“Make your easy days easy and your hard days hard.”
If you’ve been around the running community for a bit, you’ve probably heard this phrase before. But over the years, some have argued that it’s possible to run too easy, whereas others think that all miles have a purpose.
Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner, a trail enthusiast, or a casual jogger, understanding the significance of keeping your easy days easy and your hard days hard can revolutionize your training approach. It’s easy to fall into the trap of pushing yourself relentlessly, but finding the right balance is crucial for long-term success and injury prevention.
With that said, here’s what Coach Sage thinks about the concept of “junk miles” and the best way to approach training in general:
“I realize we’ve covered a variety of training approaches and running workouts over the course of our newsletter.
Why Easy Runs Are Essential 🙌
But today I wanted to specifically focus on easy day pace and easy running, because it truly is at the core of becoming a stronger runner.
Usually, we refer to easy days as days when you aim to cover mileage or spend time on your feet, essentially recovering from more demanding sessions like long runs, workouts, or races. For instance, an interval session on a track where you push the pace with speed work, or a tempo run that increases intensity. On average, about 80% of my weekly mileage is at an easy aerobic pace, often referred to as zone one or zone two.
The general rule of thumb is being able to carry on a conversation comfortably without experiencing significant pain or excessive breathlessness. The easy pace may vary depending on the day, whether you have two consecutive easy days or a day off preceding an easy day. Usually, it involves shorter and more relaxed runs with minimal elevation gain.
Personal Experience ✅
In my case, my goal pace for marathons usually sits around five minutes and 18 seconds per mile or three minutes and 17 seconds per kilometer.
For my easy days, however, I’m averaging around seven minutes and 30 seconds per mile or four minutes and 24 seconds per kilometer, give or take 30 seconds or a minute per kilometer slower than my marathon race pace. It could also be one and a half to two minutes per mile slower, depending on the terrain. Nevertheless, the emphasis remains on maintaining a conversation-friendly, relaxed pace to accumulate mileage.
Contrary to the notion of junk miles, I firmly believe that easy aerobic training provides significant benefits. It stimulates blood flow to the muscles, facilitates fat burning after 30 minutes, and triggers aerobic adaptations. This type of training operates at approximately 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. However, it’s important to note that running at an easy pace doesn’t equate to inefficient or worthless training. In fact, it allows for gradual mileage increase, reduces the risk of overtraining and injury, and promotes the strengthening of muscles and tendons.
Is TOO SLOW Even a Thing? 🧐
The question often arises: Can you go too slow on easy days, leading to meaningless mileage? The simple answer is no. Easy-paced training yields superior aerobic benefits and substantial gains compared to intense workout days. The key lies in balancing these easy-paced runs with consistent higher mileage. The focus should be on gradually building duration, aiming for 40 to 60 minutes of continuous running, where immense progress can be observed.
However, if you find yourself exhausted, limping due to soreness or injury, it’s advisable to opt for cross-training activities such as biking, swimming, or taking a complete rest day. It’s not worth risking injury for the sake of slow-paced running. Remember, easy days are meant for recovery and adaptation.
While prioritizing easy-paced runs, it’s equally important to reserve your hard efforts for specific workouts such as tempo runs or interval track sessions. Tempo runs typically involve a sustained effort for around 20 minutes, where carrying on a conversation becomes challenging due to higher heart rates. Likewise, hard interval track workouts push you to your limits, with limited speech capacity and intense effort. These demanding sessions should be sparingly incorporated into your training routine as you gradually increase your mileage.
Takeaways for Your Own Training ⚡️
When starting a training program, it’s recommended to focus predominantly on easy-paced runs, constituting around 90% of your weekly mileage. The pace variation may range from 30 seconds per kilometer to 40 seconds per mile, depending on the day and other factors.
The key aspect is being able to maintain a conversation while absorbing the training stimulus, consistently spending time on your feet, and achieving consistent mileage. Maintaining good form during easy runs is crucial, even if the pace is slower. Focus on shorter strides and aim for a stride rate of at least 165 to 170 steps per minute, while keeping your running form relaxed, light, and upright.
To reiterate, it’s essential to respect the principle of keeping your easy days easy. Prioritize recovery and injury prevention, particularly during the initial stages of mileage buildup or when recuperating from intense training sessions. On the other hand, don’t feel compelled to push hard every day. Reserve your intense efforts for specific workouts that target pace and intensity. Remember, the ultimate goal is to strike a balance between easy and hard days, allowing for effective adaptation, consistent mileage, and gradual improvement.”
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