Go Slow to Get Fast

Go Slow to Get Fast

Lisa Jhung
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
November 27, 2023

You might think that workouts where you’re not in pain or gasping for air don’t do anything for you. Or worse, that those types of workouts don’t“ count.” The truth is that runs and run-walks done at an easy to moderate pace or effort do more for you—even more for your overall pace—than pushing hard every run. In fact, the majority of your runs or run/walks should be done at a pace or effort that feels easy.

Sure, every run or run/walk might feel hard when you’re first starting out. But once you get into a rhythm and your body—your muscles and your cardiovascular system combined—gets more used to the motion of running, you’ll be fit enough to know what feels like a hard workout and an easier one.

Cruising Speed

If you google the term “cruising speed,” you’ll get this definition: “a speed for a particular vehicle, ship, or aircraft, usually somewhat below maximum, that is comfortable and economical.”

“Economical” is the key word here. There’s a reason airplanes and ships stay at cruising speed for the majority of time it takes them to complete their voyages. It’s the most economical way to travel; they don’t run out of gas. Consider your body as a “particular vehicle. ”Maintaining cruising speed will keep gas in your tank, not only for the totality of your run, but throughout your whole week.

How do you know what “cruising speed” feels like?

Do what’s known as the “talk test.”

While you’re running, are you able to talk/hold a conversation with a running buddy? If so, you’re in cruising speed. If you’re gasping for air between ever word, slow down. Focus on relaxing into your running motion and try to control your breathing. Try the talk test again, and continue slowing down and controlling your breathing (by taking slower breaths) until you can talk and run at the same time.

You don’t need to be able to recite a whole monologue, but being able to say something like, “Isn’t it so nice to be out here running?” without gasping between words is a good goal.

The Science

It might be counter-intuitive, but to get faster and fitter, you’re better off spending about 80% of your runs and run-walks at an easy pace/effort and only roughly 20% of your workout times at a harder pace/effort.

On a scientific level, there’s a known “80/20” rule that veteran running coach and author Matt Fitzgerald wrote a book about and has been quoted on the topic many times. His “80/20 Running” book is geared toward distance runners looking to lower half-marathon and marathon race times, but there are some good takeaways for runners of all levels, even completely new runners.

The basis of “80/20”running is that 80 percent of your running should be done at an easy pace, and only 20 percent of your running should feel hard. In a semi-recent article, Fitzgerald wrote about how the 80/20 method had been proven to work for runner who run30 miles per week (not 80 or 90 or more). He acknowledges that more studies should be done on runners who run less than 30 miles per week, but the takeaways that slower running—for everyone—produces faster running.

For new runners following a None to Run program, that means that if you’re running or run/walking three times a week, only one portion of one of those runs should be done at a taxing pace. Again, if you’re just starting out, every run may feel taxing. But once you get to a place in your fitness—perhaps around Week 8 or 9 in your program—you can start to either ramp up your pace or a portion of one of your three weekly runs, or slow down so that most of your runs feel relatively easy.

Legendary running coach, Arthur Lydiard, who’s known as the father of distance running, was also a huge proponent of “easy” miles. He liked to use the graphic of a pyramid and on building a wide base over weeks of slow running in order to then sharpen byrunning at higher intensity in order to produce results. By this method, he coached numerous Olympians to success.

The Mental Side

All that science-y stuff about how to get faster might bore some people. In all honesty, I’ve been running for decades and love to race and push myself but am more drawn to how running makes me feel on an emotional level.

Running hard all the time is both physically and mentally draining. It can make you feel depleted, spent, and then frustrated because you feel depleted and spent. Running at a pace that feels comfortable both helps you recover physically from that run, and mentally. And when you feel good following a run, you’re more likely to look forward to—rather than dread—your next run.

Finding your comfortable pace is key to sustainable running and becoming a lifelong runner. And finding your time of day, environment, and company (or no company) that works specifically for you is also key to sustainable running. All of those factors work together to help you enjoy your newfound hobby: running!

Even if you’re on Week 1 of the None to Run training plan, focus on getting into a zone where you can cruise and enjoy the movement.


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