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How easy is easy running? Two coaches debate

There’s No Such Thing As Too Easy

By John Lofranco

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.

The reasons why you should keep your easy runs so easy are twofold. 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. When you have fast workouts to do, it is good to give your body a break the day before and after, but getting a run in is still important. If you slow it down the day before a big session, you are less likely to be sore for the workout. If you have a big session one day, you might be sore the next day, but that’s OK, because you can just run nice and slow and still benefit. It’s a win-win.

The second reason to take it slow is that the benefit you derive from easy running occurs at a floor, not a ceiling. What this means is that things like 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. The easy range can be anywhere from one-two minutes per k slower than 5k pace, but the benefits are not greater if you run faster within that range.

As the old adage goes, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. You probably could do a lot of your easy running at close to your mara- thon pace, but what is the cost or benefit of doing so? You’re going to get better at distance running by staying healthy and training consistently as long as you can. By keeping your easy runs easy, you’ll get all the aerobic benefits you need, and you’ll be fresh and ready for the next workout. Most importantly, you’ll probably avoid injury so that you can keep training until your goal race.

John Lofranco is a coach with Montreal Olympic Club and the head of road racing at Athletics Canada.

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Easy Runs Shouldn’t Be Too Easy

By Steve Boyd

Daily easy, or “recovery” running is still aerobic training. You should strive to get the most you can from it. What are those potential benefits? The first is cardiac loading. Famous exercise physiologist and coach, Dr. Jack Daniels (no relation to the southern whiskey maker) pegged the ideal easy running pace as the point at which our hearts stretch to their maximum size before each pump – maximum cardiac stroke volume

– which happens well before we reach the better known maximum cardiac stroke rate. Our hearts fill to their max with blood at around 75 per cent of our maximum heart rate, which corresponds to a running pace that is still quite easy for most people, yet perhaps a little faster than some might choose to run on a daily basis. If it’s possible to give your cardiac muscle a good workout without putting undue stress on your other structures, Daniels surmised, why wouldn’t you strive to do it each day?

Approaching easy runs like this does require a little more psychological effort and focus. Which brings me to benefit number two: psychological callousing. It’s no secret that faster runners are faster in part because they have greater tolerance for the discomfort arising from aerobic distress. I have been told by athletes with exten- sive experience training at altitude that a large part of the benefit of training with chronic, low-level oxygen deficit is psychological: it just makes you tougher. Running at Daniels’s prescribed easy pace, in my experience, is just challenging enough to induce this mild but still attention-demanding aerobic discomfort, without being so difficult that it requires any really concerted effort to maintain.

If, by speeding up a little on your daily runs, you can make your heart work a little harder and your mind focus a little better, you should consider doing it. Daniels’s

“E-pace” (taken from his famous vdot pacing tables) is an excellent reference point. It’s sustainable for all but those doing the highest volume training plans (140+ kilometres per week), or those training over excessively hilly terrain.

Steve Boyd is the track and cross-country coach at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.