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Importance of Easy Running

by Steve Macklin

TRAINING HARD is the most widely-accepted way to improve performance legally, but training easy is no less important. It’s often the case where people train too hard on ‘easy’ days and not hard enough on the ‘hard’ days. Many runners push these runs too hard in between key workout/long run days and don’t allow the body to recover well enough and carry over fatigue. Workouts, races and long runs put a large stress on the body and anytime there is a stress placed on the body you must allow it to recover physically and mentally. It’s important to realise that easy runs are highly-specific to the individual and as well as various other workouts, be it tempo runs, hill repeats or intervals, they’ve just as important a role to play.

Some rules of thumb for easy runs:

  1. Easy runs should be done on the 2-3 days following any intense exercise, race or specific long runs. They help aid recovery from more intense training sessions or races as well as specific longer runs that athletes may do for longer distance races.
  2. Easy runs should form a big part of your early season training when building fitness before adding intensity. These help lay the aerobic foundations necessary for gaining more benefit from specific workouts at a later stage.
  3. Easy runs should stay in a training program year-round but will have less of an emphasis as you move from general training to the specific training. At this point they act predominantly as a recovery mechanism and serve to maintain an aerobic base.
  4. Any time you’re feeling very fatigued/tired it’s always a good choice to run easy instead and not do anything more intense. Just go out and run by feel and not worry about your pace or what your watch is saying.
  5. Getting the pace right for an easy run isn’t so simple, however. This is highly dependent on the individual runner’s profile; the amount of time they’ve been running, their race distance, their injury history and their lifestyle balance with time available to train and how well they can recover. But as a general rule; keep your easy days easy and keep your specific days a little tougher and you won’t go too far wrong.
  6. Complete rest sometimes is not as beneficial as getting out for a light run but often, the barrier to easy runs is mental, as opposed to anything physical. Athletes can find them extremely boring at times so mixing up the training location can often help with this or running with others. Some runners also may decide to listen to music.
  7. An easy run is used as a stimulus to improve your aerobic fitness. As a distance runner, you must get used to spending time on your feet and depending on your target race distance the run may need to be longer. The further the distance for your target race the further your easy runs tend to be.
  8. In scientific terms, easy runs help your cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory systems become more efficient. They teach our bodies to utilise fats better as a fuel source, they increase mitochondria, aerobic enzymes, capillary density and myoglobin, all of which have a positive impact on your running. Easy runs also promote oxygen delivery to the muscles and can act as a great recovery tool. These runs condition your musculoskeletal system to adapt to stress, which allows your body to handle more volume of running.
  9. When running easy however, our bio-mechanics can break down a little due to the slow pace, so adding some relaxed strides during or afterwards over 80-100m can help reinforce good patterns of movement. Adding some pick-ups or strides to the easy run during or afterwards can also help break up any possible boredom and make an athlete feel better. We must always be conscious of our running mechanics and running as efficiently as possible at all speeds.
  10. Easy runs are a chance to get outside, have some thinking time to yourself, meet other runners and really enjoy the many different locations to run wherever you are. All you need is a pair of runners and you can run anywhere. Sometimes just go out and run without the watch and simply run by feel and enjoy it.
  11. Any athletes who are injury prone and find that extra easy runs place added stress on the body can use methods of x training instead such as aqua jogging, swimming, x trainer, spinning bike etc.

As with any type of training, consistency and patience is the key to endurance running success, there are no quick fixes. Easy running is just one of the key ingredients on the training menu. Each and every ingredient on the menu is important.

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