The 2 Simple Reasons Your Easy Days are Ruining Your Training
One of the simplest concepts of successful long distance running also seems to be one of the hardest for many runners to grasp.
Running easy helps you race faster!
If you are invested in your running, it is important to run with a purpose each and every time you step out the door, even on easy days.
In this article, we’ll look at the purpose of different types of workouts, how easy runs fit into the training puzzle, and why keeping them slow is essential to staying injury-free and running faster.
The purpose of each of type of run
Long runs help you to reap specific benefits after a certain amount of time on your feet. They also help to grow capillaries and increase muscle enzymes.
Long runs not only build endurance, they help your body to develop the strength it needs to handle hard, race-specific workouts.
Your hard workouts are the real “meat “ of your running program.
The VO2Max intervals, the anaerobic threshold building tempo runs, even the hill sprints and strides are all designed to make you faster by breaking down your muscles and/or raising the point at which your body creates lactic acid faster than it is cleared away.
In essence, the hard workouts exist for the purpose of damaging your legs so that they can learn from being broken down and fighting through the heavy, burning feeling in the muscles when racing hard.
Let’s do the math; if your hard workouts are designed to break your body down, it makes sense that your easy days are there to build your body back up.
It is important to think of your recovery days as just that “recovery”.
With that in mind, there is a very simple rule regarding recovery runs: You cannot run too slowly on a recovery day, only too fast. Make sure you understand that. It is a simple concept that is notoriously hard to grasp.
Slow, easy running helps to flush oxygen-rich blood through the legs and also heals micro-tears and other damage that a workout creates. As soon as you begin to push the pace, you are creating more damage to your legs rather than helping them heal.
Common problems when running too hard
Many runners have one long run each week, 1-2 hard workouts and 4-5 easy recovery/rest days. This training schedule is set up and spaced specifically to offer your body the adequate amount of hard work and easy recovery running.
When you run too hard on your easy days, there are two distinct problems that arise.
Running too hard before a workout
When you push the pace in the days leading up to a workout, you run the risk of fatiguing your body to the point that you compromise the pace of your hard workout.
When you stand on the starting line of a race or hard workout, you want to feel fresh, like a horse chomping at the bit to run. Putting “junk” into your legs means that you won’t be able to reap the full benefit on your hard days.
This is one of the most common mistakes I see in beginners of the sport, especially young runners. To kids, every run is a race. In high school, I would often race my easy days around 6:45 mile pace and run my workout days around 6:30 pace.
Ten years later, as a professional runner, I run many of my hard workouts at 5-minute mile pace or faster and my easy days at 8:30 pace or slower.
With time and experience, I realized that in order to get the most out of my hard days, I had to get the most out of my easy days too.
It finally hit me that my easy, recovery days are just as important, if not more so, than my hard workouts.
Running too hard after a workout
As mentioned previously, the days immediately following a hard workout are when your legs are at there most damaged and vulnerable.
One of the easiest ways to get injured is to run too hard following a workout.
Think of your training as a set of stairs, just as the hard workouts are a steep climb that propels your fitness higher; your easy days are a plateau that allows your body to rebuild and reset after the hard workout and before the next big climb.
Imagine how much easier it is to climb a set of stairs than to walk up the side of a wall. We need the plateau in order for our fitness to climb.
How hard is too hard?
Rather than following a complex heart rate formula or a specific pace equation (like max HR minus a certain amount of beats or marathon pace minus 2 minutes), my advice is to simply leave the watch at home, choose a route you are familiar with and allow your body to run at a pace that is easy and light.
Your easy pace (and heart rate) may vary from day to day or even within a run, that is normal.
It is perfectly natural to feel sore an stiff following a hard workout, and it is important to remember that there is a difference between soreness and stiffness and the pain that comes with pushing the pace too hard.
If you need an additional checkpoint, you should be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance, or keep a conversation with a friend, without being short of breath on an easy run.
If you really listen to your body, it will tell you when you are running too hard on your easy days. Let’s learn to pay attention to our easy days so our fast days can become our fastest yet!