What's the deal with Easy Paced runs?

If you’re brand new to running, you might feel like you have one speed when it comes to running… run speed! Maybe you’ve been around the block a little bit and you know that your race pace is (and should be) different than your training run pace, or your multiple paces you use for training runs.

As a coach and runner, I firmly believe in the 80/20 rule (The Pareto Principle). Approximately 80% of your weekly miles should be at an easy pace while 20% of your mileage will be at a pace specific to the workout (threshold, interval, marathon, etc). If your eyes opened REAL wide and you’re now wondering how the heck you’re supposed to run fast in a race if 32 miles in your 40 mile week are slower than your race pace… then read on!

So why should you SLOW DOWN on your easy paced runs?

Easy paced running is the foundation upon which all your run training lies and it provides several benefits. It’s amazing for base building (wider the base, taller the peak!), and for a return to running post race/ break/ injury. Easy run pace is typically 65-78% of your max heart rate. Running easy allows not only the below to happen, but it also allows you to go HARD on your HARD days.

  • Build up a certain degree of resistance to injury

  • Limited stress on the body or mind

  • Develops the heart muscle

  • Increases vascularization (the opening of more tiny blood vessels that feed into the muscles you use while running)

  • Develops the characteristics (muscle fibers) of the muscles you use while running

  • Active recovery, facilitating blood flow to muscles that need repair after hard running

How much time per week should I run easy?

Above, I mentioned the 80/20 rule. This certainly isn’t a hard pressed, set in stone rule. In fact, Dr. Jack Daniels suggests that about 10% of your runs per week should be at Threshold pace, 8% should be Interval, and up to 5% be even faster (Repetition). This leaves a little wiggle room because not every week will you be hitting Threshold, Interval, Repetition or Marathon paces in your workouts. But he does say that all your other miles should be at your Easy pace… warmup, cool down, recovery jogs and during long runs too.

What is MY easy pace?

Easy pace for every person is different and it can even be different every day for the same runner depending on what the previous days’ workout, sleep, nutrition, and stress levels were. As a coach, I base the easy paces I give off Jack Daniels’ Vdot formula. It’s easy to plug in a recent race time to help judge your paces you should be running for any type of run. If you don’t have a recent race time, don’t use one from 4 years ago! You can set up a time trial race for yourself, then head to the link to find your paces.

Having the correct pace is crucial BUT you also have to go off feel. Do you live in a hilly area? Then on the uphill, you may tip over the top end of your pace as you climb if you truly keep the effort feeling easy. Heat and high dew point levels will also make you run slower automatically. That’s okay! Keep that effort easy. Remember it’s also 65-78% of your max heart rate, so you have a wide range to work with.

Okay, I know my paces and tried running that slow but I swear I feel like I’m walking…

As a runner, I FEEL YOU! But as a coach, SLOW IT DOWN ANYWAY! That’s what it should feel like. It should be so easy feeling that you could do it with your eyes closed or in your sleep. You should literally be able to sing out loud or hold a conversation easily while running this pace. Focus instead on your form and maintaining desirable running mechanics. Count your steps and try to get close to 180 steps per minute (count every time your right foot hits the ground, with a goal of 90). Check in with your breathing.

How do I race fast, if most of my miles are slower and easy paced?

Honestly, you have to get into the right mental state for your upcoming race. Look back at your previous workouts and the paces you maintained for those workouts. They were tough but you did it! Each one had a purpose. Going into a half marathon, you probably didn’t run more than about 30-45 total minutes in any one workout at a threshold pace. But neither do the professionals! The hard truth is you have to go into a race knowing it’s not going to be easy and it’s probably going to hurt and be willing to make that happen. Your fitness is there, but also know you have to race within your current fitness.

Tips for slowing it down on your easy runs:

  • Go off your heart rate, feel, or being able to hold a conversation… not your pace!
    (The general equation is 220 - age = max HR, however this is not always accurate)

  • If you listen to music, pick slower tunes or go without

  • Justify why you’re slowing down… it’s so you can crush that workout tomorrow, or because your body is working to absorb those 1k repeats you hit yesterday. Remember every workout has a purpose.

  • Run with a friend or family member who is admittedly slower

An example of my week with recent race times at 5k- 20:43, 13.1- 1:35:53
Monday- Easy run (9:06-10)
Tuesday- Easy warm up, 8x1k @ Interval pace (6:58), Easy cooldown
Wednesday- Easy run (9:06-10)
Thursday- off
Friday- Easy run (9:06-10)
Saturday- Long run, Easy but progressive to Threshold (9:06-7:20)
Sunday- Easy run (9:06-10)