In the last few weeks I have been approached by friends concerned (and mocking) me with some of my weekly run stats posted on Strava. Not because I’m hitting new Course Records, but because they see that the majority of my runs are really “slow”. We all know that speed is relative, but they are correct. Depending on the training cycle I tend to do a bulk of my miles at relatively slower pace, and low heart-rate. These “Easy Run Days” are just that, a time to get out and forget about the splits and just enjoy running at a comfortable pace. Typically, I place these type of easy workout days after a day of intense training as it helps with recovery, “active recovery” would be the best way to look at it. These easy days also build endurance and are by no means “junk” miles. So, how should you structure your Easy Run Days to get the most benefit? Glad you asked.
As with every run, first start with a warm-up and an easy stretch but be careful not to overdo it. I tend to do most of my runs in the early morning, so some leg swings, lunges and a few skips tends to do the trick to wake my body up. It also gets my heart rate up, blood flowing and warmed up enough to take on the San Francisco crisp morning air.
Depending on the training phase I generally prescribe these runs to be about 2 minutes slower than your race pace. I find it allows most runners to still maintain their form and provide the recovery benefits we are looking to achieve. At first you may have to work on slowing yourself down to maintain your target heart rate, the goal is to be relaxed and to maintain a comfortable pace. These runs are structured to build endurance, strength and at times simulate the fatigue placed on the body during long distance training.
When appropriate and typically on longer easy runs include a few strides towards the end of your run or better yet some hill repeats. These accelerations should last a few seconds at 5k speed, with equal recovery between each set. Putting this demand on tired legs helps you build efficiency, strength and will mentally prepare you for when you are tired and need to dig deep.
It goes without saying that you should stretch after every run. This is especially true as you get older and need to keep your muscles and tendons from getting too tight. Post run stretches should be held a bit longer and concentrated on your weakest muscle group. Also a good time for some focused strength training. I have recently been prescribing my athletes to do some kettlebell workouts post runs. However, it is very important to keep proper mechanics when doing workouts such as Turkish Get-Ups or Double Hand Swings.
As a rule of thumb I like to follow the 80/20 rule; 80% of your workouts at an easy effort and 20% at an intense effort. If you are a self trained athlete make sure your plans incorporate a healthy balance in prevent injury. So, following those simple guidelines will not only help justify your Strava performance to your friends, but also keep you running strong.