Roadrunner, roadrunner #3: Keep your easy runs easy!

As we touched on last week, most of our training as distance runners should be at an easy pace. Easy runs make up most of our weekly volume and are the main way in which we  improve our endurance.  However, “easy” is a relative and imprecise term and many runners make the mistake of running too fast.

Pushing the pace on easy runs is a very easy trap to fall into. You’re feeling good on an easy run, so you pick up the pace. By the end you’re running closer to a tempo effort, but it’s fine because faster is better, right? Well, no.

Fast running has its place in your training schedule in the form of workouts, but it is important to keep your non-workout runs easy. Running faster puts more stress on your body, which is why we usually schedule one or more easy days between each workout. Running too fast on easy runs makes it difficult to recover from your last workout, which can increase your risk of injury. In the days leading up to a hard workout, pushing the pace of your easy runs will fatigue your body and compromise your next workout. To maximize your recovery and ensure you are getting the most out of each workout, your easy runs should be just that -- easy.

So how do we determine what our easy pace should be?

Easy pace is usually a range rather than one set pace that you should always aim to hit. For example, the day after a hard workout you may be feeling tired or sore, so you might start out at the slower end of your easy run pace range. At the other end of the spectrum, it is common for marathoners and half marathoners to aim to run their long runs at the faster end of their easy pace range.

One method of determining your easy pace range is to use find your VDOT (from the Daniels’ Running Formula) based on a recent race performance. For example, a 20-minute 5k runner could enter their time and based on the training paces for their VDOT, they should be aiming for 5:08-5:26 per kilometer on their easy runs. An alternative is to take your 5k pace per kilometer and add 60-90 seconds per kilometer, giving our hypothetical 20-minute 5k runner a similar pace range of 5:00-5:30 per kilometer on their easy runs. 

Perceived effort is also important, and can help you monitor your easy run if you don’t have a GPS or reliable markers to check your splits. Run at a pace you can comfortably sustain without straining. You should be able to easily carry on a conversation with your running buddy while running easy. If you can’t, you’re running too hard and you need to back off.

Not every training run is a race, so learn to love the easy run! Running at the right effort on your easy runs will reduce your risk of injury, improve your recovery between workouts, and ultimately help you get fitter. Better still, you will likely enjoy your easy run more when you are truly running easy!

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