Last weekend’s long run was 12 beautiful, hilly miles on the paths in my hometown. Since taking my RRCA Running Coach certification course this spring and applying what I learned to my own running (and PR’ing in every race I ran as a result), I am a now a very firm believer in running SLOW on all my long runs, and really on all training runs other than those designed to be speed work. I agree that at first glance it seems so counterintuitive…if you are trying to improve your time and run a faster race, then why train at a slower pace? Well, it actually makes perfect sense and I will explain why in a nutshell.
Training for a marathon (or any distance over a 5k, really) requires building ENDURANCE and the STAMIINA to cover the distance. Running at a slower pace (an easy 75-80% effort) allows your cardiovascular system to adapt (which will happen relatively quickly) to the increased work load and trains your heart to work aerobically at a comfortable level over a long period of time. Other adaptations need to occur as well though: your muscles, connective tissues, tendons and ligaments will all become stronger over time if you are training properly. Building muscular and connective tissue strength happens at a slower rate than building cardiovascular strength, which is why a lot of runners get injured when the mileage on their long run gets up there: they wrongly think they have the stamina to push faster while increasing the distance, so an injury (usually to the connective tissues) results. Bummer. The good news though is that we can avoid this pretty easily – we just need to remember to slow down and enjoy the ride on those long runs – this is not the time to race! – even if we are feeling like we have it in us to push, don’t. If we follow this golden rule of running slow when we run long, we will have amazing strength and endurance come race day (and we will feel much better after the race, too).
When I explain this to most of my running buddies, their first reaction is “Awesome! I can run slower,” but in practice it is much harder for them – psychologically. Last weekend I had to remind my buddies to slow down many times. I felt like a broken record, but I didn’t care. I want them to “get it” – to see the results of training this way – but I can’t do it for them. I can only remind them, do it for myself and hope they will catch on. Running pregnant is helping me with this on a whole new level because really all it is about for me right now is running at a slow comfortable pace and feeling good while doing it.
Life I love you, all is groovy