. This is similar to how elites train where most of their miles are slow (for them... haha), a middle amount of miles are medium paced, and then a smaller amount are fast.ReplyDelete
Lindsay - thanks so much for this insight on your personal experiences! I had also read about how the elites do their long runs very slowly (by their standards), which I found surprising. It's really, really great to hear that a "recovery" run has been so beneficial for preventing injury, since that is something that I struggle with. I usually just stick to taking time off when I've got aches and pains, but obviously it's hard to improve if you take too much time off. And you really can't beat any method that helps the body adapt to running on tired legs. I know that "the tougher you make things for yourself in training, the more prepared you will be for race day" - but admittedly I find it tough and scary to push myself too hard in training. Running slowly seems like a really nice middle-ground.Delete
Wow, 3 minutes slower per mile? That is quite a difference! When I go slower, it's maybe 1:30/mile. But I don't always do it deliberately. Like last week the day after I had a fast run, my legs just wouldn't move any faster (they were also tired from a leg-intensive class two days before). I think eventually I want to save slower running for longer runs, not every run :) Keep us posted on how it goes though!ReplyDelete
To be fair, this is 3 minutes slower per mile when compared to my 5K RACE pace (which is as close to my "all-out sprint" as can be). When compared to my "usual" training pace, it is also coming out to be about 1:00 - 1:30 slower. The thing is that up until recently I've been purposely trying to push my long run pace a little bit - and I'm learning now that maybe that's not the best idea!Delete
After reading your October workout recap, I can certainly imagine how your legs would be tired from all those circuit classes and everything else that you do! WOW. Just WOW!
My slow pace is about 10:30/mile. My fast pace is 9:00/mile (or maybe a tad better if I'm doing speed work, which I rarely do unless I have a 5K coming up). Not much of a difference on the surface, but I can certainly finish a half at a 10min-ish/mile, and not so much so at a 9min/mile.ReplyDelete
Anyway, although I don't practice speed like I should, I've noticed my mental bargaining is different now when I "only" have to run 3-5 miles at a faster pace. IE, I tell myself "this will only hurt for 2 more miles... and you feel way more tired on mile 11 of a half, so suck it up." In that aspect, I have gotten "faster" on my short runs by doing slow long runs.
Long story short, I guess I think this theory works. Even if it's just a mental adjustment (for me).
Your improvement over the last few months has truly been astounding! It blows my mind that you've improved your half marathon pace by a solid 2 minutes per mile. Absolutely incredible!Delete
The mental component is definitely huge when it comes to tempo. I really dislike 5Ks because of the fast pace - it feels torturous to basically sprint for 3.1 miles. But, if I'm running at a slow pace, a 5K is barely a warm-up! Funny how that works, eh? But I have absolutely found that running longer distances helps to improve tempo on shorter runs. I think the overall improvement in conditioning helps big-time! And I much prefer trying to get faster by running longer and slower, versus by running faster (if that makes sense)!
I think this idea probably works well if you're training for shorter distances. Running longer and slower will help you get faster at distances that are shorter than your training runs. I don't know how well it works for longer races, though. I know that when you marathon train you shouldn't run your entire long run at marathon pace but that you should go slower. But that's when combined with faster runs, too. So, yes, it should be a nice mix of both. I'm guilty of running too hard on all my runs!Delete
I am all about running longer and slower to improve at distances shorter than my training runs! You bring up a great point about comparative distance in training. When training for half marathons I usually max out at 11 miles. Since 11 miles is obviously much longer tha 5K, I wonder if this is why my 5K time has improved by a greater comparative margin than my half-marathon time?Delete
It feels very counterintuitive to not push yourself in training, doesn't it? I tend to believe more in the concept of "no pain no gain" when it comes to working out so this has been quite a paradigm shift!
Ever heard of Jeff Galloway's Magic Mile? I think it kind of uses this philosophy. I've recently been looking into his run/walk method, so this post is really interesting.ReplyDelete
Amy - thanks so much for your thoughts, and YES! I have spent much time perusing Jeff Galloway's website, including his Magic Mile predictor. The thing is that I think my 5K time (and therefore my Magic Mile time) is an outlyer. The Magic Mile predictor and every other pace predictor I've ever used indicates that I should be able to run longer-distance races MUCH faster than I have been able to. I actually wrote a post about this a few weeks ago - long story short, I am wondering how much of my distance running ability I might be leaving on the table due to mental constraints?Delete
In any event - I really like the run/walk method. I use it a lot in training and for all race distances greater than 10K, and I think it works very well! After you've had some time to experiment with it, please do let me know what you think of it, as well!!!
