It sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Why would running slower make you quicker?
It’s true though, and the long slow run is a staple of elite runners of all distances. Whilst the elites may have a slow pace that’s faster than any PB pace you’ve run, they are still running slower than usual.
Whilst there’s no set pace that you should run your slower (ignore the negative connotations of “slow”!) runs at, it’s often referred to as a conversational, or recovery pace. You should be able to hold a full conversation, speaking in full sentences without getting out breath or needing to walk.
You’re probably wondering how going slower can help though.
As you do more runs at this effort level, or pace, your body will begin to learn to use fat rather than glycogen to fuel itself, in a process referred to as the “fat adaptation effect”. A fast run burns glycogen stores first, as this is converted to energy much easier. It’s also why you find that you hit the wall during an endurance event, as you only have limited glycogen reserves. Over time, as your body adapts to slower runs, your body begins to burn fat, as it doesn’t need to meet your energy demands quite as quickly. It takes roughly 80% of the energy needs from fat, with the remaining 20% from glycogen and protein.
Metabolising fat requires oxygen, which, if you’re running slower, is present in your bloodstream in much larger quantities than if you’re striding for a PB. Over time, this fat metabolism will happen quicker, and you’ll be able to run further on your fat reserves, before dipping into the glycogen stores in your muscles.
Slower running is also a lot kinder to your tendons, ligaments, and connecting tissues, allowing them to build up a tolerance to the stresses that faster, harder efforts place on them, helping to reduce your risk of injury. It also allows your body to strengthen the supporting systems that help you to run, like your lungs and your heart. Building capillaries in your muscles also happens when going slower too, helping to increase their oxygen uptake.
A slower run is also a good way to let your body recover after a tough workout session. It’s never a good plan to run two interval or speed workouts on consecutive days, but you could run a super relaxed recovery run on the day in-between them, to help your body recover.
You can’t really over-do the amount of slow running either. It doesn’t add stress to your body, and it’s a great way of building your base mileage. An often quoted figure is that 80% of your weekly mileage should be at a slow pace, so if you’re averaging 30 miles a week, that’s 24 miles at an easy effort!
Running slow has also got great mental benefits too – you will take in more of your surroundings, and enjoy your time in the great outdoors. And if you’re running with a friend, it’ll give you a great chance to have a chat and a catch-up!