First off, running fast is stressful for the body. That’s what makes the body get stronger, but you need periods of recovery between the stressful sessions. Fast running puts strain on our joints, ligaments, bones and muscles, resulting in micro-tears in the muscle fibres.
Training involving only fast running would lead to burnout and most likely injury. Slower running acts a form of active recovery. A gentle amount of pressure involving less wear and tear encourages the body to recover and yet maintains your fitness levels at the same time.
How slow is slow?
It’s all relative: your “slow” pace should be relative to you and your normal speeds. If you use a heart rate monitor, your heart rate should be around 75 per cent (approximately somewhere between 110 and 140 beats per minute). If you don’t use one, don’t worry, just run at an easy, conversational pace. Your effort should feel like a 6 out of 10. Aim for 1-2 minutes slower than race pace.
Get stronger by going slower
Slower running allows you to strengthen the muscles in your feet, legs, torso and arms without putting too much strain on them. Your joints, bones and tendons will also get stronger as they adapt to the stress of running.
And finally, your respiratory, muscular and cardio systems will become more powerful and your body will become more efficient at storing glycogen and maximising oxygen use. Click here for more on strength training for runners.
Burn fat as fuel
Running at a slower pace means that your body tends to rely more on using stored fat as fuel rather than carbohydrates stored as glycogen. As well as being good for weight loss, this allows you to conserve glycogen stores thus avoiding hitting the dreaded “wall”, and feeling like you can’t go on. Click here for more on the perils of following a low-fat diet.
Building a solid base
Many runners are guilty of racing out of the door and pushing as hard as they can on every run, in order to get the most out of their training. However, it’s important to build a solid base of slow time on your feet. Tempo and speed work are important tools but they should be building blocks that sit upon the solid foundations of your long, slow runs.
Beginners in particular tend to try to run too fast. In order to be able to run fast, you need to learn to run slowly first. It’s important to get used to running at a comfortable pace, your legs just ticking over.
Slow running is also good for your mental strength. The idea of running for a several hours at a time in order to get round a half marathon or marathon can be daunting for first-timers. By training yourself to be comfortable running slowly for longer periods you can also train your brain to overcome all the sneaky ways it tries to get you to stop running.
Mental toughness is one of the most important aspects of racing any distance and longer slow runs are the perfect opportunity to strengthen your mind and practise banishing any negative thoughts.
Forget the pace and just enjoy it
It may be tempting to push yourself faster on your easy runs. Leave your watch at home, tune into your surroundings and remember to actually enjoy your run. Take the time to have a good catch up with a running buddy, chat to your mum or your best friend on the phone – you can use this as quality time in more than one way!