As runners, we see the importance of following a training plan. We must train for our races by completing long runs, tempo runs, speed runs, etc. But how about those easy runs? Do they really provide a real benefit to runners?
What is an easy run? Every runner should have a goal pace per mile in mind and your easy run should be between 1:30-2:30 longer than your goal pace. For example, my goal pace is 8:23 per mile, so my easy runs will range from 9:53-10:53 per mile. This gives me the opportunity to run at a comfortable pace. It should feel enjoyable — looking at the scenery around you, thinking about your day, and overall, not feeling exhausted or out of breath.
Runners have different types of muscle fibers that help us run. The more we gently strengthen our fibers through easy running, the more it will help runners burn more fat. Without easy runs, a runner's body will burn carbohydrates as fuel for their run. Once a runner runs out of carbohydrates as fuel, that’s when the “wall” hits. During my first half marathon in 2017, my friend and I didn’t follow a structured training plan for this event. Needless to say, we both suffered because of it! By mile 10, we were both out of gas. No gel, hydration liquid, or protein foods were going to get us back on track. Fast forward to 2019, I ran my last half marathon and finished about 40 minutes faster than my first. With training, including easy runs helped me build my slow-fibers which increased the amount of fat I would burn. This meant my carbohydrates were stored toward the end of the race when I was able to make that final push to the finish line. Easy runs strengthen fibers, which helps you burn fat, which gives you the carbs you need to finish strong!
Easy runs also help runners recover and prevent injury. During more intense runs, runners land on their feet with the force of their body weight. The faster the run, the greater the force. Easy runs will ease the force from heavier workouts by gradually helping you adapt to a heavier workload. This will result in strengthening your body to help prevent injury to tendons and joints. After my previous half marathon, I gave myself about a week-long break before running again. I made the mistake of running with tempo runs rather than easy runs. This choice led to me having an inflamed patellar tendon which put me into physical therapy for over a month. Don’t make my mistake! Run those easy runs to help your body build enough strength to handle the heavier workload later.
The mighty element of oxygen is also an important factor for runners! Easy runs deliver oxygen throughout the body more efficiently. Runners depend on improving their VO2 max to run farther and longer. Your VO2 max is your maximal oxygen uptake, or the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during an intense workout. Our muscles need oxygen in order for them to function. The more we use our muscles, the more oxygen they require. If we try to work out too much too fast, oxygen cannot travel through our bodies quickly enough to meet the needs of our muscles at work. The longer a runner can do a workout, the more they are increasing the amount of hemoglobin, or oxygen transporters, in their body. When runners work on their easy runs, they are helping to build oxygen flow throughout the body. Easy runs allow a runner to increase the flow of blood which then increases oxygen flow to the muscles for a longer period of time. More intense workouts require you to exert more energy and as a result, you become tired earlier and fizzle out before building enough hemoglobin. As mentioned earlier, my first half marathon was not as successful because my body was not able to utilize fats over carbs. The lack of preparation also prevented enough blood from carrying oxygen to my muscles. Increased blood flow will carry oxygen to your working muscles. Planning for more easy runs allowed me to PR in my previous half marathon!
Easy runs do benefit runners! With the ability to help you burn more fat, prevent injury, and increase blood flow, these are reasons why you should complete your easy runs and make them a part of your training. So get out there, lace up your shoes, and get ready to finish strong!
Credit to: Hansons Half Marathon Method by Luke Humphrey with Keith & Kevin Hanson