Sometimes I hear people refer to easy running as “junk mileage” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even with varying opinions on training theories, renowned coaches and exercise scientists can agree on one thing: easy running is beneficial. There is a reason that elite marathoners run upwards of 140 miles per week, with the majority of that mileage being at their respective “easy” pace. Since there are so many publications focusing on different types of speed work I wanted to take a moment to talk about the type of running that should comprise more than half of your weekly mileage: easy running.
First off let’s talk about what easy running should be. Easy running should be done at a conversational pace, meaning you should be able to carry on a full conversation without gasping for air. If you wear a heart rate monitor, easy pace is roughly 65 to 75 % of your max HR, and if you’re using GPS, it’s 1 to 2 minutes slower than your Marathon pace. Easy pace can even be up to 3 minutes per mile slower than MP during recovery runs provided there’s no breakdown in form. I often run 4+ minutes slower than my current Marathon race pace when I’m running with my wife, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to pay attention to your form; if you can’t keep good form because you’re too tired or the pace is too slow, either speed up or abandon ship, because you’re doing more harm than good.
Now, let’s look at a few of the benefits associated with easy running.
Easy running develops the heart muscle enabling it to pump more blood through the body to the working muscles. It increases hemoglobin content in the blood, which transports the oxygen we need for aerobic activities, while also developing your capillary beds enabling them to deliver more oxygen and fuel, more efficiently to your exercising muscles. It promotes the growth of mitochondria, the “energy factories” of your cells, which oxidize carbohydrate and both fatty and amino acids so your body can produce more energy while exercising aerobically. Easy running also increases fatigue resistance by developing slow twitch muscle fibers while a number of physiological adaptations occur that lead to injury resistance, including the development of bone strength and density, tendon development and the development of running muscles.
Easy running is a good way to safely increase your overall training volume and subsequent performances. By simply adding a couple of extra easy miles to your warm ups, cool downs or easy days and running the bulk of your mileage at easy pace, you will reap the benefits of increased energy production, efficient oxygen and fuel use and stronger muscles and tendons, all of which will help you become a better runner.