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I want to get faster, so why do I need to run slower?

The most common challenge I have with runners that I start to work with as a coach is encouraging them to SLOW DOWN.


There’s something about the way we learn to run - whether it’s in the play ground as kids, the dreaded XC at school, or even the friendly competition we find at running clubs.


But we all seem to have it drilled in to us that faster is always better.


And that’s simply not the case. The key to successful run training, and yes, training aimed to make us faster, is to SLOW DOWN.


Firstly, running slower in and of itself is hugely beneficial


And secondly, by running slower more of the time we can run faster when we do train hard



There are lots of theories, models and research to support this, including the popular book 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald which I can highly recommend. And Adharanand Finn talks about the benefits of training like this in his fab book Running with the Kenyans.


But the premise is always the same, to become well-rounded and well-trained runners we need to work in all of our ‘zones’ (more on this in a bit) and the majority of our time in the lower, or easier zones.


And that's because by running easier for the majority of our training week we benefit from:

  • Improved aerobic fitness so that we can run better for longer

  • The rest and recovery we need to train harder for the remaining sessions

  • Stronger running bodies by developing of our musculoskeletal system

  • Opportunity to really focus on our running form and breathing


Okay so what are these zones all about?


When we refer to “zones” we are talking about the level of intensity of our training, or how hard we are working.


So many of us spend all of our time running in the same zone, and this usually that mid-zone where we're not running easy and not really pushing either.


The key, like most things in life, is to bring variety to our running with each zone being worked within your weekly training.


Often this level of intensity is measured as a percentage or our maximum heart-rate, but can also be defined by our Relative Perceived Effort (RPE) – that’s a score out of ten for how hard it feels. Or to make it even simpler how much we are able to talk when we’re running.


The table below for a rough guide for these three different measures.

In an ideal world we would aim for 80% of our running to be easy - that means training intensity of zones 1 to 3.


And only 20% to be hard - that means zones 4-5.


Whilst the exact mix across the zones will vary depending on where you are as an individual and the event you’re training for, this is a reasonably consistent split.


One research study in 2007 showed that club runners following this 80/20 split improved their 10km race pace by 30% more than those following a 65/35 split over a period of a five months.


What we need to avoid at all costs is just doing the same thing all the time; going out for the same distance at the same pace along the same route. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over-and-over again and expecting different results!


If you think you might be one of these runners stuck in a rut, try mixing it up a bit and slowing down for more of your runs. The running that little bit harder for one of your runs each week.


It's not as easy as it sounds, and will almost certainly take practice to keep your pace down.


It will probably feel so easy at first that you don't think you are getting any benefit from it, but trust me you will.


Three tips to help with your slower runs if they're feeling tough are:


  1. Think about your stride and cadence - you'll need to shorten your stride &/or slow down your cadence as you slow down or risk over-striding

  2. Think about your breathing - you'll be used to taking a breath every x number of steps, but when you slow down you'll need to change this rhythm

  3. Run with a slower friend -not only will this help you keep the pace down, but having a good old natter will soon let you know if you're spending up too much


Have fun, and I promise you’ll end up faster as a result!

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