Setting Your Slow Run Speed to Progress and not Destroy Your Training Plan
Running slowly can be enjoyable, calming, and purposeful. But when, why and how? Have you made it to the stage where you have plateaued in your running progress? Sometimes you need to up that effort, turn over those legs, and increase the pace!
Running slowly can be fantastic if that is purely what you enjoy, or for being used as a recovery run, possibly even to get minutes into your legs and improve insurance. If your goal is to become a faster runner, it may be hindering performance. Let’s have a look at why.
- Looking after yourself.
- How to run fast?
- Injuries/time on your feet.
You will see that although a slow run can be useful, you don’t want to get stuck into that pattern of training all the time.
Looking after yourself
Let’s first have a look at when the slow run is appropriate? They will always be found in running programmes and for two purposes. Firstly, and for beginners or returning from injury, using a slow run will put time in your legs, increasing the strength and resilience of your muscles and tendons. It is an important part of building your base and stamina for both the beginner, and return to running athlete. Secondary to this is recovery. A walk-run or slow run for a period of time may be used after a particularly intense training session or longer tempo run. It is designed to circulate fresh blood around your legs and refuel them in order to maximise recovery. So you see they are an important session for the regular runner – but best not to get too comfortable if you are trying to improve your times.
How to run fast?
I like to use an analogy of improving muscle strength here. One of the best ways to think about it is through lifting a weight. If you lift 10kg through a range of sets and reps continuously for a year, you won’t get stronger. This is because you are only asking your muscles to recruit a small percentage of muscle fibres to complete the task. It won’t work harder than you as it to. If you start to increase the weight, you must access a higher percentage of muscle fibres – this increase in ability to recruit is how you get stronger. Now take this to running. If that leg cycle is continuously at the same speed, it is comfortable and does not challenge your neuromuscular system. Practising faster paced running, even though you cannot maintain the effort for as long, is what improves your performance and speed over time. More recruitment, faster cycle, improved speed.
Injuries/Time on your feet
Running slowly all the time can put immense pressure on your muscles, tendons and joints. If you plod along at a glacial pace 3-5 times a week, the load is significant. The slower you run, the longer you are in contact with the ground. The secret to speed is getting on and off the ground as quickly as possible. Your Achilles and patella tendon are examples of structures that can get overloaded with repetition of forces on a hard surface over time. If you improve your leg cycle speed, and reduce the number of ground contacts in your run, and specifically the ground contact times, you are reducing the impact on your body. I know it seems a bit counterintuitive, but increasing your running speed can actually reduce strain on your body and long term injury risk.
- Slow runs can be great as recovery aids or to improve endurance in a beginners.
- Training at the same speeds is comfortable for your body. Increase leg speed to strengthen muscles and improve running times.
- Quicken up those ground contacts and the overall number of foot strikes to ease the load on your body.