Variable Pace Easy Runs
Today I’d like to cover an article written by Matt Fitzgerald. He’s written a ton of books an articles on endurance training, and why I don’t agree with everything he says in general, this topic I do. I’ve highlighted key points and added some commentary (in blue).
“Easy runs get no love. Whenever a video is made of elite runners in training, it’s always some type of workout that’s filmed (a track session, hill repetitions, a long run at marathon pace), never an easy run. This is the case despite the fact that easy runs are the foundation of any good training program and collectively contribute more to race-day performance than any other type of run.
The tendency in our sport to take easy runs for granted has practical consequences. These runs are considered so basic that no one can possibly screw them up, and yet no run type is screwed up more often or with greater consequences. I’m referring to the moderate-intensity rut, of course—the almost universal tendency of runners to do their easy runs too fast, making each session more stressful than it should be and creating a chronic burden of fatigue that inhibits fitness development and compromises performance in runs that are intended to be harder.”
With that being said, here is the kicker, your long run pace should vary greatly from run to run based on how your feeling. What kind of training load your under etc. The key isn’t to force paces or compare paces thinking you should be at a specific pace for these runs, but more importantly listen to the body you have that day and what your HR is telling you. The biggest mistake I see is athletes looking at there long run pace for an indicator of how fast they are getting, but in reality we should be looking at our fast/speed workouts to see how we are improving.
Matt says “only by pacing yourself inconsistently in your easy runs will they consistently serve their intended purpose, which is to ensure that your overall training workload is close to, but within, the limit of your body’s present tolerance for training stress.”
What should this feel like?
“The way to do this is to try to maintain a consistent comfort level throughout all of your easy runs regardless of pace. Ideally, you will feel very comfortable from the beginning to the end of every easy run you do. (By comfortable we mean no labored breathing, can talk in complete sentances, smile and realxed. Doesn't mean your legs might not be fatigued by the end or even when you start if under heavy load, but we can still be comfortable.) On days when you are carrying fatigue from recent hard training or you’re just feeling flat for no particular reason, staying comfortable may require you to run one or even two minutes per mile slower than usual. And on days when you’re feeling good, your legs may want to carry you right to the top of zone 2, and there’s no reason not to do so in this situation. And if you’re like me and you often feel bad and good at different points within a single easy run, you should allow your pace to fluctuate.
How you feel during your easy runs is not arbitrary. It’s information about how your body is doing and what sort of training stimulus is appropriate. By allowing comfort to set your pace, you will not miss out on opportunities to run faster and get a bigger training stimulus when your body’s up to it but at the same time you will avoid overtaxing your body when it requires a gentler training stimulus.
The pros practice erratic easy run pacing. For example, during an easy run I did with the Northern Arizona Elite team a few weeks before the Chicago Marathon, Aaron Braun observed that as his key workouts were getting faster and faster, his easy runs were getting slower and slower. (I think we were jogging at just under 8:00/mile at the time, or more than 2.5 minutes per mile slower than normal. Of course, Aaron wasn’t slowing down in his easy runs because he was physically incapable of going faster. He was slowing down because he chose to, and he chose to because like most pros
he habitually paces his easy runs by feel, aiming to maintain a consistent comfort level throughout all of them.”
incapable of going faster. He was slowing down because he chose to, and he chose to because like most pros he habitually paces his easy runs by feel, aiming to maintain a consistent comfort level throughout all of them.”