After writing last time about slow running for those just getting into the habit, I was interested to see a recent column, The Art of the Easy Shuffle, by David Roche. For those who do not know Roche, you should check out his work in the print or on-line editions of Trail Runner magazine, where he combines knowledgeable analysis of the most-current medical studies with his real-world experience coaching athletes of all levels. You can also find his coaching service, Some Work, All Play at https://swaprunning.com/.
Anyway, in that recent column, Roche was recommending that experienced runners incorporate a significant amount of slow running in their training plans. Even for the most hard-core, Roche pointed out, slow running is a way to build total volume (geek speak for ‘miles per week’) with less risk of damage to the body. Aerobic fitness (the body’s ability to draw oxygen out of the atmosphere and get it to the muscles to fuel their work) is another proven benefit, with studies showing that the maximum potential to increase that fitness comes from lots of aerobic exercise (at or below the level sustainable for an hour or more, i.e., low to moderate effort) not from the more intense anaerobic exercise (output above that level, i.e, running hard, and thus fast).
Great technical knowledge and great for the hard core, but a recent run reminded me of an altogether simpler reason for running slow – it can make you hungry to run fast again!
Pounding out a 10-mile mid-week run was decently satisfying, and there was plenty to pay attention to – checking the heart rate to make sure it was still averaging below 140, self-correcting stride to avoid heel strike, pulling the head back to keep eyes up and neck tall, taking time to see the sights – but as the GPS read off eight miles and then approached nine, it felt a bit like medicine to be choked down. What a relief then, to crank the dial up a couple of notches at the start of that final mile, a little more when GPs showed just a half to go, and all the way to 11 (for all you Spinal Tap fans out there) for the final quarter. Yeah! – that felt great, and because the first 90% of the run had been moderate, it felt downright easy. There was no pain, no worry about damage, and very little fatigue. Best of both worlds, you might call it.
So; try slowing down for a good part of your regular running (maybe as much as 60 of weekly ‘volume’). But if you’re feeling well and healthy when you get to the final ten percent of a run, allow yourself the pleasure of really blasting it. Feel the air moving past you faster and faster, experience the world narrowing down to just you and the pavement (or dirt if you’re that kind of bear). Maybe get your body forward a bit; more on the toes, less on the heels. Consciously lengthen each stride at the same time you push-off harder to fit more strides into each minute. You’re well-warmed up by now, all systems operating at capacity, so put everything you’ve got onto the ground as you approach the day’s target distance – whatever that is for you – and remind yourself of the simple joy of being alive and active in the physical world.
Running slow is fun, running fast is funner. Running both is funnest.
See you out there – from a safe distance!