I used to be one of those runners who always ran the same pace. If I couldn’t do a longer run at the pace I could do for a 2-mile run, then I viewed myself as not ready for longer distances yet. I only allowed myself to run a max of 3 days per week because I couldn’t hold the same pace for more than that, as I was exhausted (and my pace used to be a lot slower than it is today). Training for a race became an exercise in willpower, and I would always take time off of running after the race either due to injury or burnout or both. I loved the feeling I got from running, but I didn’t actually enjoy running because other than mileage or location, there was no variety.
Once I discovered strength training, I was more excited about my exercise plan for the week, but I still had the drag of running at the same pace every run, and the disappointment when I didn’t meet that pace. I thought I should add speedwork, but I was unsure about how to do it. What pace do I hold for a 400? How do I track meters when not on a track?
I started adding speedwork on a treadmill last winter, and I was astonished at how much I LOVED it! The variety of paces gave me just what I was looking for in a running program. I looked forward to the 1-2 days each week where I purposefully changed up my pace. It kept me interested and I saw the results (combined with my new strength from lifting weights) in the races I ran that spring. However, I knew something was still missing.
I injured my Achilles tendon while adding in all that speedwork last winter, and I dropped off of doing my physical therapy for it after it started feeling better (a BIG NO-NO, FYI). Then it resurfaced and sidelined me for a few weeks. Honestly, I was relieved not to be running for a while. While I loved the variety speedwork added to my routine, sometimes running fast was a big stress. Sometimes I just wanted to go for a run to relax and not worry about the time.
While recovering (smartly, the 2nd time around), I went on a few runs with other runners at a pace where I could talk comfortably. My goal on these runs was to get to know the other women and just feel good at the end of it. There was no pressure to do specific mileage or specific paces. Just like the instant love I found for speedwork, I was hooked on this concept of running for pure enjoyment.
While I knew that if I wanted to train seriously for the half marathon I would have to add speedwork and set paces for long runs back into my routine, I didn’t want to give up the pure joy I got from running slower, either. I needed balance, for I knew I didn’t get enjoyment just from running slower, but rather the variety and relief it brought from the speedwork.
There is a lot of research to support the importance of running slower, mainly how doing so improves your aerobic system, which allows you to resist fatiguing early. Check out some articles here and here for more details. Personally, running slower for me has had so many mental benefits, too, while allowing me to run more often without feeling beat up and disinterested. Slow runs are considered “recovery” runs for a reason.
Keep in mind, however, “slower” is relative. You should have an idea of your pacing and how it should vary based on what kind of run you’re doing that day. You can base your paces on your ability to talk, or if you’re running on your own and you don’t want to be seen talking to yourself, do a little math ahead of time. (You should probably have at least 1 5k under your belt to get a good sense of pacing, but you can just time yourself for 3.1 miles and take the average.) Here’s a formula I like to use, borrowed from Nike’s training plans:
On speedy days, run a mix of:
- your 5k time
- your mile time (subtract about 40 seconds from your 5k time)
- and your 10k time (add about 20 seconds to your 5k time).
- Your 5k time was 30 minutes, or an average pace of 9:40 min/mile
- Your mile time would be about 9:00 min/mile
- Your 10k time would be about 10 min/mile
For your recovery days, you want to run about 2 minutes slower than your 5k pace.
- So with the above example, that would be about 11:40 min/mile
See the difference? If you’re feeling the burnout from always running the same pace, try adding in some variety using this formula. For a more detailed plan tailored to your specific goals, message me [email protected] .