Running slow is hard. There, I said it. In fact I think running slow is harder for me than running fast is. Obviously we all desire to run faster; I mean week after week I see all my favorite bloggy runners posting speed workouts right and left. And I do it too, although lately my speed work has been more informal than actually speed work but still, my goal is to run faster. And if I can be so bold for a moment I think I’ve actually done a pretty good job at training myself to be faster. I mean even just 6 months ago I pushed myself to a 1:11 10K PR and 3 weeks ago I broke that by running a 59:49 10K PR, I’d call that improvement. However, that’s a post for another day, today we are talking about running slow.
It’s not a topic that gets discussed often because I mean really, who wants to go slower? I know that I personally have a very hard time going slower, now that I’ve tasted faster. But sometimes going slow is very important; like when doing your long runs while training for a marathon.
I knew that with all my gaining speed lately that I was going to have a hard time readjusting myself during my long runs on the weekends. I want to make sure that I am not pushing myself too hard so that I can cover the distance required but I also don’t want to see myself short of what I am capable of. I’m glad that I have a training plan and training runs so that I can better judge my abilities but it’s still hard sometimes.
Let’s take this past weekend for example:
I had 17 miles schedule for the day.
I had just the weekend before run a PR in the half marathon so I know I’ve got speed in me somewhere.
I would also really like a sub-5 hour marathon in April, so I need to improve my times during my long runs.
But I also didn’t want to crash and burn.
In order to see a sub-5 hour marathon I need to average about an 11:25 pace.
Lately on average, I’ve been running sub-10-10:20 pace.
I knew I was doing 11 solo miles and then running 6 miles of trails with Alex; I knew the trail miles would be slower overall.
So what should I do when I head out for my long run? (Oh the musings of a runner…)
My goal was to try and keep an 11:15 average for those first 11 miles (there was no rhyme or reason to that number, I just picked it) and then just do my best on the trails and hope for a good overall average for the day.
So I set out Saturday morning and within 2 miles I was really having a hard time even getting to an 11 minute average pace. I already felt like I was going so very slow and so since I was comfortable at that pace I decided to try and make my miles as consistently as possible.
As you can see I failed miserably at keeping an 11:15 pace, however, those are probably some of the most consistent miles I have ever run. While that was a good run I’m not sure that I could have kept that pace consistently for 6 more miles, actually I know I wouldn’t have been able to. I was getting tired towards the end and I was very grateful for the break between those 11 miles and getting over to Alex’s for the trail miles.
If you look at our average for our 6 trail miles you can see we were not quite as consistent but for someone who isn’t used to trails I would say that was a very successful run for me. And I was glad for the slower pace too.
Overall my average pace for the day was 11:38 which I am happy with.
But all of this got me thinking about why we are actually supposed to do long runs and why going slower is so important. I’ve always just taken the weekend long run for what it’s worth and had a certain idea of distance and time in mind and just went for it. But I decided to do some research and find out exactly how slow (or fast) I should be going on those long runs.
Of course Runner’s World doesn’t disappoint and I found a great article that answered my questions (read full article here).
In regards to why runners should do long runs there were 2 quotes that I found in the article that summed it up nicely for me.
“Many runners push too hard on daily runs,” says Bob Glover, author of the Runner’s Handbook. “The long run forces them to slow down and pace themselves wisely – just as they have to do in any long-distance race.”
I am totally guilty of pushing myself every.single.day on runs so I can totally see this being beneficial for me.
Exercise physiologist Robert Vaughan offers the scientific rationale:
“The long run serves to increase the number of mitochondria and capillaries in the active muscles, thereby improving those muscles’ ability to remove and utilize available oxygen. In addition, the long run recruits muscle fibers that would otherwise go unused. This recruitment ensures a greater pool of conditioned fibers that may be called upon during the latter stages of a long race. There are certain psychological barriers and adjustments to the central- nervous-system fatigue that are also affected by the long run.”
Translation: the most important reason for long runs is to condition the muscles to delay the onset of fatigue.
As a kinesiology major and previous personal trainer this second reason is super interesting to me; I really like the thought that my 4 hours out there on a long run are much more beneficial to me than simply just getting the miles in.
The part that I was most interested in though, was just how much slower should the long run be?
According to this article is said to aim for 30-90 seconds slower per mile than the pace you expect to run on race day. Say what?!?! I’ll be honest, that kind of shocked me. But they say that, “Speed is of limited importance during long runs. As we have already mentioned, they’re more about time spent on your feet.”
So, if that’s the case then I could easily get away with an 11:50 pace and still potentially reach my goal on marathon day. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with going that slow but it is good to know that just because my long runs are slower doesn’t mean I’m going to totally bomb my time goals on race day.
The last thing I found interesting in this article was the answer to the question just how far should you go on a long run when training for a marathon? I know most people stop at 20 miles and that’s as far as they go before race day; I know that’s what I did and I had no trouble going the marathon distance. But what did stick out to me was this suggestion:
“To improve your time, you need to do more long runs.”
It says that for first time marathoners only doing one long run of 20 miles is sufficient but if you do up to 3 at a longer distance then it will help improve your time. I actually have a 20 miler this weekend and then in 2 weeks I decided to add a 22 miler just for the reason that I want to see improvement, I guess I was thinking like a pro the day I made my training schedule!
Sorry, I know this was a lot of information, but hopefully it was helpful to some of you, I know it was to me. Since I have 20 miles this weekend I’m going to try again to focus on taking my time and going slow. I do want to see improvement but I want to be patient with my body. And since I have another 20+ mile long run in two weeks I know I definitely need to take it easy. It’s so hard to see a slower than normal pace average on long run days but I’m hoping that knowing all of this information will help me relax and SLOW DOWN!
Do any of you have a specific pace you try to hit for your long runs? Is it slower than your other weekly runs?
Does anyone else struggle with going slow?