Proper pacing is difficult. It takes time, and can hurt a lot. But, with how important and powerful pacing can be during your training, it’s something all runners need to consider.
Most runners will stick to a single, easy pace when they first start running; something they can maintain for an increasing amount of time. That won’t help runners go faster or become more efficient, although it will help them to run longer and farther. Once you get comfortable with going slow and steady (you know, to win the race) for as long as you want or need, the best way to improve speed and efficiency is to vary your pace with purpose.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but the way to get faster is to run a lot more of your miles at a slower pace. In theory, the best way to practice running faster would be to run fast — that way, we’re teaching the body how to power forward, strengthening the required muscles for high intensity, and readying the heart for performing at an elevated rate for an extended period of time. But, that’s not a practical way to train. Think about how your body feels after a race or a particularly hard training run — beaten down, exhausted, maybe to the point where you want to take some time off from running. Generally not a great feeling!
When we run at faster paces during workouts, we get a similar feeling of exhaustion. While that’s OK after a goal race where you want to give it your all, it can ultimately be counter-productive to have a constant feeling of exhaustion after many of your training runs, which is why you should only be doing hard workouts at fast pace one to two times a week. The other 60 to 80 percent of your runs should be at an easy to moderate pace.
But, how can all these miles be productive when they’re that much slower than the pace you’re attempting to hit at your next race?
First and foremost, running at an easier pace allows you to build up your aerobic base and capacity while at the same time allowing you to recover much more quickly than when you’re straining your body at a fast pace. Recovery is a key part of training that is often overlooked, but is an important piece that leads to consistency and longevity. When you recover more quickly, you’re able to be fresher for your next run, whether that be an easy run or a fast workout, which can allow us to increase mileage or days of training throughout the week.
Slower miles also help with base building. One of the keys to becoming a stronger, more well-rounded runner is having a good solid foundation to build on. Whether you want to be the next Usain Bolt or the next ultramarathon champion, they all start with a big mileage base. This means being able to consistently put in miles and stay as injury-free as possible so that your overall level of fitness is strong enough to let you start incorporating more fast-paced training.
I’ve found that the biggest improvements are made in overall speed and endurance following a period of base building. This means spending weeks and months doing mostly easy and moderate paced runs to develop consistency, discipline, and the aerobic system as a whole.
It’s difficult at first to control yourself and run at that easier pace a lot of the time; you might be ready to run fast, but save that speed and strength for one workout per week. Consider the recovery time and base building benefits and run easy today — it’ll all work out in the end!