“Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast.” – Emil Zatopek
There is so much advice telling runners to slow down. It’s well intentioned. Sometimes helpful and accurate. But it doesn’t always apply..
I’m getting rid of most of the slowest running in my training.
Run training isn’t just about training your physiology. It’s not just about improving heart and lung capacity. What often gets missed is running is a skill. To get better at a skill we need to practice that skill.
Volume Is Overrated
Don’t get me wrong. Running volume is important. In fact there is a fairly strong correlation between running more and a faster marathon time. But it’s never as simple as just do more.
My problem here is just running more isn’t making me faster. And over the last few years, pushing the volume up too much gets me injured.
My Achilles is my Achilles … ?
Muscle Load At Different Speeds
Muscle load and activity is different at running different running speeds.
Most muscles in the legs increase their activity as the speed increases, especially the hamstrings. But this also is reflected in the quadriceps and glutes to a lesser degree.
In the calf, the Soleus muscle still has a relatively high load at slow speeds and only increases a small amount at faster speeds.
The take away from this is:
Slower running still heavily loads the calf and puts load on the Achilles’ tendon but undertrains the other muscle groups.
Running faster doesn’t add too much to the calf (up to a point) but brings in more stimulus to all the other muscles in running.
Said another way.. too much slow running increases my injury risk in the calf and Achilles while not training the rest of my legs enough.
What Is Slow?
Of course slow and fast is relative to each person. For me I’ve done a lot of my easy and long runs at paces between 6:00-7:30/km.
This had served me well for some ultra marathon.
I ran these slower speeds when making an effort to keep my heart rate low. Think below MAF heart rate. But for me, it hasn’t been making me faster.
But slow isn’t just a specific speed. It is how my running form changes at the slower speeds. It is definitely a different technique.
I like the McMillan Running Calculator.
It has its limitations, but I find it useful enough.
I put in my last race (10km in 42:45).
I take the slowest pace for the “Recovery” runs (5:53/km). Essentially the rule is to limit any training slower than this.
If I’m not recovered enough to stay above this pace or it’s too much effort to hold the pace then I’ll call it a day.
The result is probably less volume overall (at least in the first few weeks). But more volume at paces and the relevant paces for my goal.
Note this isn’t about just upping the intensity and forcing myself to be faster. But eliminating the really slow running so I can better handle the moderately slow and faster running.