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The One Thing Every New Runner Does Wrong. Why Slow Runs Matter

Remember the old saying, “Slow and steady wins the race?” Well, when it comes to running there’s a lot of truth to that statement. If you take that statement at face value then it’s true the faster runner will usually win the race, however when it comes to day-in-day-out training “slow and steady wins the race” is dead-on and I’m about to explain why.

One of the biggest mistakes most beginners and perhaps most runners’ make is running too fast, too soon and/or too often. I mean, come-on, it makes sense, right? Basic logic would lead you to believe, if I run fast, I’ll get faster and the faster and harder I run, the faster I’ll get.

I’m here to say, there’s a better (and perhaps less painful) way to train that will produce better results while lowering your chances of injury. If every run ends with you gasping for air…Slow down!

Here’s why running slower is so crucial.

  1. There are certain physiological changes (increase in mitochondria size and density, capillaries, oxidative enzymes to name a few) that occur at slower paces that won’t occur at faster paces. This is an important one because these physiological changes lay the foundation for your ability to maintain faster paces and if not addressed properly can ultimately restrict your upper limits. Ever heard a runner say I’m base building? Well, this is a big part of building a solid base.

  2. Slowing down will allow you to run longer. If you find yourself having to stop runs because you’re gasping for air, this applies to you. I cannot tell you how many new runners have come to me thinking they can only run for 2 miles before needing to stop and after slowing them down they find they can run much longer. For beginners, in most cases a 30 to 40 minute slow run is better then a 15 to 20 minute fast run.

  3. Incorporating slower running is a crucial ingredient for improvement. It allows your body to recover and then adapt which ultimately makes you stronger and faster. Without slower running you’ll violate the principle of super-compensation, which is the number one principle in how humans athletically improve.

  4. Reduces your chances of injury. This is especially important for new runners or runners coming back from an injury. Faster running places more stress on your body. New runners haven’t built the necessary foundational musculoskeletal system in order to sustain harder paces without increased chances of injury.

A good rule of thumb is depending on your ability level anywhere from 100% to 70% of your running should be done at a comfortable pace that you could sustain for two to three times longer. Beginners should spend 100% of their running at a comfortable pace, even if it includes walking breaks. As you become more experienced you’ll need to incorporate faster running into your training in order to see improvements but it’s still crucial to include most of your running at a slower pace to allow your body to recovery from the hard days. A very general and safe rule of thumb is to include 2 days of recovery after each hard run.

The key to slower running is to stay in what more experienced runners and coaches call an aerobic zone, a zone where most of your energy is produced using oxygen. A good way to decipher if you’re staying in the aerobic zone is using a perceived effort scale. Using a 1 to 10 perceived effort scale, with 1 being extremely easy and 10 being an all out 40m sprint, staying under 4 or 5 is mostly still aerobic. For example, a 3 breathing should be relatively easy and you should be able to complete full sentences. Click Here for my perceived chart.

So next time you’re running on Kelly or Forbidden Drive instead of trying to pass everyone and/or beat your best time for every run, slow down, take your time and have confidence that you’re still getting a good workout.

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