The importance of running easy

Over the last few years Laura Fidler has had the privilege of working with more and more elite and recreational runners and triathletes. Despite the level of the runner, she always sees a theme in terms of the most common cause of injuries. Laura explains:

The theme relates to people’s lack of understanding of the importance of easy/aerobic training. I would say statistically that over 85% of all runners I see are running their easy/aerobic runs way too fast. And despite it, in theory, being a super easy fix, it’s often the habit that is hardest to change!

So why is running easy so hard?

I think every runner, whether running for performance (to get faster) or running for health benefits (to stay healthy and look great!) thinks that running faster or harder is most beneficial. Now if you are only running once or twice a week and relatively short distances (under 5 km) you might be able to get away with this approach. But if you are trying to fit in more than three runs per week and you are trying to progress as a runner, you are likely to come unstuck at some point. The reason this happens is that the faster you run, the more pressure or stress you put on your tendons and tissues. Tendons typically take up to 48 hours to recovery from plyometric load (running) so the more frequently you run, the less time the tendon has to recover. This will eventually lead to overload and often injury.

The common response I get when I flag this issue is: ‘But if I run slower, I won’t progress as quickly’. This is factually incorrect. Aerobic training (60–80% of max HR) is a highly effective and necessary part of a weekly training schedule. Benefits include increased ability to burn fat, improved cardiovascular function, increased lean body mass and decreased incidence of injury. It is of course not the only type of training you should be doing; unfortunately just running easy won’t make you faster! However, it should make up 80% of your total training load each week.

How easy is easy?

There are many ways that you can calculate and ensure that you are training in your aerobic zone. If you like using heart rate (HR) you can use this as a guide. Your aim on your aerobic runs should be to keep your HR between 60-80% of your HR max. (To estimate your maximum age-related heart rate, subtract your age from 220.) The only catch with this method is that often your HR can vary according to fatigue and stress so its not always a reliable measurement. I would personally suggest that you calculate training paces through doing a 5 km race or a 3 km time trial. From this you can use various pace calculators that are readily available on the internet to give you accurate training paces. As a rough guide you can add 90–120 secs per km to your 5 km race PB. E.g. if you run a 20 min 5 km (4 min/km average) your easy pace should be 5.30–6 min/km.

For a lot of people, when you suggest the above their immediate reaction is ‘that’s really slow’, often followed by ‘but what happens if people overtake me?’ Honestly, my response is ‘check your ego’. It shouldn’t matter if anyone overtakes you during your runs… your running should be about you getting the most out of yourself! So focus on doing the right thing for you and your progression and enjoy running at a pace that I promise you will learn to love!

About Laura

Laura (on the right) has been working alongside an elite team of athletes to help manage training related and acute sports injuries. She has a special interest in lower limb biomechanics but also has extensive experience in a wide variety of musculoskeletal problems.

Laura has been competing in Triathlon since 2010 and has progressed to represent GBR in the European and World championships. She is currently racing and training as a semi professional athlete and competing regularly at Ironman 70.3, standard distance triathlon and cycling time trials.

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