One Thing That Most New Runners Do Wrong. Why Running Slow Makes You Faster

Look, I get it.  Running slow makes you faster?  It sounds counterintuitive, which is why most novice runners go too hard/too fast/too soon.  I seems logical to think that the harder I run, the faster i’ll get. And so it goes, we want to finish every run gasping for air to make us feel “like we got a workout”.  What years of research and watching elite level athletes’ training has shown us is that there is a better way. A way to enjoy running more, reduce the risk of injury and actually get faster all at the same time.  

So what does “running slow” mean?  Most coached or experienced runners would call this running in the aerobic zone.  Typically this would be running at about 70% of your max heart rate. If you don’t know what your max heart rate is or don’t run by heart rate, it would simply be running at about a 6-7 out of 10 on a rate perceived effort scale (with 10 being an all-out sprint).  I like to tell my athlete’s that it’s conversation pace, or a pace that you could run and still be able to hold a conversation with a friend without having to stop and take extra breaths between sentences. Sounds pretty enjoyable doesn’t it?

Here is why running slow is important:

  1. There are certain physiological changes (increase in mitochondria size and density, capillaries, oxidative enzymes to name a few) that occur at slower paces that won’t occur at faster paces.  This is an important one because these physiological changes lay the foundation for your ability to maintain faster paces and if not addressed properly can ultimately restrict your upper limits. Ever heard a runner say I’m base building? Well, this is a big part of building a solid base.

  2. Running slow allows your body to recover from training loads quicker which is crucial for improvement.  The body cannot absorb all the fitness gains you are working to put into it if you are constantly in a state of fatigue.

  3. Running slower allows you to run for longer periods of time.  This can be especially important for athletes trying to build up the strength to eventually carry themselves through an ultra distance race.  On a smaller scale, I know so many athletes that try to run 2 miles but have to stop and walk in order to cover the distance. If you find that you need to stop and walk to catch your breath than you may as well slow down to a running pace that would allow you to run the entire distance.

  4. You can reduce your chance of injury.  Building up the musculoskeletal strength to avoid injury can be built upon year after year.  Running faster increases strain on the body. Most novice runners haven’t built up the musculoskeletal strength to avoid injury thus increasing their risk.   

My general recommendation is that at minimum 80% of your weekly training volume is done at easy effort and even more than that for new runners.  

Coach K