How Running Slowly Helps You Run Fast

Do you want to be a faster runner? Most experts will tell you that the best way to do this, is to simply practice running faster. However, you must train yourself to run slower to allow yourself to get faster. The problem is, many beginner runners don’t understand how to do this. In this article, I will provide a step-by-step strategy to teach runners of any ability how to develop multiple training gears or speeds. I’ve trained many athletes to use this process and I’m confident it’s one of the easiest ways to improve strength and speed.

Almost every week, I talk to athletes who grumble that they don’t like running or they are not very good runners. Their common complaint is that they get out of breath too easily every time they run. They don’t have the patience or persistence to continue to run. The good news is that getting yourself in shape doesn’t mean that you’ll need to “gut-out” this out of breathe experience for weeks in order to get in shape.

Why Slow Running is Important

Slow running should be one of the key components of your running program regardless of the length of race for which you’re training. You need to run slow to build your base and help prevent injury that would certainly result from always running fast. But most important, slow running helps us speed up recovery. Slow running is completed between intervals during your track workouts, between bursts during a fartlek run and the most common slow run is on your “easy” days. In my marathon training plan, I recommend foundation or easy runs 2-3 times per week. Slow is a relative term. For elite runners this can mean 6:30-6:45 min/mile pace. While for many others, a slow pace could be 8-10:00 mins/mile. These runs help to build your “aerobic base“ and endurance. They also help you recover from your hard workouts.

PRunning slow is probably the most difficult pace for any new runner. Most people who start training regularly, run at a pace that is too difficult to maintain for any significant length of time. This results in running not being “enjoyable,” which then makes training much more difficult.

How to Find Your Slow Gear

To complete this exercise, I recommend running on a track or a path that includes some landmarks (light posts) every 100 yards or so. If you’re attempting this drill on a track, run at the most comfortable pace you can maintain without getting out of breath. Run this pace on the straightaways and then run a little faster on the turns. On a path, alternate slow/fast every 100 yards. Your goal is to feel the difference between fast and slow pace. Work on this regularly and you’ll notice the relief you get when you run at your slow pace. You’re able to run, but now at a pace that feels easy!

The next step is to try this exercise on a regular run and see if you can maintain the slower pace for the entire run. As you progress through these slower paced runs, focus on how you feel and make adjustments to the pace so you can finish without stopping for the entire run. Eventually your slow pace will get faster.

On a scale of 1-10, slow running is 4-6, depending on the workout. You will run at your slowest in between intervals during your speed workouts. You will run at a 5-6 level on the longer, easy runs. It can take time to find your “slower gears,” but once you do, it’s well worth it. In addition to the aerobic benefits, there’s a mental benefit too: running will no longer hurt (as much). When you slow down, you can enjoy a conversation with a friend, but you’re still running.

Your Fast and Medium Gears

Medium paced runs are the most essential component of half and marathon training. However, medium pace running can be challenging because it’s a combination of both fast and slow paced running. Tempo runs are at a medium pace. On a scale of 1-10, it’s a sustained faster pace around 7. If you’re using a heart rate monitor, you want to target 70-80% of your max heart rate. The pace is uncomfortable, but it can be maintained for much longer than your fastest pace. Marathon runners, often think of medium pace as their half marathon pace. If you’re training for a half marathon, then your medium pace may be your 10k pace. Performing runs at medium speed every week teaches your body to hold a difficult or fast pace for long periods of time.

Fast running builds strength and power. Fast running is at 8-9 effort level or 80-90% of your max heart rate. Most fast running is completed on a track in the form of Intervals. However, to vary the terrain of your workouts, fast runs can also be completed during fartlek or hills. Running fast isn’t sustainable for an entire workout. You will have to incorporate some slow running for recovery. However, you’ll see vast improvements in your fitness if when you complete at least one fast workout per week.

Incorporating Varying Speeds into Your Workouts

Now that you have a these three gears, it’s time to set goals for each workout. Commit to easy days, moderate workouts or fast/challenging days. At least half of your workouts each week should fall into the easy category. As you gain endurance, these easy runs will be longer. Beginner runners may only start at 2-3 miles, with frequent stops, but using this program of running slow and training your body to run at varying speeds and intensities will help optimize your performance. Which will result in you becoming a faster runner.

Author Bio: Dan Lyne is a long distance runner from Camas, WA. With over 36 years of running experience, he specializes in coaching long distance runners and helping them achieve their half and full marathon goals through his website, middleagemarathoner.com.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is based on the author’s personal experience and thorough personal studies. The information provided here is designed to help you make informed decisions about your health. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment that may have been prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist. All forms of exercise pose some inherent risks. The author advises readers to take full responsibility for their safety and know their limits. There is no guarantee that you will experience the same results & benefits as presented and you accept the risk that the results can differ by individual.


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