What is the biggest mistake that new runners make when trying to improve their times or train for a major race?
Time and time again the answer is: going too fast, for too long.
It’s easy to get swept away by the temptation to improve a Personal Best, or to hammer out impressive looking times on Strava. But pace for the sake of pace is a futile game. Our bodies need time to recover.
It’s simply not true that running fast every day will get you to the next level.
Many recent studies highlight that over-training by consistently running fast to push to the next level is dangerous and ineffective. As many coaches, trainers, and scientists are discovering, constant higher speeds may be detrimental. Easy running may be the solution.
Below, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about easy running and how to incorporate it correctly into your training plan. Once you discover the power of easy running and “easy mileage”, your views on effective training will change for the better.
- What Is Easy Running?
- Why Do Easy Runs and Easy Miles?
- What Pace Is Easy Running?
- How to Run at an Easy Pace
- What Is a Good Easy Run Pace?
- What’s the Right Easy Running Pace for You?
- 6 Benefits of Easy Running
- Does Easy Running Help You Run Faster?
- How Often Should You Do Easy Runs?
- How Long Does it Take for an Easy Pace to Get Faster?
- 5 Tips for Easy Running
What Is Easy Running?
Easy running is a catch-all term for running that places less strain and stress on your body, mainly by reducing the speed of your runs. But also by reducing the duration and overall intensity.
Easy running is becoming an increasingly popular method for runners who want better results. And more importantly: sustainable results.
Easy running doesn’t just mean slowing down; we need to closely pay attention to our bodies and the signals it gives off. If you constantly push yourself, you’re not achieving an easy run.
An easy running style taps into different muscle tissues than those used to run at faster speeds. By maintaining a slower pace, your body begins using slow-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers are composed of mitochondria and capillaries, both with higher densities, as well as aerobic enzymes.
Running at slower speeds uses slow-twitch muscle fibers, which promote better blood flow and the return of capillaries and mitochondria. Improving these systems is the key to intensifying your running capabilities, rather than only focusing on more intense sessions.
Why Do Easy Runs and Easy Miles?
For one: running shouldn’t feel like torture!
Easy running assists your body in strengthening vital bodily functions necessary for runners. You experience an increase in your cardiovascular development, as well as muscular-structural improvements. By implementing this style of running, any runner can benefit by gradually working toward advancing their training by branching into different goals and routines.
Implementing this slower-paced running benefits less-experienced runners and veterans, who can support their more rigorous, intensive workouts by maintaining and balancing their running routine.
Much like interval training, your body requires the less-intensive routine to boost the more-intensive routine.
Where easy running differs from interval training is that, with easy running, your body greatly benefits from a steady, manageable pace. In contrast, interval training increases your heart rate, then lowers it to reap the benefits of increasing it again. That makes easy running a valuable workout routine for all runners alike.
Considering that most runners believe running at a faster pace is the ideal method to improve their pace and will treat their rest days with much chagrin, those runners are likely unaware of how detrimental that method truly is. An optimal routine should focus more on a slower pace, while higher-intensity runs are done sparingly.
While recovering from an intense workout, we experience gradual adjustments to all affected areas, muscle growth, respiratory improvement, etc. These adjustments occur with varying durations and can cause increasing damage if habitually strained before the recovery has been completed.
Adding more days focused on easy running increases the recovery time for the rarer higher intensity workouts. This distribution equates to a healthier body more equipped with the potential to outperform other runners who continually push their bodies to the extreme daily.
What Pace Is Easy Running?
To answer this is where easy running starts to become less easy as there is a fine line that accurately constitutes the method. The two factors determining easy running are the pace you maintain and the duration of your workout.
We should fight the urge to push our bodies to their limitations while on easy runs. During the run, we should strive to maintain a low-intensity workout that balances a relaxed, comfortable pace with smooth breathing.
By maintaining a balanced pace, you should focus on the duration of the run rather than the distance. When we make it our mission to run a certain distance, we are more likely to reach a level of exhaustion that is counter-productive.
The goal of an easy run is to maintain an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) of 4 or 5.
The RPE scale goes from 1-10, so we’re essentially saying: less than half-effort.
This can feel different from one day to another, which impacts the speed we run at. So, rather than setting a workout goal of running 4 miles but feeling miserable from halfway through, set a time goal. This can be anything from 25 to 60 minutes and should have no distance associated.
Rather than setting goals for ourselves that push our bodies too strenuously, we should focus on setting a duration that relies more on reaching a level of moderate effort.
It is far more valuable to pay closer attention to our bodies to help determine our natural RPE points.
Remember that easy runs should be easy the entire duration, so if you start to fatigue, you’ve gone too far. It might be difficult to find a balance at first as you might feel you’re maintaining a more comfortable pace. Still, if you continue running for too long, the intensity of your run will naturally increase, no longer staying within the confines of an easy run.
