This headline sounds so counter intuitive, right? Because traditional thinking and a lot of social media says to get faster, you need to run faster, try harder, keep at it, don’t stop, never give up, push just a little more. And where does that road lead? Either frustration corner or injury lane.
First, what do the elites do?
Elite runners know their most import workouts are the long, slow runs and recovery jogs. They understand the toll hard runs take on their bodies, and without good recovery it’s not possible to get the benefits of the workout. Because when this becomes a pattern, the next step is chronic fatigue or burnout, and of course, every athlete’s worst nightmare – injury.
So, how slow is slow?
Since slow is relative, let’s define it as an easy pace. Elite athletes, Olympic champions and world record holders, some of whom have marathon PBs of under 2:08, and sub-28 min 10,000m times, will jog along at 6:00/km. That’s more than 2 times slower than their race pace. That’s an easy, easy pace. They have an 80-20 rule, where 80% of their runs are slow.
When you run slow, say 60% of maximum HR, your heart reaches its maximum stroke volume (the highest amount of blood the heart can pump out per heartbeat). At this HR, your pace is very slow, and your heart muscles are getting a great workout without getting too tired or exhausting the rest of your body.
Tell me more!
While you are in the blissful state of slow running, unbeknownst to you, there are some big transformations happening at your cellular level. The slow, easy paces stimulate growth of mitochondria (the organelle responsible for energy production), increase capillary capacity and the ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles.
You also recover quicker from slow, easy runs. And this gives you the ability to run harder during your harder workouts.
Want to get the most of your faster sessions, add in slower ones. Going hard at every run, is effectively taking two steps forward, one step back. Not to mention, increasing your risk of injury.