COACH JASON HERNANDEZ (Skyline Run Club)
Easy runs aren’t always easy. We incorporate them into our running plans as a way to break up the more vigorous sessions in our training. Still, many runners avoid taking these easy days seriously by either going too fast or not running at all. Easy runs are highly strategic and have many more benefits than you may think.
We’ve all heard, “Everything in moderation.” This couldn’t be more true for a runner. If we chose to run hard every practice or run long every day, our bodies would begin to physically breakdown. To avoid this inevitable outcome, we must incorporate active recovery in between intense bouts of exercise.
Easy runs allow targeted energy systems the proper amount of time for recovery while other energy systems are being utilized. For instance, if we did 200-meter repeats on Monday, we used a select portion of our anaerobic system. We wouldn’t do a workout just as hard on Tuesday, but rather an easy run to allow the anaerobic muscles to recover while working the aerobic energy system.
My recommendation as a run coach is to review your program and allow 24-48 hours of recovery time between difficult workouts. Easy runs are a great addition that allows for the extension of our endurance capacity while simultaneously encouraging healthy regrowth of targeted muscles. If training for a marathon, 2-3 minutes slower than race pace is ideal for easy runs. The goal is preservation to allow for running longevity.
DR. ANDREW WARD (Custom Performance)
Easy runs may be the most important part of your weekly training.
The point of training is to increase fitness and to get your body to adapt to become more efficient. When we look at how this adaptation occurs at the cellular level, we often reference the mitochondria, which are affectionately known as the ‘powerhouse of the cell’. These mitochondria are important for the production and transport of energy within each cell, and improved efficiency of this process allows a runner to exert less effort to run.
Interestingly, these adaptations are best made when running for a long duration at a slow to moderate pace. Running at this pace is truly aerobic, meaning that there is an excess of oxygen for the body to use. Mitochondria work best in aerobic conditions, with plenty of oxygen. When running faster and entering an anaerobic state (with less oxygen), the mitochondria have to ‘work hard’ to keep up.
Easy runs allow your mitochondria to function comfortably and to become more efficient at doing so. In this state, they build a larger capacity to process materials. When the mitochondria are working hard to ‘keep up’, they are unable to make adaptations and function less efficiently.
Easy runs allow your mitochondria, but also other parts of your body, to settle into a comfortable rhythm and to make fitness gains. When you run hard or push your limits in other ways, your body is just trying to keep up with demand and make lesser adaptations.
Not only do easy runs result in less ‘breakdown’, as Jason mentioned, they also allow your body to get ahead and focus on improvements in fitness. The fitness and efficiency gained during easy runs will carry over into longer and harder efforts, allowing you to get more out of those hard runs.
Easy runs build a stronger and more efficient machine. Don’t skip your easy runs!