This concept is not to say you shouldn’t challenge yourself or that you should slowly run along even terrain at all times. You can still enjoy an uphill climb or a natural footpath, but pace and duration should be at the forefront of all decisions of when to reach a natural, comfortable end to your run.
Many runners’ main concern is maintaining their form as they slow their pace. Much like balancing pace and duration, we recommend you find a comfortable balance between your easy pace and maintaining proper form.
While trying to improve themselves in all areas of running, less-seasoned runners may notice that finding this balance is especially challenging.
Rest assured that seasoned runners experienced the same difficulties at lower levels in their training. Making the necessary adjustments to elevate their progress takes time and effort, just like it does for you. Everyone has to start somewhere!
How to Run at an Easy Pace
Most runners are hardwired to maintain a pace that is far too fast to be considered easy running, and adjusting this pace can prove an uphill struggle. Fighting the urge to return to a pace you have become acclimated to must be at the front of your mind while beginning this new method of running.
Although a slower pace goes against much of what you’re used to and nearly everything you’ve learned, this is a crucial step to achieving a lower-intensity run that will allow you to run faster when needed.
One of the issues we have when trying to introduce a new routine that can elevate our performance is relying on our better judgment. Since these are untested waters, it’s difficult to determine whether our effort and intensity is too high or low.
To quell that uncertainty, we recommend using a heart rate monitor to gauge the pace you should maintain. Wearing a heart rate monitor around your chest provides a more accurate reading and can inform you when you’re overdoing it. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, a simple running watch will suffice.
Your easy runs should maintain a heart rate of 60 – 70% of your max heart rate.
After you have acclimated to your newly adjusted pace, we still recommend using the monitor, as paying close attention to your bodily signals is the key to easy running. Taking on new terrain, changes in temperature and humidity, and other variables can greatly affect how you perform under a combination of factors. Easy running is about maintaining a certain heart rate or RPE, not pace, so keep an eye on these.
No matter how much experience and knowledge you have as a runner, it’s best not to risk injury or over-exhaustion for the sake of running at a faster pace.
Most common running injuries are often the symptom of an otherwise larger issue somewhere else in your body, and they can set you back weeks and months.
Once you find the correct easy run range that suits your fitness level, you can begin challenging yourself by altering the intensity and duration so that they remain balanced but can provide the best results. Through easy running, the focus is to go slower to gain the energy necessary to increase the intensity on race day.
What Is a Good Easy Run Pace?
You can use a few parameters to gauge a good, easy-running pace. Below are the main considerations.
Rate of Perceived Effort
The Rate of Perceived Effort relies on a scale from 1 to 10 to determine the effort exerted during any exercise or activity. Also referred to as RPE, this method helps runners and athletes in their training by varying their exercises to maximize their results.
The factors in determining the effort of an exercise are three main components to consider, heart rate, ability to speak, and duration possible to maintain the activity. Depending on the results, the RPE will show how taxing an exercise is on our bodies.
Our heart rates vary based on fitness level, age, and health conditions, but the table below shows the RPE levels and what that equates to for your heart rate and effort level:
|RPE||HR %||Talk Level||Maintain Pace Duration||Ideal Race|
|Very Easy||1 – 2||< 60||Normal||Indefinite||N/A – warm-up|
|Easy||3 – 4||60 – 70||3 – 6 word sentences||2 – 5+ hours||Ultramarathon, marathon|
|Hard||5 – 6||70 – 80||2 – 3 word bursts||30 minutes – 2 hours||10k – half marathon|
|Very Hard||7 – 8||80 – 90||1 – 2 words between gasps||8 – 30 minutes||5k or less|
|Maximum||9 – 10||90 – 100||Hard to say 1 word||5 minutes or less||1 mile|
As you get fitter, you can put in more effort without impacting your heart rate as much. Sticking to the correct RPE or heart rate % based on your workout is important. It keeps you in check that you hold back on easy days and increase the effort for tempo workouts and intervals.
Ability to Speak
To understand what this means, we can best describe two extremes that will help illustrate its importance.
When remaining seated, your speaking ability is unhindered, and you can continue talking for as long as you wish. When running as fast as possible, you lose the ability to speak with fluency, only being able to say 1 or 2 words between breaths.
During your next easy run, try maintaining a pace where your ability to speak remains relatively unhindered, where you can say 3 to 6 words in a go. If you happen to push yourself past this point, it indicates that your effort is higher than recommended. Reduce your pace to an appropriate level.
Heart Rate Monitor
Another factor of the rate of perceived effort scale is your heart rate. This factor goes hand in hand with judging your speaking ability but is not as easy to monitor since this requires a heart rate monitoring device. You can use your GPS running watch, but the heart rate monitor may not be accurate enough.
