Running can be the most difficult thing imaginable when you begin for the first time. As you get into better and better shape, though, running becomes easier. And as running becomes easier, you pick up your average pace and begin running faster. The problem, though, is that sometimes you want to slow down and run at a more moderate pace for your easy runs, but you have trouble sticking to that slower pace. This can cause a plethora of problems, but there are a few strategies that you can use to combat the subconscious itch to run faster than a workout calls for.
Running too quickly does not mean that you intend to run fast; it just kind of happens. Eventually, running at a moderate pace becomes more difficult than picking that pace up. What happens to be a fast pace is different from person to person and even from workout to workout, and picking up the pace when you are supposed to be running easy can quietly sabotage your workout schedule.
–The Risks of Never Running Easy–
If you do not make a conscious effort to slow down on your recovery or other easy runs, then you are going to have problems.
- You will not be well rested for your next speed session or race.
- You will increase your risk of injury.
- You will increase your risk of burning out.
- You will suffer from a state of perpetual exhaustion.
–How I Discovered That I Never Ran Easy–
The first time that I consciously recognized that I was running too fast on my easy runs was in the Summer of 2000.
I was running a half marathon in Connecticut, and a couple of miles into the race I started to get sort of dizzy. It was more of a sense of vertigo than real dizziness, but my balance was thrown way off and I was afraid that I was suffering from heat exhaustion. The sensation lasted for about 5 or 6 minutes and then went away.
I did not want to risk going to the hospital, but I seemed all right once my balance returned. I decided to run the rest of the race easy and be sure to grab a couple of cups of water at each water stop. The race was a lot of fun, and I chatted with the folks I was running near as I jogged my way through it.
Towards the end of the course, you begin doubling back on the first few miles. As I came to the same part of the road where I had had problems at the beginning I began to feel the same sensations of wooziness and an inability to hold myself upright. I began weaving back and forth across the road uncontrollably. I took this as a good sign, because it meant that my issues were not heat related but environmental.
As soon as I got past where the problems had first started, they went away and I knew that it was safe for me to sprint the last mile of the race in to the finish. I got quite a few dirty looks from the people that passed my seemingly inebriated self mere minutes before as I sprinted past them to finish the race.
So how did I realize that my easy runs were too fast? This race had been at my Sunday Run pace when I was training with my team in college, when we normally went for 15 to 18 miles. Our schedule always called for a race on Saturday and a long run on Sunday, which was supposed to be at a relatively easy pace. When I looked at my finishing time for the half marathon, I saw that my relatively easy pace was at 6:47/mile.
If I was running my easy runs at that pace, then I was not giving my body a chance to recover. With an average of 12 running workouts per week when I was in season, that could prove catastrophic. (In fact, it did, as the next Autumn I got a stress fracture in one leg and tendinitis in the other.) I needed to slow myself down.
–How to Slow Yourself Down–
It took me a few years to find reliable ways of slowing myself down. I know how important it is to run at the correct pace for the workout, so I often employ different strategies depending upon my circumstances to make sure that I hold to that correct pace on my recovery runs. What works for me may not work for you, though, so you will need to experiment. Here are a few things that you can try:
- Run by feel. This does not usually work for me, since my mind might wander and I might accidentally pick up the pace. Even though the pace might feel easy, my body may not realize what I am trying to accomplish and might betray me. For some people, though, running by feel will be all that they need to do to keep themselves at the right pace.
- Find a running partner. If you can find a running partner that runs at the pace that you need, then you are all set. Just run with that person and try not to force them to run too fast. If you are conversational, then you will tend to slow down so that you can have enough breath to keep talking.
- Sing out loud. You can sing when you are running with somebody or when you are by yourself, but I guarantee that if you are running too fast and trying to sing at the same time, it will be very readily apparent when you are running too fast! I’ll warn you that you may get some strange looks, especially if you are singing while you run alone. If you are in a race, you may also annoy the people around you. (Why are you trying to run easy in a race?)
- Breathe through your nose. I have a breathing exercise that I do on easy runs that helps me to run a little slower when I am running alone and I do not feel like calling attention to myself by singing out loud. I will breathe in through my nose for 4 or 5 steps (2 left, 2 right) and will then exhale through my mouth for 4 or 5 steps. You are unable to bring as much air into your lungs when you breathe through your nose, so you begin having trouble breathing when you go too fast.
Breathing in and breathing out through my nose does not work very well for me when I am running, although you may want to experiment with it. It tends to lead to my having to sneeze when I try that, which is why I breathe out through my mouth. As a side benefit, this is a great way to protect your lungs (a little) when you are running with traffic, because your nose filters the fumes in the air somewhat rather than providing a nice straight path that the fumes get when you breathe in through your mouth and are gulping air from a fast pace.
- Calculate your pace. If you are running with a wrist watch over a measured distance, you can calculate what your pace is and adjust your speed accordingly. Just be aware that trying to do the math in your head might be distracting, so be careful that you don’t pick up the pace and try to be aware of any traffic nearby. An easier way to calculate your pace is to use a footpod or GPS device that can calculate your pace for you. The numbers may not be 100% accurate, but they will be close enough and can be pretty close to real-time.
- Check your pulse. Your heart rate can be a great determiner of how hard you are running. If you are running at 90% of your max heart rate and you want to be running at 60%, then you know that you are running too fast. The beauty of this method is that it takes environmental factors such as hills and weather into account, as well as how recovered you are from previous workouts, so you can truly run at an easy pace no matter how fast that happens to be.
You can calculate a very rough heart rate by finding an artery and counting the beats for 6 seconds and multiplying by 10, but it is better to count for at 30 seconds and multiplying by 2 or just count for a full minute. You may need to stop to get an accurate count, though. An easier way is to wear a heart rate monitor and then just glance at your wrist to see if you need to slow down. If you get a fancy one, you can even make it beep at you when it is time to slow down.
The next time that you have an easy day on your schedule, try one (or more) of these strategies to make sure that you run at a moderate pace that is going to allow you to recover from previous workouts and be ready for your future workouts.
Blaine Moore has been running since the early nineties, and regularly competes in distances between the 5k and the 50k. To sign up for Blaine’s Running Tips Newsletter, visit http://www.RunToWin.com or http://www.Marathoning.org
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