It may seem bizarre to non-runners and new runners, but the science shows that runners get faster overall by running fast only around 20% of the time they run.
New runners soon hear that they mustn’t always push hard, and to “run easy” most of the time instead, but why?
Running fast makes us feel awesome. We like the stats on our watch, we like the endorphins, we like the bragging rights.
When we run slower, we hate that we’re not getting these things. Look at that bad pace! This is going to look bad on Strava! Where’s my runner’s high? What happened to “Go hard or go home?”
We worry about being slow, the runner’s biggest fear. We can feel time slipping away, we’re wasting time, oh crap! Plus, you are worried about your niggles, or possible injuries, your training, and your upcoming races.
All these things can mean a very difficult run.
“It takes more strength and courage to run easy than it does to run hard.” – Tina Muir
It’s so hard to run easy, but so very, very important.
Australian Olympic runner, Ben St Lawrence wrote about the need for Polarisation of Training.
“Despite now being a professional athlete, I began to get progressively slower, all while training harder and harder. […] When we overreach on easier days, we become too fatigued to run hard enough on our hard days and end up spending too much time in the grey area of training. Our easy isn’t easy enough and our fast isn’t fast enough. We’re not absorbing the work. It may look impressive on Strava, plenty of mileage at a solid pace, but when it really matters on session days and race day we’re unable to get the best out of ourselves.” – Ben St Lawrence
Your muscles don’t get stronger without resting them. The micro-tears in the muscles caused by hard workouts need time to repair, and it’s the repair that builds the muscles stronger.
Repeatedly doing hard runs leads to injuries. Rest, and easy running lets your body heal and grow.
Conversely, my parkrun (5 km) streak of regular Personal Bests ended when I started marathon training, doing more 3-hour runs, and also running easy at Long Run pace all the time. Joe Friel’s “Fast After 50” thoroughly explains how, as you get older, to retain all aspects of fitness, you must still do vigorous workouts regularly.
Yes, it sounds bizarre, but you don’t get faster without going slow AND fast.