A heart rate range at each level of the RPE scale can provide the information needed to monitor your body’s response during a run. You can check the associated heart rate range by determining the appropriate effort level by testing your ability to speak while running and the RPE level.
Now that you have your heart rate range, you are best equipped to stay within this range. If you move out of these boundaries, make the proper adjustments.
Studies testing chest strap heart monitors and watches concluded that the heart rate monitor on watches have a margin of error, sometimes as high as 13%. Although this percentage may not seem drastic, this inaccurate data greatly impacts your effort levels.
Chest straps are the most accurate device for data on your heart rate. And with this data in hand, you can see just how intense your run is in real-time. Monitoring your heart rate will give you immediate results that allow you to make quick adjustments.
Reduce Your Pace Prior to Completing Your Run
You have managed to maintain a good pace during your run, and the end is in sight. There are several schools of thought on finishing a good run, but the best for an easy run is to reduce your pace.
The same advice applies to whether you are running based on a particular duration, heart rate, or predetermined distance when training for a particular race, such as a marathon.
As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to slow down when you’re 45 seconds, at the very least, from completing a run. Reducing the pace may feel like overkill, but this small action leads to an improvement in recovery times.
Remember, your body should not be subjected to extremes and requires warm-up and cool-down processes to ease in and out of all forms of exercise, no matter what intensity level.
At first, this may seem unnecessary, but you’ll be surprised how slowing down at the end of a run helps. It signals to your body that your run is done and that it can start the repair process.
What’s the Right Easy Running Pace for You?
There are a variety of considerations to take into account when determining what the right pace is for you. Everyone has different goals, fitness levels, frequency of their runs, weekly average distance, time allocation, and several other personal details, so you may need to factor them in before making this decision.
You can use our training pace calculator to get a rough idea of the pace you could start with.
Much like most exercise strategies and methods, there is no such thing as one size fits all. Since easy running reduces your pace to increase your results, the boundaries and guidelines are there, but what fits you is entirely personalized.
This is where your perceived effort plays a vital role in narrowing down your suggested pace. Unfortunately, as we said, there are many factors that the RPE scale cannot take into account.
The key to finding out what works best for you is to be in tune with your body. Once you adjust your pace and approach to easy running, you will have a clearer picture of how your body reacts.
The more you know about yourself, your body, and the factors contributing to your overall performance, the better suited you will be when navigating unknown waters (or, in this case, running paces).
Even after you have become comfortable with easy running, trying new things while keeping within the boundaries of the running method will help you continue learning about your body’s responses. Making adjustments here and there provides you with more feedback, and that feedback provides you with better results.
6 Benefits of Easy Running
There are dozens of benefits and upsides to doing easy runs, but we’ll limit them to the reasons we find applicable to most runners.
1. Increases Angiogenesis
Easy running has several benefits, one of which is the creation of blood vessels. By increasing the production of new blood vessels, called angiogenesis, your body is improving the rate at which oxygen is carried to your muscles.
As you continue this running method, you will also notice an increased ability to burn off fat. This process is due to your body becoming better equipped to access stored fat and use it to produce energy.
2. Promotes Recovery
As mentioned earlier, the more times in which we allow our bodies to recover from intense runs, the better they can adapt to changes from those exercises. Increasing the number of easy runs per week allows our bodies to respond better.
Your body craves recovery as a means of rebuilding a stronger you. Easy running allows recovery while still flushing out your system.
3. Protects Against Injuries
When you take care of your body and increase the days you are easy running, your body returns the favor by actively maintaining itself. The more you push your body to its limits, the greater the chance of injury.
The time your body spends in recovery is the time your body is being strengthened and conditioned. Your body seeks to repair itself and needs adequate time to recover.
4. Increases Workout Length
The more time you spend training with easy runs, the more your body develops the tools necessary to extend your runs, allowing you to run longer distances or do longer workouts. Increasing blood flow and recovery allows you to endure longer sessions.
You don’t want your body to be under constant stress. The less strain you put your body under, the better. As you run further at an easy pace, you will notice you can run faster with more ease in your tempo runs.
5. Increase Workout Difficulty
Because your body has the time to adapt to the changes implemented through your easy runs, you will begin gaining the capacity to run with much more speed and intensity. You will notice that your higher-intensity runs will benefit greatly from the moderate exertion of easy runs.
6. Provides a Better Workout Mindset
When you place stress on your muscles and joints from running under high-intensity circumstances, you can create an unhealthy attitude associated with running. It no longer becomes about the enjoyment of the sport itself but rather about reaching the next goal.
Take a step back from this mindset by allowing yourself to have fun again. Enjoy the reduced pace and the benefits you gain from taking care of your body. Learn to love running again, feel your muscles move, breathe the fresh air, and thank your body for being able to do this fantastic sport.
