Running Slower Will Make You Faster. Huh?

Running Slower Will Make You Faster.  Huh?

If you have been involved in endurance sports long enough you have heard the statement that running slower will make you faster about 1,000,000 times. 999,999 times you have ignored that advice but I am here to tell you that you should not ignore this advice. I am also hear to tell you that it is not that straightforward. I think when people here this statement about running slower they believe that all of their training should be done slower and that magically they will get faster. The fact is that you need variation and slow is definitely one of those variations. For the past 1.5 years I have been running slowly so that I can build up my endurance while also teaching my body to burn fat for fuel which in turn allows me to go longer as evidenced by the finish of the Lake Martin 100 Ultra Run amongst other ultras with distances varying from 31 miles to 50 miles. The training plans that I have put together are a mix of slow days, recovery days (not the same as slow days), trail runs and speed work that is not done on a track. In the rest of this blog post I will highlight various points for what I have done and why I think they have benefited me in becoming faster than I was 5 years ago.

Long Runs On Trails

When I decided to run ultra trail runs I knew that it would be imperative to get on the trails so that I could get used to the change in terrain but I did not realize, until recently, the effect that running trails would have on my speed. When you get on the trail and start running you are 'forced' to slow down in comparison to running on the road but what also happens is that you are more engaged with your core, you are strengthening your ankles and simultaneously doing speed work. How are you doing speed work? No trail is just flat. There are a lot of changes in elevation on a trail so you are doing hill work which is speed work in disguise. Along with that change in elevation you are going to be changing speeds and not on a set workout like 4x1 Mile repeats. This change occurs all the time and thus you are bringing in various muscles that you are not typically using on the road.

Speed Work During Your Mid-Week Long Run

Speed work is often thought of as taking yourself to a track and doing a 1 mile warm-up followed by some sort of repeat whether that is 400, 800, 1 mile and then a cool down. This is a terrific way to get faster but I find it unrealistic for trail or road races unless that marathon you are training for is on a track. Changes in the terrain are going to be all over the course that you run so doing speed work in those conditions will enhance your ability to recall those moments during training while you are racing. One of my favorite workouts is an 8 mile run that includes speed work. I start with a 1 mile warm-up where my pace is approximately 2:00/mi slower than the tempo pace I am going to attempt to execute. After that warm-up I head into 3 sets of 3x2:00/2:00 with 0.5 mile recovery. This means that after the first mile warm-up I go for 2:00 at my goal tempo pace, which is 6:45/mi and then 2:00 at a recovery pace. I do this 3 times which will total 10 minutes. Why not 12 minutes? The reason is that last 2:00 recovery is built into the 0.5 mile recovery pace before I do the next set. After 3 sets of this tempo work I cool down until I hit 8 miles. I have a loop that I run that works perfectly for this so I would suggest you have that type of loop and if it is shorter or longer make that adjustment.

Long Runs At Zone 1 / Zone 1.5 At A Consistent Pace

When I say long runs at Z1-Z1.5 I am referring to road runs that are 15-30 miles. My goal on these long runs is to have the fastest mile and the average pace per mile is within 10 to 15 seconds of each other. I do not want to go out and set records at the beginning and then bonk toward the end. I want to run efficient and effortless for the entire time and when I am done to look at the Strava app to see that the Heart Rate graph and Speed graph are flat regardless of change in terrain. This is a mindset and one that takes time to train but once you are able to conquer this thought process you can run 'forever' and being able to run for long periods of time allows you to teach your body to use fat for fuel and that means carrying less fuel which means that you have less weight on you and eventually you will run faster.

My Evidence That This Is Working

Here is the same loop from January 2014 in comparison to January 2015. You may say that the paces are the same but take a look at the suffer score from Strava. These runs were about a year apart at approximately the same time of the day and yet the suffer score is practically 50% less and that translates to having the run take place in Zone 1 versus Zone 2.5+. Being able to run the same pace with less effort will lead to faster times as I do not burn through glycogen as quickly.

running slower - run faster - training January 2015 - Suffer Score 37running slower - run faster - trainingJanuary 2014 - Suffer Score Of 70

 

On New Year's Day I ran a 20k at a pace of 7:31/mile with over 700 feet of elevation gain and my HR never entered into Zone 4. Approximately 50% was in Zone 2 and the other 50% in Zone 3 which is more evidence that running slower I have improved my running efficiency which has led to faster times for me.

Are You A Believer In Running Slower To Get Faster?

TAGS: speed , run , train , trail , ultra
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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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