By: Jeremy Wallace
OK, I admit it! I’ve been living with an affliction. You may suffer from it too. It affects 9/10 distance runners. It’s called “Runners Ego”. Have you heard of it? It’s a condition that ensures you don’t get too far ahead of me during our weekly group runs, no matter your pace. It also makes me want to scream “I could run faster if I wanted!” to every passing car during my easier runs, as if they’re paying attention to how fast I’m running. It forces me to speed up and run tall any time I pass another runner on the street and make every run a tempo run on the gym treadmill. Essentially, Runners Ego makes me want to run fast almost all the time. It makes me think I’m not getting a benefit to my workout unless I end in a sweaty puddle. I’m not proud of my affliction, but it seems to be part of my make-up. Fortunately for my body, easy runs can be just as beneficial as harder efforts.
Running hard is hard on the body. In fact, some running injuries, over-training, excessive fatigue and poor performance can be attributed to running too hard all the time. It’s also true that the majority of your training runs should be done at an easy pace and that can have a dramatic effect on your results. Some benefits of easy running:
1) Improved VO2 max – The maximum volume (in liters) of oxygen that your body can utilize per minute will increase making your body more efficient..
2) Increased tendon and bone development – Making you a stronger, more durable athlete
3) Muscle fiber adaptation – Slow twitch muscle fibers will grow in size and become more efficient at burning fats making your stride more powerful and delaying fatigue.
4) Increased capillary density – Capillary beds in running muscles can increase as much as 40% allowing a greater supply of oxygen to your muscles.
5) Increased mitochondrial density – The “engine” of your muscles, mitochondria can increase in size by as much as 35% which helps break down fats more effectively
6) Increased efficiency in glycogen storage and fat utilization – Glycogen, your body’s fuel, is stored more efficiently and fats used more readily.
7) Sometimes it’s fun to just go for a stress-free easy run.
So, what does “easy” running mean? It varies based on your individual training and experience but it should be 30-50% slower than your race pace. For some, that might mean slowing from a 6 minute pace to 8 minutes. For others, could mean incorporating a slow jog into your route. The benefits of easy running are the same. Try this: Next time your out for an easy run, say the Pledge of Allegiance out loud. If you can’t say it without big pauses or nearly passing out, you’re running too hard.
So easy running has multiple benefits, produces less stress on the body and allows you to save your harder efforts for your tempo, interval and race days. So, why don’t we do it more often? It’s the dreaded Runners Ego! We runners tend to think that if a little is good, a lot is even better. Not always the case. During your next training cycle, give easy running a shot and watch next year’s race times drop. And next time you see me out on the road, just remember……. I could be running faster if I wanted to:)
Las Vegas Runners’ Coach and Certified Personal Trainer