Easy running might seem pointless. How can you get faster if you don’t actually run faster? The truth is you can’t. To improve speed, running economy and endurance you do have to run faster than you are comfortable. But you don’t have to do it all the time, nor do you want to. A balance between hard and easy workouts is the best way to build fitness without risking injury or burnout. The purpose of easy running is to build a foundation. Building this foundation is how your body adjusts to the stresses of road running over time and will ultimately lead to improved race times and a lower risk of injury.
Easy running will help you earn stronger bones, tougher joints, improved running economy, develop slow twitch, fat burning muscles and increased aerobic capacity without beating yourself up. You need fast days to work on turnover, mitochondria and VO2max but easy running days are not necessarily ‘junk miles’ because you’re still working towards a goal. As long as each run has a purpose your time and effort is never wasted.
That’s because going as fast as you can all the time is asking for trouble. Your body has to take care of itself after hard workouts. It has to repair damaged muscle, expand blood vessels and learn to process more oxygen. An easy workout helps clear out waste from muscles, improve circulation and might actually help speed muscle recovery. If you push all the time, those processes never get to finish their jobs and you’re inviting over training and burnout. Alternating hard and easy running workouts gives your body a chance to make all of the positive performance enhancing adaptations it can.
The most important thing is to make sure your easy running is just that. Easy. Aim to be at least one minute slower than your goal race pace for the duration of an easy workout. As your fitness level increases it can become hard to slow the pace down. Keep the goal of each workout in mind when you’re out there feeling like you’re not accomplishing anything. Your body has to have time to adapt to training stimuli so you can ultimately increase your performance level.