The importance of running easy

Here at Pro-Am we are lucky to work with a variety of runners and triathletes from elite level to recreational. Regardless of level there is a common trend in the most common cause of injury.

“Lack of understanding of the importance of easy running”

About 80% of my clients run there easy runs too hard, or just don’t do them. Sometimes its not the lack of understanding, I think it is the hardest habit to change. We as humans are great at feeling guilty for not working hard enough or getting into a pattern of I need to push myself in order to improve. Yet easy runs have a massive importance to your training, variety is key to allow recovery and get the best out of harder sessions.

Whether running for performance (to get faster) or running for health benefits (to stay healthy) many runners think that running faster or harder is most beneficial. If you are only running once or twice a week and relatively short distances (under 5 km) you MIGHT be able to get away with this approach. But if you are trying to fit in more than three runs per week and you are trying to progress as a runner, you are likely to come unstuck at some point.

The reason this happens is that the faster you run, the more pressure or stress you put on your tendons and tissues. Tendons typically take up to 48 hours to recovery from plyometric load (running) so the more frequently you run, the less time the tendons have to recover. This will eventually lead to overload and often injury. The most common response I get when I flag this issue is: ‘But if I run slower, I won’t progress or feel like I haven’t done anything’. This is factually incorrect. Aerobic training (60–80% of max HR) is a highly effective and a necessary part of a weekly training schedule.

80% of your weekly training should be easy. But how easy is easy. There are many ways that you can calculate and ensure that you are training in your aerobic zone. If you like using heart rate (HR) you can use this as a guide. Your aim on your aerobic runs should be to keep your HR between 60-80% of your HR max (zone 2) (To estimate your maximum age-related heart rate, subtract your age from 220.) Hard sessions should take you into zone 4 and above, the Kenyans have a bigger extreme in that easy runs are zone 1 and hard in zone 5. There is a catch with this method though in that often your HR can vary according to fatigue and stress so its not always a reliable measurement. Personally I suggest you calculate your training paces through doing a 5 km race or a 3 km time trial. From this you can use various pace calculators that are readily available on the internet to give you accurate training paces. As a rough guide you if you run a 20 min 5 km (4 min/km average) your easy pace should be 5.30–6 min/km. Your immediate reaction maybe ‘that’s really slow’, often followed by ‘I cant let people see me running that slow! Honestly, my response is ‘Its your body, your ego’ I don’t mind if every time I see you, it is to constantly fix and repair but I would much prefer to be getting you moving better and helping to improve your performance which is much easier without pain and dysfunction.

It shouldn’t matter if anyone overtakes you during your runs… your running should be about you, getting the most out of yourself! So focus on doing the right thing for you and your progression and enjoy running at a pace that you will learn to love! I have seen so much progress in performance with clients who are able to implement this. It is not always about improving times either but balancing the strain of the repetitiveness of running by keeping running pain free which you have to admit is a lot more fun, feels easier and helps decrease mental stress.