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.