Does Easy Running Help You Run Faster?
We suggested that once you have started acclimating to easy running, you should begin testing how to alter the pace and duration while keeping them balanced. This aspect is crucial in easy running because it allows you to find the perfect combination that suits your preferences and needs and can be transferred to the race setting.
You gain better control of your running performance by finely tuning this running strategy to fit your goals, fitness level, and other aspects.
Different approaches to easy running yield various results for each of us. Whether that means reducing your pace to increase the duration or vice versa, easy runs can help you achieve results that boost your overall speed during intense runs.
And, with more people turning their attention toward easy running, the more we can attest to the benefits involved. Pushing our bodies to maintain a fast pace causes fatigue to set in faster. And, while runners typically have a burst of energy for the final stretches of a race, most would be incapable of maintaining such a fast pace for the entire duration of a race. You’d have difficulty generating constant energy for that pace and have a higher risk of injury.
When doing easy runs most of the week, you reserve your energy for the day or two when you do higher-intensity runs. This several-day warm-up is the reason you gain the ability to increase your pace in the hard sessions.
How Often Should You Do Easy Runs?
This answer depends on several factors, but a good rule for runners covering great distances each week is to allocate 80% of your runs to easy running while the remaining 20% can be intense training sessions. The harder sessions should be done with careful mindfulness to exertion level.
For shorter distance runners, it is recommended that roughly 70% of your weekly runs focus on easy running, while 30% of the remaining runs are more challenging.
These percentages depend on the number of days you train. The more you run, the more time should be focused on easy running. This correlation is due to the necessary recovery time between more challenging days.
Hard running days should not be placed back to back, and you should schedule plenty of rest and recovery.
How Long Does it Take for an Easy Pace to Get Faster?
These results also depend on many factors and are personal to every runner.
Some runners may see improvements earlier than others. The best advice is that every journey you take should be started with the end goal in mind. The path to reach the goal varies, but as long as you keep moving closer to your goal, the path doesn’t matter much.
Many factors contribute to your progress, including fitness level, diet, genetic history, lifestyle choices, and strength sessions, to name a few. Although we may strive for the same goals, the roads to get there are just as varied as we are.
The most important thing to remember is that each body reacts differently. By learning more about our bodies, we can better equip ourselves with the tools to facilitate our growth through physical fitness. Learn what makes your body tick so you can achieve your goals as efficiently as possible.
Some runners will see results as quickly as after one month of continual easy running. Others may take up to three months. Once again, results will vary from person to person, so don’t give up.
5 Tips for Easy Running
Before we conclude, we would like to extend some last-minute tips to recap ways to better guide you toward becoming an easy runner. You can easily refer to these helpful tips if you have difficulties starting your journey.
1. The 70/30 Rule
Ensure you run at least 70% of your weekly runs at a low to moderate pace and for shorter durations. Limiting your hard runs to a maximum of 30% allows your body to recover properly.
When planning your higher-intensity runs, do not schedule them on consecutive days. They should be spaced three days apart to ensure you have ample time to let your body adapt and gain strength.
Some running coaches will go as far as to say it should be an 80/20 rule, but you get the general idea.
Note: Others swear by a schedule dedicated almost entirely to low heart rate training!
2. Check Your Ability to Speak
Starting easy running can be challenging at first. There is a lot of uncertainty when adjusting your pace to match your heart rate and RPE correctly.
Make the adjustment process smoother by attempting to speak at different speeds to determine the best speed to maintain. When you can speak unhindered, you have successfully found your starting pace.
As you continue training with easy running, your pace should gradually increase, but you should still be able to talk like you did at your slowest easy pace.
3. Purchase a Reliable Heart Rate Monitor
Remember, although smart watches can monitor your heart rate, there is up to a 13% margin of error with these devices. This margin of error is a risk too great to use for your running routine.
Search for a heart rate monitor that straps around your chest. These devices are far more accurate and exactly what we prefer using on our runs, as they provide accurate data necessary for easy running.
To get the best results when easy running, your heart rate should stay between 60 – 70% of the maximum heart rate.
4. Higher Mileage = More Easy Runs
As you increase the weekly mileage, your runs should primarily be easy running. Rather than increasing your hard runs, which can cause undue strain and stress on your body, you should schedule easy runs most days.
In the long run, you’ll see satisfying results while continually improving where you would otherwise feel stagnant.
5. Keep the Benefits in Mind
At first, you may feel discouraged by implementing easy running, or you may not see results within an allotted time, but stick with it. It may take anywhere between one to three months before you see improvements.
During this time, do your best to remember all the benefits you’ll gain by easy running. Not only will you gain the ability to increase your pace, but you will also have a list of health benefits that ensure your body has the tools it needs to heal and recover when you need it most.