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You Need to Slow Down to Speed Up!

Say whatttt?! Yup, you heard me! In order to get faster we need to slow down. That may sound counterintuitive but it is true and most athletes see great results. Let's make you a believer and dive into the science behind this.

The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule is the idea that 80% of an athlete's weekly mileage should be performed at a low intensity and 20% should be performed at high intensity. Low intensity runs are completed at a conversational easy pace. While this pace is different for everybody, it is a pace where you could easily have a conversation with a friend or sing a song without gasping for air. Believe it or not, this is exactly how the elites train. No matter what their weekly mileage is, they follow the 80/20 rule and obviously see impressive results. Research has shown that this method holds true for the average runner as well. The idea behind the success of this training method is that it gives your body time to recover from the high intensity sessions. Too much stress in large quantities inhibits the recovery process.

Benefits of Easy Running

Easy running helps build your aerobic capacity working the cardio and respiratory systems. It also helps to strengthen muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and bones without causing too much stress on them. Easy running works slow twitch muscle fibers, which are essential to endurance running.

Slowing down can also promote better running form. During speed sessions, blood is prioritized away from the brain to the muscles that need it most. This can cause our focus to shift away from our running form. Also, there are mental benefits to easy running. Easy running allows you to run for longer distances, which allows the brain to break mental barriers. Endurance running is at times more mental than physical. Easy running helps develop mental toughness when physical discomfort sets in.

The 'Gray Zone'

Have you heard of people training in the 'gray zone'? This is the land of moderate intensity running. It is not your lactate threshold but it is above your easy pace. Many athletes train too often in this zone because they do not slow down enough. For some runners, the walk/run/walk method might be necessary to stay in their easy zone. This is perfectly fine and doesn't make you any less of a runner. Your easy pace will get faster over time if you train correctly, even if that means walking at times.

Training too often in the 'gray zone' over time is equivalent to training too often at high intensity. Moderate and high intensity training too often causes the body too much stress, fatigue and increases risk of injury. Performing most of your running at an easy intensity allows you to go hard on the harder days because you are well recovered.

What Are Slow Twitch Muscles?

Slow twitch muscle fibers are recruited for aerobic activities. Easy running is aerobic, you are able to hold a conversation and can sustain this effort for what feels like forever. Training your slow twitch muscle fibers is essential for endurance running. In contrast, fast twitch muscle fibers are used for anaerobic exercises which can not be held for a long duration. For example, your high intensity speed workouts. But, wait? To run faster wouldn't you want to train your fast twitch muscle fibers more? Surprisingly, no. Fast twitch muscle fibers are short lived. They use energy very quickly and fatigue easily. Whereas slow twitch muscle fibers can sustain activity for much longer, use less energy and have more blood vessels supplying oxygen. So even though fast twitch muscle fibers are utilized in faster running, it is the slow twitch muscle fibers that need to be trained to sustain the activity once the fast twitch muscle fibers fatigue.

But How Do I Speed Up?

Hopefully, by now it makes sense that doing most of your runs at an easy pace allows your body time to recover. It takes stress off the body and allows you to reserve energy to go hard on your high intensity days. What is important about these high intensity workouts is to make them quality workouts. Since only 20% of your mileage is dedicated to harder sessions you want to complete them with purpose. These sessions should be appropriate for the speeds you are capable of, goal paces, and distance you are training for. Simply put, in order to run fast you need to run fast. So make sure you are making the most of your speed sessions. Slowing down on your easy days will give your body time to adapt to these changes you are making.

So as much as you may feel pressure to speed up your easy runs, don't! Don't play the comparison game with other runners and embrace where you are in your journey. If you are looking to speed up, then now is the time to slow down! Keep your easy days easy and your hard days hard. You will not be disappointed! So, are you running your easy days easy enough? Comment below or follow Hit Your Pace on Facebook and Instagram to connect!

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