It’s been a few weeks since we’ve posted a QOTW, but this week’s is a good one. Anonymous athlete asked the following question:
How do you run easy? I keep messing it up. I don’t want to go too easy, but usually end up drifting into the grey faster area. Mix in hills, longer hills, and elevated HR, I have no idea what i’m doing.
Plus I start thinking about technique, why is my cadence so low, my vertical oscillation is terrible…it is weird. Give me a longer tempo or track workout I am set, but an easy hour run, I’ll mess it up 18 different ways!
This is quite a common issue and it has both mental and physical components. Mentally, the issue often starts when you were a beginner runner, especially for those of us who are ‘adult onset’ endurance athletes. When you first start running, every other run is a distance or pace PR and you can get caught up in the thrill of racing or going medium hard for every single run.
Taken to the extreme, it’s easy to see practically why this approach only takes you so far. Imagine racing all out every single day. Not only would you be very limited in the amount of total work you could do, leading to plateau, it’s likely you would also become burnt out and injured.
Now if you’ve been training longer than two seconds, you already know this is a bad approach! But even when athletes pass this stage then often bring with it some ’emotional baggage relates to pace.’; Sound extreme? How many times have you heard someone say or (perhaps secretly) thought to yourself “oh, I don’t want to have xx pace show up on Strava” or run slower than y minutes per mile. So there’s the mental barrier of running slow AND, incidentally, the reason why some running should be driven by heart rate.
The mental side of running can also have physical repercussions. Because if you never run slow your body literally doesn’t know how to run slow. And while the topic of this piece isn’t primarily about the merits of running slow, I can promise you that learning to run slow will pay off in a HUGE WAY- in eventually running closer to your potential and closer to your potential off the bike.
So now we circle back to your original question, how DO you run slow? Here are three steps to getting started:
Set Heart Rate Zones– if you haven’t already, you gotta start by setting heart rate zones, then actually USE them.
Commit to the Transition – Running easily actually feels pretty good physically but the mental adjustment period can be tough. If the athlete discovers he’s been logging all his runs at a medium pace and has trouble staying in zones 1 and 2, he will have to slow WAY down at first during the adjustment period. The good news is that once your body adjusts, your pace at a given heart rate will improve.
Run More Frequently – This is an obvious tip, but I’m amazed at the number of triathletes who run, say, twice per week. Frequency is a simple, low risk way to improve your running. I promise if you build up to running five days a week, even at the same number of miles, you will not mind running easy some of the time!