In training there are hard days and there are easy days, but is there such thing as taking it too slow? Your recovery days are supposed to feel good, but there could be a point of diminishing returns. Two Canadian running coaches weigh in on the topic, and suggest that running easy is an art.
John Lofranco is a coach with Athletics Canada who says that you can’t run too slow on your easy days. “Generally speaking, the fastest you want to go is about 75 seconds per k slower than your 5K pace. For example, if you can run 20 minutes for 5k, that’s 4:00/km; so you should run no faster than 5:15/km for your easy runs. You can go slower than that if you want, if that’s what it takes to allow you to keep training consistently.”
Lofranco coaches Melanie Myrand, who placed ninth at the Chicago Marathon this fall in a massive personal best of 2:34:08. Lofranco says the reasons for keeping your easy days easy are two-fold: “First, to get better at running, you need to run more. Keeping the easy runs effortless will allow you to recover fully from harder-paced workouts without having to take a day off. Second, improved running economy, increased stroke volume and capillary capacity, mitochondrial growth, and slow-twitch muscle fibre development all occur when you hit a minimum pace, not a maximum.”
Terry Radchenko is a middle distance coach at the University of Toronto. Radchenko says there is such a thing as an easy day that’s too easy. “You never want to be shuffling to the point of becoming uneconomical in your running. You don’t want to develop poor running form because of fatigue or extremely slow running. As long as you’re keeping proper form, the speed depends on what the goal of the run is.”
Radchenko says that if the goal of the run is just recovery, then very slow is alright. But if you’re in a base-building season and you’re looking to build a little endurance from those runs, then they should be a little faster. “If they’re becoming sloppy, then call it quits or cross-train. If you feel your form is suffering, then it’s probably not a day to run.” Radchenko reminds us that if there are too many days that are feeling rough, then it’s probably time to reconsider your training.
If the point of your run is to recover, then make sure your run feels like recovery. Barring your form falling apart, which can cause other issues, go as slowly as you need to on your easy days.