Building you base mileage is probably the "fastest" way to get faster and that would include running lots of slow miles. I know there is a running coach that won't take students unless their base is a minimum of 70 miles per week. Which goes to show that he probably thinks that he would be wasting his time coaching you if you run under 70 miles/week, because he would just say "run more miles!"ReplyDelete
A base of 70 miles per week, eh? My goodness! I usually don't even run 70 miles per MONTH. But, point definitely taken that there is a LOT of room for potential improvement based simply on increasing the overall mileage load. I know that my weekly mileage is on the lower end of the spectrum, but didn't think that it could be raised THAT MUCH higher for maximum impact! And I don't think my body could even handle that kind of mileage unless I spent several years really building up to it.Delete
You are correct that that many miles is a high load, and most people (including myself) could not handle it for long unless they built up to it for several years! Anyway, I remember when my mileage was about 20 to 30 mpw for the first few years I was running. Then I bumped it up to 40 to 50 mpw and Boom! I was dumbfounded at how much faster and longer I could race! I don't think I was training any harder, it was basically getting better endurance to hold my already acquired speed longer. That said, even for us mere mortals, speed work should not be forgotten, because if we are unable or unwilling to run mega weekly miles, it helps immensely.Delete
Thanks for sharing your experience, Pete! I look forward to working up my mileage in the future and hopefully experiencing similar improvements. You hear about how some of the elites run upwards of 100-miles per week. Can you imagine?!?!? I put about 300 miles on a pair of shoes before I retire them, and with my shoe rotation I usually go through 2-3 pairs of shoes each year. An elite would be replacing their shoes once every three weeks!Delete
I have many friends who have done very well with very slow training. Google Phil Maffetone. The premise is you build your base with very slow miles and your body becomes more efficient at burning fat as was mentioned in the quote above. Eventually though, the paces will pickup.ReplyDelete
My MAF training felt so slow I felt like I was prancercizing out there. Over the last month, I've added back one speed workout per week (because I'm only racing 5ks right now). All of my other runs are super slow. We'll see...
Speedwork is my lifeblood though. I started as a sprinter and it will always be my favorite.
Marcia, thanks for the tip on Phil Maffetone! I've never heard of him before but I'll look him up shortly. I love the word "prancerizing" and I completely, completely understand that feeling. Good for you for staying true to your running lifeblood and getting back into speedwork! I didn't know that you started as a sprinter! What distances are your favorites? When it comes to sprinting versus distance, I think I am a better sprinter given how my 5K time is such an enormous outlyer on my race times predictor. =DDelete
Hello Emily, I have found this article really interesting. I think that an important point here is the fact that several fast runs could cause you an injury . I am sure that you have heard the "too much, too soon, too fast". This means that we should take it easy and our training must be varied to let your tissues recovery from the effort, that's why slow runs, short runs and rest days are recommended. I have a good example: runner who wanted to increase speed a couple of months before an event and got Achilles tendinitis. He got faster but in pain and this would be aggravated after few runs. Good luck with your running!!ReplyDelete
Hi Jorge - thanks so much for your thoughts! You are so right about diversifying our training and not doing too much too soon (I have had to learn about the importance of both the hard way...) How awful for the runner who was focused on speedwork that ended up getting Achilles tendinitis! Training is really about the long-haul - it's not just about what you do in any given workout, but what you do over several weeks, several months, several years. I heard it said one time that when training, your lungs can build up the endurance faster than your bones can. So even though it might feel great and possible to rapidly increase the mileage every week, remember that your bones can't adapt as quickly as your lungs!Delete
Another plus of slower miles, is they open you up to much more social miles, being able to chat and have fun! And you don't distress your stomach as much!ReplyDelete
Ah yes, GREAT point that it is so much easier to talk to fellow-runners while running more slowly! It's hard to build up any friendship without being able to talk. =DDelete
You know that I'm a convert to the church of slow runs! The key is slow long runs, and still do those intervals/fartleks/tempos for your short runs. I always try to keep a slow pace for my long runs, but it was much easier to do when I was training with a group.ReplyDelete
Amy - thanks for your thoughts! I really appreciate the feedback, especially since you've had so much success in your training. I've actually never trained with a group, but I can certainly imagine how it would help tremendously in maintaining the right pace. When I run by myself, I start getting impatient or bored and tend to want to speed up after awhile to get things over with. And I have run with friends in the past, but most of them are much faster than me so when I am with them I feel inclined to go faster than I probably should, you know?Delete
I have to laugh at you bringing up the junk miles. Well, not AT you, but laugh, in general, because my friend Gina was asking me about them, and they have such a bad rep. Like, why even run if it isn't going to be for pace? Why run all that junk? Uh... cause I like to, and it's healthy and doesn't hurt me? LOL. But yeah, you gotta run some targeted paces to get faster or hit a pace. Either slow or fast. ;)ReplyDelete
Yeah, the term "junk" miles doesn't sound very appealing, does it? I wonder who coined that term! Maybe a better term for those types of miles would be "tweener miles" or something similar.Delete
I happen to enjoy running junk miles, as well! Too slow makes me feel somewhat like I'm not getting enough of a workout, and it's hard to get motivated to push myself to go fast.
Long live the junk!!! =D
Oh man I shouldn't have read this right before I'm about to head out on my long run of the week! I'm seriously more confused than ever now :( For example, running too slow hurts my knees. So how am I supposed to run a long run at 1-2 mins slower than half marathon pace when this slow pace is the exact one that led to aches and pains in the past because it was too slow? I'm not even sure that sentence made sense but it goes to show you how confused I am haha.ReplyDelete
And I loved Kim's comment on "junk" miles...it's so true! I would never ever ever call ANY of my runs "junk", it just sounds so negative and would probably mentally discourage me. Running is not all about the numbers (for me at least).
Anyway, I'm about to head out on my long run and fully intend to run by feel and not by pace. I'll let you know how it goes! Thanks for a great post :)
Thanks so much, Irina! It was great to hear your thoughts. If it hurts to run too slowly, then I say do NOT run that slowly. I am a big supporter of listening to your body and doing what feels best for you. We are all different so there is never going to be one single training strategy that works for everyone!Delete
I agree, it is funny to think of any kind of running as "junk" - really puts a different spin on it than usual, eh? I am of the belief that any running is better than no running, whether that running is slow, fast, or in-between. To me, it's first and foremost about the endorphins and the improved state of mind that running gives me. Everything else is gravy. =)
I hope you had a fantastic long run yesterday!!! Can't wait to hear more about it!!! Hugs!!!